Thursday, May 26, 2011
1) Foege, William H.. House On Fire: The Fight to Eradicate Smallpox. 2011. University of California Press. Hardbound: 218 pages. Price: $29.95 U.S.
SUMMARY: A story of courage and risk-taking, House on Fire tells how smallpox, a disease that killed, blinded, and scarred millions over centuries of human history, was completely eradicated in a spectacular triumph of medicine and public health. Part autobiography, part mystery, the story is told by a man who was one of the architects of a radical vaccination scheme that became a key strategy in ending the horrible disease when it was finally contained in India. In House on Fire, William H. Foege describes his own experiences in public health and details the remarkable program that involved people from countries around the world in pursuit of a single objective—eliminating smallpox forever. Rich with the details of everyday life, as well as a few adventures, House on Fire gives an intimate sense of what it is like to work on the ground in some of the world’s most impoverished countries—and tells what it is like to contribute to programs that really do change the world.
RECOMMENDATION: An interesting account on how smallpox was eradicated.
2) Lewis-Williams, David and Sam Chalis. Deciphering Ancient Minds: The Mystery of San Bushman Rock Art. 2011. Thames & Hudson. Hardbound: 224 pages. Price: $29.95 U.S.
SUMMARY: How did ancient peoples – those living before written records – think? This elegantly written, enlightening book demonstrates that the ‘prehistoric’ mind was as complex and sophisticated as our own.
Researchers over the years have believed their modes of thought fundamentally different from ours. Along with the Aborigines of Australia, the San people of southern Africa – among the last hunter-gatherers on Earth – were viewed either as irrational fantasists or childlike, spiritual conservationists.
New research has overturned these misconceptions. Here, the great authority David Lewis-Williams and his colleague Sam Challis reveal how the rock paintings and engravings can be made to yield insights into San beliefs and ways of thought.
Comprehensive transcriptions, made in the nineteenth century, exist of interviews with San people who were shown copies of the art and gave their interpretations of them. Using these and the analogy of the Rosetta Stone with its parallel texts, the authors move between the rock art and the San texts, teasing out the subtle meanings behind them both. The picture that emerges is very different from past analysis: this art is not a naïve narrative of daily life but rather is imbued with power and religious depth.
RECOMMENDATION: For those with an interest in African prehistory.