Review: The Health of Nations–Infectious Disease, Environmental Change, and Their Effects on National Security and Development

5 Star, Complexity & Catastrophe, Disease & Health

Amazon Page
Amazon Page

5.0 out of 5 stars Brings Deep Expertise Within Reach of the Public,

October 10, 2002
Andrew T. Price-Smith
The author is the student who excelled at the University of Toronto, where Thomas F. Homer-Dixon is a professor (and himself author of “Environment, Scarcity, and Violence”), and is now a professor at the University of Southern Florida.Although the Central Intelligence Agency got this right in the 1970’s, clearly warning U.S. policymakers that AIDS and related diseases were “the” catastrophic threat to national security and regional stability in the closing quarter of the 20th century, and although the United Nations and its various agencies have clearly understood the relationship between disease, environmental degradation, and instability–with all that instability brings in terms of crime, forced migration, and so on, the author gets five stars for doing an absolutely brilliant job of putting all of this knowledge–and his own original contributions–into a readable volume that can be understood by the most loosely-educated policymakers we have, as well as the voting public.

The author does a superb job of both crediting others (e.g. Laurie Garrett, whose stunning book “BETRAYAL OF TRUST: The Collapse of Global Public Health” we reviewed last year) while weaving his own insights into the story. ERIDs are “emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases.” They matter more now because, as the author summarizes it, modern man is in a very different situation today: “individuals can travel around the world rapidly by airplane, and overpopulation and the growth of megacities have created entirely new ‘disease pools’ that will allow new pathogens to emerge and flourish.”

The author has done a fine job of documenting how “human-induced worldwide environmental destruction” is both releasing pathogens from their hiding places in rain forests, launching new microbes that wreak havoc on aquatic life, and proliferating resistant strains of micobial terrorists we do not understand. Bacteria, in brief, are a thousand to a million times more deadly that any terrorist gang, and we would be wise to get our priorities straight as we set about pretending to govern.

As a general statement, the author appears to have done very very well as identifying intervening variables that could be analyzed, and his conclusions on what needs to be done are “President ready.” He not only makes his case, he ends by calling for a massive increase in “health intelligence,” and thereby demonstrates a wit lacking in most academics.

The notes are excellent, there is no bibliography, and the index is so mediocre it might as well not have been included–there is also no biography of this talented author, a grevious lack. The book should be reissued with this deficiencies being corrected.

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