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Good Reads  Insects & other Invertebrates  Insects  Flies (Diptera)

The Mosquito A Human History of Our Deadliest Predator

By: Timothy C Winegard(Author)
486 pages, b/w photos, b/w illustrations
A riveting tour of duty through prominent theatres of war, The Mosquito looks at history anew through the compound lens of humanity's biggest small adversary.
The Mosquito
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  • The Mosquito ISBN: 9781911231127 Paperback Sep 2019 Not in stock: Usually dispatched within 2-3 weeks
  • The Mosquito ISBN: 9781524743413 Hardback Aug 2019 Out of Print #246450
Selected version: £12.99
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About this book

A pioneering and groundbreaking work of narrative nonfiction that offers a dramatic new perspective on the history of humankind, showing how through millennia, the mosquito has been the single most powerful force in determining humanity's fate

Why was gin and tonic the cocktail of choice for British colonists in India and Africa? What does Starbucks have to thank for its global domination? What has protected the lives of popes for millennia? Why did Scotland surrender its sovereignty to England? What was George Washington's secret weapon during the American Revolution?

The answer to all these questions, and many more, is the mosquito.

Across our planet since the dawn of humankind, this nefarious pest, roughly the size and weight of a grape seed, has been at the frontlines of history as the grim reaper, the harvester of human populations, and the ultimate agent of historical change. As the mosquito transformed the landscapes of civilization, humans were unwittingly required to respond to its piercing impact and universal projection of power.

The mosquito has determined the fates of empires and nations, razed and crippled economies, and decided the outcome of pivotal wars, killing nearly half of humanity along the way. She (only females bite) has dispatched an estimated 52 billion people from a total of 108 billion throughout our relatively brief existence. As the greatest purveyor of extermination we have ever known, she has played a greater role in shaping our human story than any other living thing with which we share our global village.

Imagine for a moment a world without deadly mosquitoes, or any mosquitoes, for that matter? Our history and the world we know, or think we know, would be completely unrecognizable.

Driven by surprising insights and fast-paced storytelling, The Mosquito is the extraordinary untold story of the mosquito's reign through human history and her indelible impact on our modern world order.

Customer Reviews (1)

  • A riveting tour of duty
    By Leon (NHBS Catalogue Editor) 20 Jan 2020 Written for Paperback

    Ours is the latest generation to be engaged in a blood-soaked conflict that has lasted millennia. The quote “we have met the enemy, and he is us” might come to mind, but no. Rather, as E.O. Wilson once wrote: “It is the little things that run the world“. Historian Timothy C. Winegard here offers a sweeping history of major turning points in human history observed through the compound lens of the mosquito. With an estimated compound death toll of 52 billion an insect that is truly worthy of the title “destroyer of worlds”.

    Though readers might be suspicious of single-cause explanations for historical events, the general thrust of environmental history books such as these rings true: our historical narratives are particularly enamoured with pivotal wars, politics, religion, and economics, while side-lining the influence of environmental factors. As Winegard shows, though, those stories are no less fascinating.

    After a short overview of the mosquito, the diseases it can harbour, and the genetic defences humans have evolved against malaria in particular, Winegard takes the birth of agriculture as the starting point of our shared history. Or, as he so poignantly puts it: “cultivation was shackled to a corpse“. Land clearance, irrigation, and the keeping of livestock all brought us a lot closer to mosquitoes and created the perfect feeding and breeding grounds for them. Out of agriculture rose city-states, commerce, and conflict, all of which encouraged the spread of disease.

    The role of trade was highlighted in Mark Harrison’s book Contagion. Winegard focuses more on conflict, which is not entirely surprising given his background as an officer and his previous books on military history. In colourful prose, often steeped in military metaphors, he takes the reader on a riveting tour of duty through prominent theatres of war.

