Sunday, December 2, 2012

What's Not To Like?

Rats, Lice, and History, by Hans Zinsser, is a hoot!

Hans Zinsser - physician, scientist, war hero, and author - wrote a book in 1934, which he titled, with mock yet informative

Rats, Lice, and History: Being a Study in Biography, which, after Twelve Preliminary Chapters Indispensable for the Preparation of the Lay Reader, Deals with the Life History of Typhus Fever

Also known, at various stages of its Adventurous Career, as Morbus pulicaris (Cardanus, 1545); Tabardiglio y puntos (De Toro, 1574); Pintas; Febris purpurea epidemica (Coyttarus, 1578); Febris quam lenticulas vel punticulas vocant (Fracastorious, 1546); Morbus hungaricus; La Poupre; Pipercorn; Febris petechialis vera; Febris maligna pestilens; Febris putrida et maligna; Typhus carcerorum; Jayl Fever; Fievre des hospitaux; Pestis bellica; Morbus castrensis; Famine Fever; Irish Ague; Typhus exanthematicus; Faulfieber; Hauptkrankheit; Pestartige Braune; Exanthematishces Nervenfieber, and so forth, and so forth.
Any popular book on natural history that starts by skewering the news media, the literary establish, and social convention is going to be great fun to read.   Before engaging his topic he takes much time to explain the philosophy of science, the history of epidemiology, and microbiology as it was understood at the time.  Awarded many honors for his brave and selfless service as a military doctor working in the trenches of WWI, Zinsser makes much of the impact typhus and other diseases have had on military campaigns across history.  Throughout this informative book's text, footnotes, chapter subtitles,and myriad discursions, Zinsser applies wickedly pointed turns of phrase to criticize political fashions, military misadventure, and cultural norms.  This classic was well-received in its day and is still regarded as an important treatise.  Rats, Lice, and History should be read by anyone who is interested in history, biology, or literature.