The End of Plagues. The Global Battle Against Infectious Disease

Spanning three centuries, The End of Plagues weaves together the discovery of vaccination, the birth and growth of immunology, and the fight to eradicate the world's most feared diseases.

Front Dust JacketAt the turn of the twentieth century, smallpox claimed the lives of two million people per year. By 1979, the disease had been eradicated and victory was declared across the globe. Yet the story of smallpox remains the exception, as today a host of deadly contagions, from polio to AIDS, continue to threaten human health around the world. Spanning three centuries, The End of Plagues weaves together the discovery of vaccination, the birth and growth of immunology, and the fight to eradicate the world's most feared diseases. From Edward Jenner's discovery of vaccination in 1796, to the early nineteenth-century foundling voyages in which chains of orphans, vaccinated one by one, were sent to colonies around the globe, to the development of polio vaccines and the stockpiling of smallpox as a biological weapon in the Cold War, distinguished immunologist John Rhodes charts our fight against these plagues, and shows how vaccinations gave humanity the upper hand. Today, aid groups including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the World Health Organization have made the eradication of polio a priority, and Rhodes takes us behind the scenes to witness how soon we may be celebrating the eradication of polio.

The Author.

Photograph of John RhodesJohn Rhodes is an international expert in immunology and vaccination, and has held research fellowships at the US National Institutes of Health and the University of Cambridge. From 2001 to 2007 he was director of strategy in immunology at GlaxoSmithKline, a leading multinational healthcare company. He is a fellow of the Royal College of Pathologists, has been published in Nature, Science, and the Lancet. He lives and works in Cambridge, UK.

Media Coverage.

Kirkus Reviews, in its review concludes

"By no means the end of plagues, but a wonderful account of the end of smallpox and the man who deserves full credit for devising one of the safest and most effective means of prevention."

In a review in the Times Higher Education Helen Bynum writes

"Much of the book is taken up with the history of smallpox and polio. Rhodes uses both to good effect to explain how the vaccines work and how they were derived and applied. He recounts how the final push to eradicate smallpox was achieved not by blind mass vaccination, but by targeted surveillance-containment policies, and considers why polio remains a threat. He also looks briefly at vaccinations against tuberculosis and flu, HIV and malaria. All present a diverse range of immunological challenges, which have been only partially met. The science behind these limited successes makes for some of the best chapters in the book, which is especially impressive given the difficulty of making immunology accessible to the lay reader.
Rhodes knows that science and its application do not occur in a vacuum. He discusses the role of the media in creating positive and negative vaccination stories: the combined DTP (diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis) and MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccines and the controversial (and later disproven) claims of their links to autism are handled well. War and displacement, distrust of outsiders or of Western science are the enemies of preventative medicine, too. Yet Rhodes remains wonderfully upbeat. If sometimes he seems a little too optimistic about the past, should we dent his enthusiasm for the future? Immunology and the countless deadly diseases it can prevent probably have need of it."

In "Pandemics and plagues: the fight of our lives" in COSMOS Magazine Adam Jenney writes

"The End of Plagues by John Rhodes is the historical tale of vaccination and the extraordinary achievements that have come from its implementation. This is a very clear and well-written description of the eradication of smallpox last century and the hopefully imminent demise of polio as a human pathogen."
"This is a fascinating book, yet despite its hopeful title, the story continues."

Gloria Nneoma Onwuneme opens her review published in The Bookbag

In The End of Plagues, the remarkably clear voice of immunologist John Rhodes takes one through significant moments in man’s battle against infectious diseases. The artillery on which Rhodes focuses is that of the vaccine, which has taken us further away from the extreme grip infections once had on the course of history. The book starts with the example of smallpox, for which Edward Jenner first made a vaccine, having been in a world where variolation was on the rise. Between Jenner’s first serum transfer – from an immune milkmaid to a servant’s son – and the present day, several vaccines have been developed against ailments such as measles, various influenzas, and polio.
The biographies and the outlines of immunology history are equally excellent and captivating in the book. They show that the passage of time has not eroded the level of complexity of issues which were faced during the birth of the vaccine – rather, it has only slightly altered the nature of the complexities. As a result, the case of smallpox is a solid motif to which Rhodes continually refers, as he weaves the tales of many other diseases. Edward Jenner was busy pioneering the practice of vaccination, succeeding the clever, but problematic, tradition of variolation. But when Jenner suggested using attenuated cowpox to eradicate smallpox, scepticism was great in, and greatly displayed by, the public and fellow English natural scientists alike. Though celebrated today, he was held at arm’s length from the medical establishment in London for the duration of his career and life.

In the review in her I Read, Therefore I Blog weblog Caroline Hooton writes

"All in all, I learnt a lot from reading this and thanks to the extensive end notes there’s a lot more out there for people who want to explore the subject further."

Sally Brown in the LSE Review of Books concludes her review

"It is clear that although we have come a long way in the three hundred years since this story started, there is still much work to be done. Polio is almost eradicated, but clings on in some parts of the world, not least because of deliberate violence against those trying to carry out vaccination programmes. Two of the world’s most serious killers, malaria and diarrhea, seem beyond the reach of an affordable and practical vaccination programme. Despite this, and despite the fact that we are not at the end of all plagues, this is a fascinating book and well worth a read for anyone interested in the history of medicine."

Where To Buy.

The following list of Book Suppliers has been compiled by Post-Polio News. The links will take you to the suppliers page for The End of Plagues unless otherwise stated. The list is not intended to be comprehensive and new suppliers may be added over time.

Palgrave Macmillan, the publisher's UK site:

Amazon, UK:
[Kindle Edition also available]

Google Books: includes limited preview.
[eBook Edition]

Waterstones, UK:

Book Depository

Sainsbury's Entertainment, UK: This is the online home for independent bookshops in the UK and Ireland. To order, begin with the book, The End of Plagues and then search for the bookshop of your choice.

Macmillan, publisher's US site:

Amazon, USA:

Barnes & Noble, USA:

Amazon, Canada:

Amazon, Germany:

Amazon, India:

Amazon, Spain:

Amazon, Japan:

Boomerang Books, Australia:

This page is provided by Post-Polio News and was last updated June 18, 2014 .