Alcabes examines epidemics through history to show how they reflect the particular social and cultural anxieties of their times. From Typhoid Mary to bioterrorism, as new outbreaks are unleashed or imagined, new fears surface, new enemies are born, and new behaviors emerge. Dread dissects the fascinating story of the imagined epidemic: the one that we think is happening, or might happen; the one that disguises moral judgments and political agendas; the one that ultimately expresses our deepest fears.
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There are aspects to this audiobook that are much to like. It ably recaps mankind’s fear of and responses to outbreaks of disease and illness along a historical timeline in a sort of Epidemiology 101 primer way. In this respect it is informative without being trivial and will interest listeners with little or no understanding of the topic. In using an expansive definition of “epidemic” to include conditions which arguably are neither illnesses nor necessarily transmittable (e.g. autism, obesity), the author is able to focus more on mankind’s social response to perceived causes and “cures” rather than disease pathology. In this regard, Dread can intrigue by tracing how little our thinking has evolved over the centuries in our need to 1) find a cause for each epidemic and 2) equate that cause with an ethnic, religious, behavioural, or other scapegoat to both fear and blame. Still, I found it difficult to really get into this book. Despite the intriguing title, the writing style is dry and academic, akin to reading a textbook and the professorial tone of the narration brought me back to some of my worst experiences as a University freshman. In the end, this book may be better suited to skimming rather than listening to from start to finish.