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Mosquito Empires: Ecology and War in the Greater Caribbean, 1620-1914

  • Casts new light on imperial rivalries in the Americas, 1650-1820, and on the wars of revolution (1775-1898)
  • Shows how important malaria was in winning the American Revolution, and how yellow fever helped keep the Spanish Empire in America Spanish
  • An environmental history of the political and military events that shaped the Americas from the 17th through the early 20th centuries

Series: New Approaches to the Americas

By: John R McNeill(Author)

390 pages, 12 maps

Cambridge University Press

Paperback | Feb 2010 | #212392 | ISBN-13: 9780521459105
Availability: Usually dispatched within 6 days Details
NHBS Price: £21.99 $29/€25 approx
Hardback | Feb 2010 | #212393 | ISBN-13: 9780521452861
Availability: Usually dispatched within 6 days Details
NHBS Price: £66.99 $88/€75 approx

About this book

Mosquito Empires explores the links among ecology, disease, and international politics in the context of the Greater Caribbean – the landscapes lying between Surinam and the Chesapeake – in the seventeenth through early twentieth centuries. Ecological changes made these landscapes especially suitable for the vector mosquitoes of yellow fever and malaria, and these diseases wrought systematic havoc among armies and would-be settlers. Because yellow fever confers immunity on survivors of the disease, and because malaria confers resistance, these diseases played partisan roles in the struggles for empire and revolution, attacking some populations more severely than others. In particular, yellow fever and malaria attacked newcomers to the region, which helped keep the Spanish Empire Spanish in the face of predatory rivals in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. In the late eighteenth and through the nineteenth century, these diseases helped revolutions to succeed by decimating forces sent out from Europe to prevent them.

"For most of the last five centuries, the Atlantic empires – European and North American – wrested, fought wars, and killed thousands of citizens and slaves for possession of the wealth swaying in the fields of the Caribbean islands and coastlines. The dominant factors in the long conflict, no matter what the protagonists claimed, were not political or religious or even economic but septic, that is, the microbes of yellow fever and malaria. J. R. McNeill's book is by far the clearest, best informed, and scientifically accurate of the accounts available on this sugary conflict."
- Alfred W. Crosby, University of Texas, Austin

"J. R. McNeill's new book does more than exhibit his usual gifts – breadth of range, mastery of material, depth of insight, freedom of thought, clarity of expression. It has changed the way I think about empires of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and will challenge many readers' assumptions about the limits of human agency in shaping great events."
- Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, University of Notre Dame

"In this authoritative and engaging book, J. R. McNeill argues convincingly that disease played a pivotal role in many of the momentous events of Caribbean history. He shows how the region's disease ecology changed following the advent of European colonization and how this served and then subverted the interests of the Caribbean's oldest colonial powers. Mosquito Empires is indispensible to any student of Caribbean history or the history of disease."
- Mark Harrison, Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine, University of Oxford

"Who would have guessed that the mosquito played such a vital role, shaping the fate of empires and revolutions, in such a vitally important part of the world? This provocative book is an eye-opener, written with great verve and wit."
- Philip Morgan, Johns Hopkins University

"Drawing on an enormous documentary source base, culled from many archives and texts in several languages, and ranging effortlessly across military history and medical science, J. R. McNeill's book is a major achievement. Henceforth, histories of empire, warfare, and international relations that neglect the environmental context of the events they recount will be seriously deficient."
- Gabriel Paquette, Times Literary Supplement

"J. R. McNeil has written a book full of revelations that left me astounded and eager to assign it to my students. Mosquito Empires is beautifully paced, well-researched, convincing, and important. It also left me more than a little envious: I wish I had written this book."
- Environment and History


Part I. Setting the Scene:
1. The argument: mosquito determinism and its limits
2. Atlantic empires and Caribbean ecology
3. Deadly fevers, deadly doctors

Part II. Imperial Mosquitoes:
4. From Recife to Kourou: yellow fever takes hold, 1620–1764
5. Cartagena and Havana: yellow fever rampant

Part III. Revolutionary Mosquitoes:
6. Lord Cornwallis vs. Anopheles quadrimaculatus, 1780–1
7. Revolutionary fevers: Haiti, New Granada, and Cuba, 1790–1898
8. Epilogue: vector and virus vanquished

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J. R. McNeill is University Professor in the History Department and School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. His books include The Mountains of the Mediterranean World (2003); Something New Under the Sun: An Environmental History of the Twentieth-Century World (2000), co-winner of the World History Association book prize and the Forest History Society book prize and runner-up for the BP Natural World book prize; and most recently The Human Web: A Bird's-Eye View of World History (2003), co-authored with his father, William H. McNeill. He has also published more than 40 scholarly articles in professional and scientific journals.

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