Plagues and Peoples demonstrates the central role infectious disease has played in the course of world history. The political and social consequences of disease alone have been immense. Offering impressive evidence, McNeill shows how pestilence weakened the Roman Empire, lay at the root of India’s caste system, and helped delay the Enlightenment.
McNeill also shows how crucial a rule disease has played in war. In the Crimean War, for instance, more men lost their lives to dysentery than to bullets. In the religious sphere, McNeill shows how both Christianity and Buddhism were strengthened in times of plague, as people sought explanation and consolation for their suffering.
Upon the original publication of Plagues and Peoples in 1976, Harrison Salisbury wrote, “This is one of the most noble and challenging new historical concepts of recent times. I could hardly put it down.” This ground-breaking study remains as stimulating today.
William H. McNeill is professor of history emeritus at the University of Chicago, where he taught for 40 years. He is served as president of the American History Association and is an editor of the Journal of Modern History. He is the author of numerous articles and books, including Arnold Toynbee: A Life, The Pursuit of Power, and The Rise of the West, which won the National Book Award for History in 1964.