What I'm Reading

I could write about what an irritating day it was at work, but we'll just take that as having been read into the record and let it go at that. The folly of unrealistic expectations on dispatch times and the reality of high volumes of mail had a ugly collision. You know what they say about "shit in one hand, wish in the other, see which one fills up first." Hint: It wasn't the "wish" hand.

I'm currently reading S.M. Stirling's "The Protector's War," which I picked up at the library on Friday. I only have if for two weeks, since it's a new book, so I'll have to read it quickly. I also got John M. Barry's "The Great Influenza," which is about the flu pandemic of 1918. Given all the talk about bird flu, it's a topical book. I'd spotted it at the book store a while back and put it on hold at the library. Fortunately, I got it for four weeks, so I can wait to start it until I finish the book I'm reading now.

I also recently read "Pox Americana" by Elizabeth A. Fenn, which is about the smallpox pandemic of 1775-1782. You've probably never heard anything about it, but then, there were other things happening during those years. Probably the most interesting thing in reading about smallpox was how common (and deadly) it was, and how those who'd already been exposed to it were at a distinct advantage to those who hadn't. Smallpox was endemic in Britain, and most British soldiers and sailors had already had the disease. In the colonies, however, smallpox had a tendency to crop up in epidemics spaced about twenty years apart. The previous epidemic was during the French and Indian war in the 1750s. Mortality from smallpox was very high in the Continental Army until George Washington had all of his men inoculated with the disease, which was a process that gave them a milder form of the malady. Smallpox also killed large numbers of Loyalists who fought alongside the British, including many escaped black slaves who died in appalling numbers from the disease.

I guess it shows how postmodern we are, in that we worry about dying from causes like heart disease or stroke rather than from infectious diseases. It's not that such diseases aren't a threat to us, because new ones crop up every so often, but we personally have never witnessed a pandemic that puts the whole population at risk. We don't worry about smallpox or cholera or typhus or the Black Death or tuberculosis, and certainly not about the measles or mumps. And yet, when the Spaniards came to the New World in the early 1500s, all of those diseases burned through the Indian population of the Americas like fire through dry grass. The smallpox epidemic of 1775-1782 went a long way toward depopulating North America and setting the stage for American (and Canadian) expansion to the west. It was a fascinating, morbid read.