Skip to main content
Plagues and the Paradox of Progress: Why the World Is Getting Healthier in Worrisome Ways

Plagues and the Paradox of Progress: Why the World Is Getting Healthier in Worrisome Ways

Current price: $19.95
Publication Date: October 1st, 2019
The MIT Press
The MIT Press Bookstore
1 on hand, as of Apr 22 10:29am
On Our Shelves Now


Why the news about the global decline of infectious diseases is not all good.

Plagues and parasites have played a central role in world affairs, shaping the evolution of the modern state, the growth of cities, and the disparate fortunes of national economies. This book tells that story, but it is not about the resurgence of pestilence. It is the story of its decline. For the first time in recorded history, virus, bacteria, and other infectious diseases are not the leading cause of death or disability in any region of the world. People are living longer, and fewer mothers are giving birth to many children in the hopes that some might survive. And yet, the news is not all good. Recent reductions in infectious disease have not been accompanied by the same improvements in income, job opportunities, and governance that occurred with these changes in wealthier countries decades ago. There have also been unintended consequences. In this book, Thomas Bollyky explores the paradox in our fight against infectious disease: the world is getting healthier in ways that should make us worry.

Bollyky interweaves a grand historical narrative about the rise and fall of plagues in human societies with contemporary case studies of the consequences. Bollyky visits Dhaka—one of the most densely populated places on the planet—to show how low-cost health tools helped enable the phenomenon of poor world megacities. He visits China and Kenya to illustrate how dramatic declines in plagues have affected national economies. Bollyky traces the role of infectious disease in the migrations from Ireland before the potato famine and to Europe from Africa and elsewhere today.

Historic health achievements are remaking a world that is both worrisome and full of opportunities. Whether the peril or promise of that progress prevails, Bollyky explains, depends on what we do next.

A Council on Foreign Relations Book

About the Author

Thomas J. Bollyky is the Director of the Global Health Program at the Council on Foreign Relations and an Adjunct Professor of Law at Georgetown University.

Praise for Plagues and the Paradox of Progress: Why the World Is Getting Healthier in Worrisome Ways

"If you want to step back and think more broadly about Coronavirus, the Universe and Everything, you could do worse than start with Plagues and the Paradox of Progress by Thomas J. Bollyky."
LSE Review of Books

"A thought-provoking book that should be required reading for anyone working in public health or public policy arenas."
Library Journal

"A thoughtful reminder of the social, economic and political complexities inherent in sustainable public health."

"A remarkable new book."
Financial Times

"[This book] brings to the task a remarkable command of history, science, technology, medicine, public health, and political science. Bollyky combines his scholarship with an unusually fluid, writing style that invites readers to read more. In mapping his many 'worries', Bollyky carefully treads a middle path between pessimism and optimism."
The Lancet

"Plagues and the Paradox of Progress provides a smart warning about our future without discounting the successes of our past."
Health Affairs