William McNeill explanation in Plagues and Peoples,


A critic is defined as a person who forms and expresses judgments and finds faults.  As an average college student I do not even feel like I have the say to find faults and express judgments about William McNeill’s Plagues and Peoples.  This book is simply on a level that I have not managed to achieve comprehensively, in other words, I just do not possess the knowledge on this subject to feel that I have the right to make any judgmental comments on this critically acclaimed book.  I do understand the ideas William McNeill explains in Plagues and Peoples, but I only understand them in a very broad, general way.  To explain this book in one sentence from my point of view would be to say that disease had an extraordinary impact on humanity throughout history.


The publisher comments on this book saying “Plagues and Peoples was an immediate critical and popular success, offering a radically new interpretation of world history as seen through the extraordinary impact–political, demographic, ecological, and psychological–of disease on cultures.  The history of disease is the history of humankind.”  The history of disease is the history of humankind.  This powerful comment from the publisher ultimately represents the impact of this book.  I may not be able to represent my feelings towards this book as well as the publisher did, but I do understand the importance of McNeill’s ideas about how disease effected humankind and I am simply amazed in how it effected history the way that it did.  I find it ironic that this book is so original in the way it discusses the effects of disease on the history of humanity, because after McNeill points all this out to us in this book it seems so obvious, and I feel like this should have already been thought about in the development of humankind.  Now, thanks to this book, these ideas are not only considered, they are very respected, recognized, and they shine a whole new light on the history of mankind.  Any book that successfully explains why and how the history of humanity should be reconsidered and rethought gets positive reviews from me.


“Thought provoking, well-researched, and compulsively readable, Plagues and Peoples is that rare book that is fascinating as it is scholarly, as it is enlightening.  It is essential reading, offering a new perspective of history”(Kirkus).  This book is most definitely thought provoking.  It opens a new door on the possibilities of disease being so vital to human history.  Just as well-researched as thought provoking, this book is very well thought out and provides explanations for all of the ideas that McNeill writes about in Plagues and Peoples.  He refers to scientific details of different plagues that took place over human history to help support his ideas.  When these details are put with McNeill’s ideas it all makes perfect sense.


Although Plagues and Peoples is a monumental book with great importance to human history, this book does have flaws.  Referring to the review and its comment on this being compulsively readable is an overstatement.  This book can be very boring at times and continuously uses vocabulary that only Webster himself would not have to look up in a dictionary to find out what the words mean.  This book can honestly only be understood and interesting to its fullest by people who are involved or specifically curious about this subject.  In other words this isn’t they type of book that is read for entertainment but more for informative purposes.  Not to say this book was written for entertainment purposes to begin with, because it wasn’t, if it was, it shouldn’t have been.  It’s a very interesting book by far, but there is a difference between interest and entertainment.  A person may listen to music for entertainment but that doesn’t mean they’re interested in writing a song.


Finally referring to the last statement mentioned in the review, this book offers a whole new perspective of history.  Of course this book offers a whole new perspective.  This book is a literature landmark when it comes to the development of mankind.  This book is an eye-opener, which causes the reader to understand the impact of disease on not only the history of humanity but also the impacts it will continue to have presently and in the future.


“Infectious disease which antedated the emergence of humankind will last as long as humanity itself, and will surely remain, as it has been hitherto, one of the fundamental parameters and determinants of human history” (McNeill).  To think about the words written by William McNeill it is scary to a certain extent the way disease is so powerful in relevance to how it can cause mass populations of humans to slowly die off and how it can alter history like it has.  It is even scarier to think about how disease is doing the same thing it always has been doing in the past, right now.  McNeill points this out with the existence of aids.  Plagues are taking place now and will have be a major factor in the turn out of humanity in the future.  It is inevitable and now so obvious that they will after reading Plagues and Peoples by William Hardy McNeill.  This book is critically acclaimed by multiple truly respectable scholars’ as it should be.  Although it is hard to read and comprehend for the average reader, and times can cause the reader to fall asleep, this book should still definitely be put on a pedestal for its originality and importance.






McNeill, William H. Plagues and Peoples. Garden City: Anchor Press, 1998.

(McNeill 295)


Reviews of Recommended History Books. 21 Nov. 2004 .


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