    Winegard covers ancient history with Ancient Greece and the military campaigns of Alexander the Great, Ancient Rome (with a nod to Harper’s magnificent The Fate of Rome), the Crusades, and the Mongol hordes of Genghis Khan and subsequent barbaric invasions. More modern history follows with the period from the “discovery” of the Americas, the Columbian Exchange (see also Crosby’s The Columbian Exchange and more generally his Ecological Imperialism), and African slavery, all the way to the First and especially Second World War. Given my limited knowledge of these periods, I was particularly interested reading about the colonial war games between Spain, France, Britain over Caribbean colonies (see also Mosquito Empires), and the conflicts and revolutions giving rise to the modern United States, followed by the American Civil War (see also Mosquito Soldiers).

    This tour of duty takes up the lion’s share of the book and is neatly divided over a series of absorbing and very readable chapters. Winegard convincingly shows how, at every turn, General Anopheles stalked the battlefields, attacking people indiscriminately. The death toll from malaria, yellow fever, dengue and other diseases is mind-numbing, virtually always overshadowing combat casualties, sometimes by an order of magnitude.

    Insidiously, as Winegard shows, it did not take military commanders long to button on to that. The causes of these diseases may have long escaped us*, but the correlations did not. Starting very early on, a preferred battlefield strategy was to use local terrain to one’s advantage. By forcing, luring, or manoeuvring enemy troops into swampy areas, mosquitoes could take a heavy toll, after which the weakened and decimated survivors could easily be mopped up.

    Despite Winegard’s initial assertion that historians often neglect the role of disease, this is far from the first popular book that tries to take in the fast sweep of history. Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel, McNeill’s Plagues and People, and Shah’s The Fever are but three examples. Indeed, Winegard’s notes are a treasure trove of references for further reading, showing the amount of work he has ploughed through in the writing of The Mosquito. The books mentioned here so far are but a sample.

    What I particularly liked about Winegard’s writing was that he does not shy away from unpleasant observations and some healthy historical correctives. There is his amusing takedown of the fabricated narrative around Pocahontas: “In Disney’s vision, Pocahontas and Smith run barefoot through the utopian natural splendor of the New World, frolicking in its idyllic waterfalls. In truth, the situation in Jamestown was a cannibalistic, mosquito-ravaged mess“. Others are more serious, such as his observation that the African slave trade flourished in part because some African tribes willingly captured and sold enemy tribe members to Europeans. Some are ruthlessly pragmatic: “a sick soldier is just as useless to the war effort as a wounded soldier, and twice the burden of a dead soldier“. Others downright chilling: during the Second World War the US was scrambling to find a cure for malaria, using inmates as voluntary test subjects in experimentation that “mirrored the Nazi procedures being carried out on Jewish prisoners at Dachau“.

    The final few chapters chronicle how the mosquito was finally unmasked in 1897 as the agent of disease transmission (see e.g. Humanity’s Burden), and the temporary success story of pharmaceuticals and the insecticide DDT in combating malaria during and after the Second World War. A premature feeling of victory, indiscriminate use of these cures, and the profit-motive of pharmaceutical companies all have led to insufficient research on new cures, quickly resulting in resistant mosquitoes threatening humanity once more (a pattern that is seen more widely, see also my review of Superbugs). Winegard briefly discusses CRISPR (see my review of A Crack in Creation) as the latest weapon in our arsenal and seems hopeful this could go a long way in fighting back.

    If you are fond of big history books, The Mosquito is easy to recommend. Winegard has written a captivating and absorbing narrative history book that serves as a powerful reminder just how much disease has plagued us in the past and just how large a share of this is courtesy of a certain diminutive flying insect with a stinging proboscis.

    *The word malaria, for example, comes from the mediaeval Italian “mala aria”, meaning “bad air”, pointing to the long-held miasma theory that blamed noxious fumes associated with marshy and swampy areas for the disease.
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Dr. Timothy C. Winegard holds a PhD from the University of Oxford and is a professor of history and political science at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction, Colorado. Winegard served as an officer with the Canadian and British Forces, has lectured on CSPAN, and has appeared on televised roundtables. He is internationally published, including his four previous books, in the fields of both military history and indigenous studies.

