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Famine, pestilence and war, often feeding on each other, have wrought havoc upon mankind since earliest times. Not least of these is pestilence, and this fascinating and wide-ranging book explores the impact of disease on the great events in history. They demonstrate that even the most powerful individuals and societies can be and have been fatally weakened by disease. Plagues drained the strength of Ancient Athens and Rome. In the 14th century The Black Death devastated Europe signalling then end of feudalism and provoking the rise of dissident sects from within the church. Venereal disease could have prevented Henry VIII from securing the male heir he so desperately wanted, and certainly caused the insanity which afflicted Ivan the Terrible. In Mexico, smallpox was Cortez's most powerful ally against the Aztecs, while Queen Victoria transmitted haemophilia to her heirs, and consequently contributed to the collapse of the Russian monarchy. Each era has made some progress against physical and mental disorders, only to be faced with new and unforeseen threats. We, no less than other generations, are vulnerable to widespread outbreaks of disease.
Frederick F. Cartwright was a former Head of the Department of History of Medicine at Kings College Medical School, London and was the author of many books on the history of medicine. Michael D. Biddiss is Professor of History at the University of Reading and has also published many books on the subject.