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August 9, 2019

The Mosquito: A Human History of Our Deadliest Predator by Timothy C. Winegard ~ a Review

by Donna Huber


Some of you know that for my day job I work for a research center that studies tropical diseases so when I saw Timothy Winegard's new book on Netgalley I thought this might be an interesting read and give me a nice overview of a vector species for my job.

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. A free book was provided for an honest review.


August 2019; Dutton; 978-1524743413
audio, ebook, print (496 pages); history
I'm sure mosquitoes were covered in my invertebrate biology course in college, but I don't remember much though from the papers I read at work there are some interesting facts. A few years ago I read The History of the Gene by Siddhartha Mukherjee which filled in some of the gaps in my genetic knowledge and I hoped this book would provide similar information. However, unlike Mukherjee, Winegard is a historian and not a scientist. Therefore, The Mosquito does not really focus on the science or the history of mosquito science.

It is still an enjoyable and educating read. I just wanted you to know if you are looking more for science history, this may not be what you are looking for. But if you want a comprehensive overview of how the mosquito and the diseases it spreads has shaped world history, then you have found the right book.

Early on I suspected that Winegard's area of historical expertise was military. There is a lot of focus on wars throughout history, starting in antiquity and going through the Vietnam War. Often there were large sections when the mosquito wasn't even mentioned.

While I enjoy history, I don't care so much about battles. Especially when early battles just seemed like the next verse of the same song. The wars of Alexander the Great, Attila the Hun, Genghis Khan, etc could pretty much be summed up as: sought world domination, stretched themselves too far from the homeland (making reinforcements and supplies difficult to receive), camped in a marsh, battle fatigued soldiers were easy targets of mosquitoes and succumbed to the diseases they transmitted.

That doesn't mean there aren't some interesting facts sprinkled throughout these ancient battles that I at times found tedious to read about. Like the elongated heads we associate with the Huns was a result of babies having their heads strapped between two boards. Why? I don't know as that wasn't discussed.

As it has been more than 20 years since I took a history course, I was reminded of quite a few events and individuals that I had forgotten. And in this era of fake news, it's important to remember our history lessons.

At times, The Mosquito read more like a textbook rather than a book for the general public. And while the title is catchy, the book does not solely focus on the mosquito. Actually, I feel that it is more diseases that shaped history, and Winegard often details the effect of yellow fever and malaria on historical outcomes. Without the viruses and parasites transmitted by the mosquito, it would be harmless. Without the mosquito would these viruses and parasites (like yellow fever and malaria) have been transmitted to humans? I think that something else would have evolved to transmit these diseases.

As Winegard points out in his acknowledgments, the mosquito and its transmitted diseases are often ignored in history. In my history courses, the outcomes of historical events weren't attributed to the mosquito. Occasionally illness was given consideration as a contributing factor, but even then I think it was more related to unsanitary conditions than say yellow fever.  Influenza (namely the pandemic of 1918) and bubonic plague (the Black Death) gets some attention in the history books, but others not so much. Yellow fever is just a footnote in American history as one of the many hardships colonists faced.

As someone who works to bring attention to these less known diseases and the insects that transmit them, I'm excited about this book. Whether battles were won or lost, economies flourished or failed was largely based on a pesky little insect that we annoyingly swat away during our summer outdoor activities. Winegard does a good job emphasizing the importance of continued research for mosquito control and malarial treatment.

As we know, history often repeats itself and the mosquito could be the small, but mighty, warrior that proves to be the downfall of the human race. Don't believe me? Then pick up this book.

Buy The Mosquito at Amazon

Donna Huber is an avid reader and natural encourager. She is the founder of Girl Who Reads and the author of how-to marketing book Secrets to a Successful Blog Tour.

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