Outbreak! Plagues That Changed History
by Bryn Barnard
MG informational PB. 48 pp.
Diseases don't affect just one person's life . . . sometimes that change the world. Did the Black Death destroy the feudal system? Did cholera pave the way for modern Manhattan? Did yellow fever help end slave trade? Remarkably, the answer to all of these questions is YES. Time and again, diseases have impacted the course of human history in surprisingly powerful and unexpected ways. From influenza to smallpox, from tuberculosis to yellow fever, Bryn Barnard describes the symptoms and paths of the world's deadliest diseases—and how the epidemics they spawned have changed history forever.
Highlighted with vivid and meticulously researched illustrations, Outbreak is a fascinating look at the hidden world of microbes—and how this world shapes human destiny every day.
Let me begin by saying this is not necessarily the book you want to read just before you spend the weekend with the kids, one of whom spends the entire time essentially incapacitated with a fever.
That said, it is an interesting book. My complaints pretty much run consistent with those expressed by Abby (the) Librarian. For starters, the format is awkward. It appears to be a picture book, but it is extremely text heavy. This becomes a barrier to accessing the information in the book.
Personally, I didn't find the illustrations to be all that enchanting, which is probably my greatest disappointment with the book. I mean, we're looking at the upheaval caused by epidemics; surely there are some wicked cool illustrations that might have been incorporated. Many of the maps were a bit on the difficult side to read, primarily in that the color palette didn't provide adequate distinction between the hues.
The author's political point of view is rather blatant, particularly in the last section when he harps on the health discrepancy between the wealthy and the poor and what not. Granted, my opinion does fall in line with his, but still . . .
I wonder about some of the connections the author draws between epidemics and social changes, and that's perhaps the best thing I pull from this book. But I don't see too many junior high kids wanting to delve further into research pursuing the link between the Romantic worship of tuberculosis with our current obsession with waifish models as the pinnacle of beauty and health.
This book was also a fascinating read following on the heels of The Adoration of Jenna Fox in that Jenna Fox explores a world wherein a third of the population has been wiped out because of drug-resistant bacteria.
Abby (the) Librarian