Thursday, 11 December 2008


After my friend K came down with the mumps this week, contagious illness has been on my mind. My mum can't remember if I am vaccinated, and I'm too lazy to ring the doctor and ask. I'm just going to wait for my face to swell up. 

In the meantime Dove Grey Reader is giving away "Deadly Companions: How Microbes Shaped Our History" by Dorothy Crawford. It made me think about the question of what the best sickness reads are. Not as in, what you read when you are sick; but the best books about sickness. 

This is a beautiful edition of this great essay about the possible advantages of being sick in bed, and there's a good intro by Hermione Lee, VW's biographer, too. But you can get the introduction for free on the wonderful internet...

Alfred Crosby: America's Forgotten Pandemic; The Influenza of 1918
Crosby is the top man in the field, and has a totally engaging way of writing for someone who knows so much. Really scary.

Alfred Crosby: Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900-1900
Another one by Crosby: how we ruled the world by giving it our illnesses.
Defoe was five years old when plague hit London in 1665, so you could say this is the very first historical novel...  He brings the fear alive, though. 

William McNeill: Plagues and Peoples
McNeill theorizes you need big cities to cause really unstoppable plagues.

Roy Porter was the twentieth century's finest historian of medicine, and this has all his usual flair, plus all his usual encyclopedic knowledge of practically everything, too. 

Christopher Wills: Plagues: Their Origins, History and Future
Out-of-print, but really good. Don't miss a chance to get a copy of this if you can. Read the bit about cholera on a plane going to Greece and it made me feel really sick. Excellent.

And to finish:
The fortunately-named Roach has a fabulous eye for the curious detail...



Blogger Will said...

The mumps! Oh god.

An excellent post, though I may have to avoid many of your suggestions due to blossoming germophobia. Or maybe I'll read them, but pretend they're all horror novels.

11 December 2008 at 07:01  
Blogger emmat said...

Reading the one about plagues, especially, made me realise why medical students are all such paranoid hypocondriacs.
Going to wash my hands now

12 December 2008 at 00:57  

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