By: Timothy C Winegard(Author)
486 pages, b/w photos, b/w illustrations
A riveting tour of duty through prominent theatres of war, The Mosquito looks at history anew through the compound lens of humanity's biggest small adversary.
Media reviews

"Hugely impressive, a major work."

"The Mosquito is an extremely well-researched work of narrative nonfiction [...] Timothy C. Winegard's The Mosquito is as wildly entertaining as any epic narrative out there. It's also all true [...] Winegard masterfully weaves historical facts and science to offer a shocking, informative narrative that shows how who we are today is directly linked to the mosquito."

"Winegard's reminder of their enormous potential for destruction is a timely one for all of us [...] we modern folk are also guilty of believing that our hopes and our technology will somehow make us exempt from the workings of the natural world. The entire time that humanity has been in existence, the mosquito has been proof that we are not."
The New Yorker

"It's not guns, germs and steel here – it's all germs. The Mosquito is one of those (compound-) eye-opening books that permanently shift your worldview [...] Those who crave a deep dive into one world-shaking bug should grab The Mosquito."
– Sam Kean for the New York Times Book Review

"It's an ambitious book that aims to deliver a tour of Western military history from antiquity to the jungles of Vietnam – and an account of how one tiny arthropod repeatedly molded that history, thwarting generals, sickening peasants and popes, and killing billions of people. Timothy C. Winegard has pulled off this feat in his enthusiastic if imperfect The Mosquito: A Human History of Our Deadliest Predator [...] Mr. Winegard presents a convincing argument for that assertion in 470 pages that will be illuminating for the reader coming fresh to mosquito-borne diseases."
Wall Street Journal

"Thrilling [...] a lively history of mosquitoes. Mr. Winegard convincingly argues that the insect has shaped human life as well as delivering death [...] Mr. Winegard is an engaging guide, especially when he combines analysis with anecdote."
The Economist

"Readers of non-fiction, history and science will enjoy Winegard's unique take on the ever-present pest. If you can't get away from mosquitoes in your backyard, then immerse yourself in this book and learn a new perspective on this seemingly insignificant part of summer."
– Associated Press

"Written as a big-picture, impersonal history – think Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel [...] The Mosquito serves up an eye-opening, deeply alarming, and absolutely engrossing view of humanity's most tenacious foe."
Foreign Policy

"Fascinating [...] an entertainingly educational new opus [...] Winegard's study marshals scientific facts and millennia of historical background about the droning pest we all encounter and which has killed nearly half of all human beings who've ever lived, profoundly altering our world along its bloodsucking way."
USA Today

– Soutik Biswas, the India Correspondent and Features & Analysis Editor for BBC News

"[The Mosquito] takes readers on a riveting adventure, documenting the mosquito's outsized role in conflict since antiquity [...] Winegard's earnest voice on this brings the seriousness of research and action on the mosquito up to the needed decibel."

"A fascinating history of everyone's least favorite insect."
Lit Hub

"In what might be the bones of a good future horror movie, Timothy C. Winegard's The Mosquito [...] goes deep into the history of that one particular bug [...] [The Mosquito] is a reminder that the human and insect worlds are interconnected and fragile [...] that we're not the most important thing in the natural world."

"Book of the Week"
The Week

"With the deeply researched The Mosquito [...] he uses the bellicose insect to tie together a fascinating, sprawling history – from dinosaurs to the banned insecticide DDT."
Literary Review of Canada

"Convincingly portrays the ignoble mosquito as a malignant force more influential in human affairs than the legendary Illuminati."
Natural History Magazine

"Certainly, history buffs and science lovers will enjoy this book but it's also a heavier-duty, gee-whiz tale that's totally absorbing. If you're ready to learn, look for The Mosquito. You know the drill."
The Quad-City Times

"Timothy Winegard's entertaining new book, The Mosquito, chronicles the impact of mosquito-borne disease, principally malaria, throughout history. Readers of this book will no doubt enjoy Winegard's rapid journey through many of humanity's major population movements, campaigns, and wars."
Science Magazine

"An epic analysis of the fiendish female insects."
The Boulder Lifestyle Magazine

"A gripping book."
The Los Angeles Times

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