Who Gave Pinta to the Santa Maria? Torrid Diseases in a Temperate World

In This Review

Who Gave Pinta to the Santa Maria? Torrid Diseases in a Temperate World

By Robert S. Desowitz
W. W. Norton, 1997
256 pp. $25.00
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Not for the politically correct (Desowitz stoutly defends the use of the term "tropical diseases," occasionally derided as a bit of European medical condescension) nor the queasy of stomach (bloody urine, 45-foot-long tapeworms, and explosive diarrhea figure prominently), this is a lively account of how diseases have migrated from the equator toward the poles. There may be little new in Desowitz's conclusion that increased travel, denser populations, and the cunning of viruses may be paving the way for ghastly epidemics in the years to come, but that does not take away from the seriousness of the contention. Largely anecdotal history, the book provides an introduction considerably less painful than the diseases described in it to the ways in which humanity has contracted, spread, and -- with mixed success -- attempted to contain or crush a terrifying array of diseases.