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For other authors named Frank M. Snowden, see the disambiguation page.

7 Works 266 Members 4 Reviews

About the Author

Frank M. Snowden is Andrew Downey Orrick Professor Emeritus of History and History of Medicine at Yale University. His previous books include The Conquest of Malaria: Italy, 1900-1962 and Naples in the Time of Cholera, 1884-1911.

Works by Frank M. Snowden


Common Knowledge



Very instructive account of various infectious diseases that have caused epidemics. So far, smallpox is the only disease that has been eliminated. Bubonic plague, cholera, tuberculosis,AIDS, Ebola and others are discussed. Notable that the popular accounts of Ebola are quite inaccurate, partly due to the governments of various nations not wishing to admit to dangers that might threaten economic development.
ritaer | 1 other review | Dec 2, 2021 |
A Status Report on Darwinian Biological Warfare

Frank M. Snowden is sounding an alarm. The human species is engaged in biological warfare with microbes – bacteria, viruses, and parasites. Tens of 1000s of viruses, 300K species of bacteria, and multiple parasites lay in wait, ready to cause human misery, or even extinction. Microbes outnumber humans a billion to one.

Snowden says microbes cannot be eliminated. They reproduce so rapidly that they can mutate and adapt to any set of chemicals and drugs we throw at them. Indeed, the irresponsible use of antibiotics, and conditions in hospitals, are enabling “superbugs.”

Humanity’s current strategy of relying on chemistry favors the pharmaceutical companies, but that is NOT our strongest defense. Public education and sanitation efforts have been helpful. But the growth of “megacities” with huge areas of poverty, filth, lack of running water, sewers, and even flush toilets is a disaster waiting to happen.

Another area of undue vulnerability is government policy. Besides allowing over-crowded slums, poverty, and hygiene ignorance to exist, government priorities are endangering the human species.

Governments around the globe spend far more on their militaries than they due on their public health institutions. They allow corporations to treat medicine and health care as a commodity, rather than as a human right.(502)

When disease strikes, government’s first response is too often denial. Snowden shows how this has happened throughout history. But governments have NOT learned from their mistakes. Denial and slow response was the government reaction to AIDS/HIV. Then again to Ebola. When Snowden describes the government response to SARs, he does so without any knowledge of the COVID-19 pandemic, because the book was published a full year before the outbreak. Yet the reader will have to double check what he or she is reading about.

SARs was the first epidemic of the 21st century. It began in a province of China. The government saw it spread, but did not report it to the WHO, UN, or any other global agency. While the outbreak began in November of 2002, the WHO did not have enough information to declare its travel alert until March 2003. Hundreds of human deaths could have been prevented had China been more concerned with the fate of humanity. Incredibly, COVID-19 is Déjà vu all over again.

In 2000, the CIA issued its report on epidemics as a national security threat to US and world government. It was not optimistic.

Concerned about the fate of the human species, Snowden’s last sentence is that “public health must be the highest law – and it must override the laws of the marketplace.” 505

The rest is up to us.

William J. Kelleher, Ph.D.
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1 vote
DrWJK | 1 other review | May 17, 2020 |
Half interesting, half frustrating. Author Frank Snowden specializes in Italian history and subspecializes in the history of medicine; a previous book is about cholera in Naples. In this one, he takes on the Italian experience with malaria in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Snowden handles malaria like a historian – not an entomologist or a parasitologist. Thus, we get the history of malaria science – the discovery of the protozoan and the realization the malaria was not due to “bad air” but microbial infection. Microbiologists had a hard time tracking down the causative organism, and the mosquito transmission theory was initially dismissed since there were mosquitoes all over Europe but only malaria in the south. It turned out there were multiple strains of protozoans and they had a complicated life cycle, meaning they were present in the patient’s blood at some times but not others; and only mosquitoes of the genus Anopheles could transmit the disease. The history of these discoveries is presented well, but it needs a summary drawing everything together.

Malaria’s affect on Italian economic development was dramatic; the whole south of the country, where the more severe Plasmodium falciparum was the dominant strain, was economically depressed. Peasants had to live in crowded hillside villages and could only descend to do agriculture in the daytime when mosquitos weren’t active. Still, almost everybody came down with malaria sooner or later and then was further debilitated by other diseases that took advantage of their target’s weakened condition.

The initial response of authorities was widespread use of quinine. It had been known for centuries that quinine could stop a malarial attack, but now it was proposed to use it as a prophylactic; by keeping high quinine levels in the blood all the time, the protozoan would be constantly attacked, not just when it was causing an acute fever. Thus, it would eventually be eliminated and the cycle of transmission would break. This approach was only partially successful; peasants were suspicious and didn’t take their free quinine pills unless they were having an acute fever. The quinine project illustrates one of Snowden’s repeated themes – there is no magic bullet for malaria, it takes a multi-pronged approach to work. At any rate, the quinine program foundered with the onset of the First World War, and malaria morbidity and death rates climbed back up to what they had been in the previous century.

Then came Fascism. Snowden is as antifascist as they come but can’t help admitting that Fascism was fairly successful at reducing malaria – by adopting the multi-pronged approach he advocates. In the malarial areas the Fascists drained swamps, eliminated other sources of standing water, gave everybody quinine (and saw to it that they took it, by coercion if necessary), and built new houses equipped with wire screens. It worked fairly well until World War Two came to the Italian peninsula; the Germans destroyed or removed pumping equipment (in some cases after running it in reverse for a while to make things swampy again). Snowden calls this “biological warfare”, which is stretching things a little – although Snowden notes that the Germans brought in tropical disease specialists who gave advice on how to create mosquito breeding grounds as the Wehrmacht retreated.

Then after the Fascists and the Nazis came the Americans, who deluged helpless Italy with deadly DDT dropped from bombers. That’s the way Snowden makes it sound, anyway. He does have to admit, seemingly reluctantly, the malaria was eliminated from Italy by 1961, but attributes that to the renewed adoption of a multilevel approach. One of the ironies here is part of that multilevel approach was the use of a larvicide on standing water; while Snowden is busy decrying DDT as a deadly chemical (strangely, he repeatedly calls DDT a “hydrocarbon”; no chemist would classify it that way) he only casually mentions the larvicide by its common name – Paris Green – and never by its chemical name – copper (II) acetoarsenite. That’s right; while DDT is decried, an arsenic compound sprayed in water are fine; it’s even got “Green” in the name.

Well, perhaps I’m to critical; the history does remind us that for every problem there’s a simple and easy to implement solution that’s wrong. A map of Italy in the front matter. Illustrations scattered through the text. Lots of useful tables displaying the ups and downs of the malaria control campaigns. Good endnotes and bibliography (although most of the referenced works are in Italian. As mentioned above, the main drawback is there needs to be a short summary of malaria biology.
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setnahkt | 1 other review | Apr 20, 2018 |


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