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Human Frontiers, Environments and Disease

Human Frontiers, Environments and Disease
Past Patterns, Uncertain Futures


  • Author: Tony McMichael, National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, Australian National University
  • Date Published: June 2001
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9780521004947

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About the Authors
  • This compelling account charts the relentless trajectory of humankind, and its changing survival and disease patterns, across place and time from when our ancient ancestors roamed the African Savannah to today's populous, industrialised, globalising world. This expansion of human frontiers - geographic, climatic, cultural and technological - has encountered frequent setbacks from disease, famine and dwindling resources. The social and environmental transformations wrought by agrarianism, industrialisation, fertility control, social modernisation, urbanisation and mass consumption have profoundly affected patterns of health and disease. Today, as life expectancies rise, the planet's ecosystems are being damaged by the combined weight of population size and intensive economic activity. Global warming, stratospheric ozone depletion and loss of biodiversity pose large-scale hazards to human health and survival. Recognising this, can we achieve a transition to sustainability? This and other profound questions underlie this chronicle of expansive human activity, social change, environmental impact and their health consequences.

    • Explores contemporary global environmental threats to human health and survival by examining the long history of environmental, social and cultural influences on human disease
    • Relates patterns of disease, past and present, to the fascinating stories of human evolution, environmental change and societal development. Includes many case studies and anecdotes
    • Contributes to the debate on how to develop an ecologically sustainable way of living
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    Reviews & endorsements

    'This impressive book by an eminent public health scientist explores our most important relationship: our interaction with the environment. It is essential reading for all concerned with assuring future human health - and our very survival.' Robert Beaglehole, University of Auckland

    'This book achieves an unusual and important synthesis of the large-scale evolutionary, social and environmental influences on human health and survival. This ecological perspective, highlighting the history of disease and wellness, the state of our epidemiological environment, and the general impacts of recent cultural trends on well-being, is essential if we are to achieve a sustainable future.' Paul R. Ehrlich, Stanford University, and author of Human Natures

    'Human Frontiers, Environments and Disease is an innovative and constructive analysis of a problem fundamental to mankind, past, present and future. No one concerned with the bio-medical prospects of the human race could fail to find Professor McMichael's accomplished account thought-provoking and eye-opening.' Roy Porter, The Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine

    'The combination of infection, malnutrition, and population pressure has sapped the vitality of communities for generations. New problems are being added constantly. Industrial development, often without restraining regulations, is causing environmental damage and disease; some of the worst health dangers of the industrialised world, such as cigarette smoking and traffic injury, are becoming increasingly common. McMichael has produced an excellent treatise on these changing patterns of human ecology and disease.' British Medical Journal

    'As a GP, I found this book very interesting and relevant to my personal medical practice. It was very thought provoking, and stimulated consideration of what the human race has done to affect the evolution of disease processes.'

    'In his closing sections, McMichael argues that today's global population cannot sustain current uses of water, air, and soil. Almost half the world's population lacks proper sanitation, and one in six do not have safe drinking water. At the same time, we produce 12 times more carbon dioxide and have four times more people living on the planet than a century ago, with widening gaps between rich and poor. … Spinoza advised that those who want the future to be different from the past, should study the past, a view heartily endorsed by McMichael in this important work.' The Lancet

    'McMichael examines one by one the various threats to our welfare and their medical implications … here is a book to make us think differently … a clear, lively, elegantly presented argument of wide scope in which unfamiliar issues are neatly put together. It is a tract for our times.' The Financial Times

    'The style is relaxed but succinct: I have seldom encountered a text where the essential points about disease causation were given so pleasantly and effectively.' The British Journal of General Practice

    'McMichael is one of the few public health scientists who have found ways to stand back from sectional interests and study the relationship between individuals, societies and the environment in which we live as a whole … the information is well organized, well illustrated, easy to read and delivered with a welcome sense of humour. It is essential reading for public health scientists, practitioners, academics and students, and for economists of all specialization's and ideological persuasions, given their increasing influence on public health debates.' Bulletin of the World Health Organization

    'Outstanding, intelectually stimulating, and with refreshing new ideas … merits a prominent place on the bookshelf of policy-makers, researchers, and teachers alike.' Global Change & Human Health

    'What I find most interesting and valuable about this book is that it provides one of the best examples I have seen of the global epidemiology approach. It addresses the major global public health issues by considering all of the available epidemiological evidence, some of it stretching back for several millennia … read it for the substantive content, but also read it as an outstanding example of the approach to epidemiology that we will be, or should be, taking in the 21st century.' International Journal of Epidemiology

    'Professor McMichael tells a wonderful story of humankind. To explain the human condition and our challenges for the future. The book is well organised and well produced. The book deserves to be read by all those with an interest in the human condition. Tony McMichael's book represents a major intellectual contribution to public health. Many of his admiring friends and colleagues, myself included, would wish for the ability to have written it themselves.' Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health

    'To attempt to cover the history, geography, biology and evolutionary significance of human health, and provide convincing future scenarios, takes a brave author with an unusual breadth of knowledge. McMichael shows that he is up to the task in this book, which will become a benchmark for discussions of global public health.' The Times

    'Well written and easily read … a compelling text.' Pediatric Endocrinology Reviews

    'This is a transcendental and grandiose book on a par with H. G. Wells' 'History of the World'.' Medical Sociology News

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    Product details

    • Date Published: June 2001
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9780521004947
    • length: 432 pages
    • dimensions: 247 x 175 x 26 mm
    • weight: 0.7kg
    • contains: 33 b/w illus. 4 tables
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. Disease patterns in human biohistory
    2. Human biology: the Pleistocene inheritance
    3. Adapting to diversity: climate, food and infection
    4. Infectious disease: humans and microbes coevolving
    5. The third horseman: food, farming and famines
    6. The industrial era: the fifth horseman?
    7. Longer lives and lower birth rates
    8. Modern affluence: lands of milk and honey
    9. Cities, social environments and synapses
    10. Global environmental change: overstepping limits
    11. Health and disease: an ecological perspective
    12. Footprints to the future: treading less heavily

  • Author

    Tony McMichael, National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, Australian National University
    Tony (A. J.) McMichael is Professor of Epidemiology, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. He has held positions in Australia, USA and UK, and has taught widely in Asia, Africa and Europe. He has advised WHO, UNEP, the World Bank and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on dietary, environmental and climatic influences on health. He has enthusiasms for palaeoanthropology and social history. His previous book published by Cambridge University Press in 1993 was Planetary Overload (ISBN 0521 55871 9), a widely acclaimed and influential account of global environmental change and the health of the human species.

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