2019 Reading Challenge

2019 Reading Challenge
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Book Review: The Mosquito: A Human History of Our Deadliest Predator by Timothy C. Winegard

Whoa. If you are anything like me, you are going to freak out a bit when you read this one (and irritate everyone around you with the fun facts you can’t help but retell – but it’s completely worth it because it’s FASCINATING!

It may come as a surprise that the deadliest human predator on earth is the size and weight of a grapeseed, and one all of us have skirmished with: the mosquito. With an estimated death count of 52 billion, the mosquito has killed nearly half of all human beings who have ever lived by spreading lethal diseases like malaria, yellow fever, West Nile, and Zika. Last year, mosquitoes slaughtered 830,000 people (the lowest annual total yet)…dwarfing any other assassin, including other humans, snakes, and a myriad of other celebrated killers.

In the first definitive book on the earth far-reaching historical power of mosquitoes, THE MOSQUITO: A Human History of Our Deadliest Predator (Dutton; August 6, 2019), Dr. Timothy C. Winegard shows how mosquitos are far worse – and much more interesting – than average pests: they’re history-making predators. Mosquitoes steered the course of global history, scratching their indelible mark on the modern world order.

Set against the backdrop of human history from ancient times to present-day, Winegard explores the mosquito and its massive historical impact through millennia from all angles, including:

  • The pivotal role mosquitoes played in wars, from the fall of Rome to The Crusades and the Mongol Hordes to the American Revolution and Civil War through Vietnam: Across our warring existence, mosquito-borne diseases have taken far more lives on battlefields than man-made weapons and decided the outcome of game-changing wars and the fates of numerous empires and nations. It was a mosquito that felled Alexander the Great and that same creature is responsible for the American victory during the revolution and the outcome of the American Civil War.
  • The mosquito spread carnage brought on by European imperialism and sparked the African slave trade: The indigenous populations of the Americas were devastated and nearly exterminated by new, deadly strains of disease including malaria, yellow fever, and other mosquito-borne germs imported by European invaders and their captive slaves. Once in the new world, the trans-Atlantic slave trade began in earnest to secure a labor force, and slavers specifically targeted a population that was genetically resistant to malaria and bestowed with immunity to yellow fever having survived the disease in Africa.
  • Malaria and why we aren’t more focused on it: Currently roughly 300 million people contract malaria annually, but funding for malaria research remains at just a fraction of what is set aside for other diseases like HIV. The global pharmaceutical economic model also puts malaria research at a huge disadvantage, since most of the affected nations are the poorest in the world.
  • Triggers and common misconceptions about mosquitoes: Yes, it’s true that people with blood type O get bitten twice as often as those with type A, but even if you use non-fragrant soaps, avoid bright colors, etc. female mosquitoes will still prey on any human that can provide blood to mature her eggs.

 
THE MOSQUITO is a fascinating look at the world’s most influential pest, tracing its sweeping impact on human history and the trajectory of civilization. Dr. Timothy C. Winegard is a professor of history and political science at Colorado Mesa University and holds a PhD in history from the University of Oxford.

Personally, I found the book compelling and fascinating – and horrifying. I kept reading/reciting the facts aloud to whomever was in the room or nearby when I read – there are so many intriguing and surprising things to learn here, that I felt compelled to share them. It took me a while to read – it’s long and there’s a LOT of information here, but it is packaged very well, although I did occasionally find that I needed to take a short break for something a little less death-and-disease focused (it is, after all, summer and I couldn’t make myself or my family too crazy worrying about mosquitoes to enjoy the day!)… But the writing was great – engaging and entertaining while remaining true to the fact-sharing non-fiction nature of its core.

So be sure to check it out – just in time for summer to end, so you don’t lock everyone you love indoors! My review copy was provided by the publisher via NetGalley.

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