The history of public health has been a flourishing field in the last three decades. Yet despite a spate of excellent monographs about various epidemic diseases and many good collections about health and disease in Africa, Asia, The Middle East, Latin America, as well as Europe and North America, the most recent textbook on the history of public health is four decades old.
Why attempt the history of suicide? Leaving aside the rare episodes of mass self-destruction by such people as sect members and warriors determined to die rather than fall into the hands of their enemies, suicides have never made up more than a tiny m inority of any known human population. A rate of 25 per 100,000, or one in four thousand, counts as high in the late twentieth century.
At the heart of this majestic and complex book is a simple story, engagingly recounted by the author. On 11 February 1855, Bernadette Soubirous, a young Pyrenean shepherdess, together with her sister Toinette and a friend Jeanne Abadie, was instructed by her impoverished mother to go out and search for tinder for the stove (p.3).
Professor Spence is described on the dust-cover of this book as 'perhaps now the leading historian of China in the English-speaking world'. Without doubt he is the most imaginative and the most versatile scholar working in that field. The Gate of Heavenly Peace, first published in 1981, was a history of modern China as seen through the lives of Chinese writers and intellectuals.
For almost half a century, the classic description and analysis of Communist treatment of the nationalities question over the early years of the Bolshevik regime has been Richard Pipes magisterial The Formation of the Soviet Union: Communism and Nationalism, 1917- 1923, published by Harvard University Press in 1954.
Much of the shape of modern Europe was determined by changes which took place in the time of Gregory VII, who as 'Hildebrand' was a powerful influence in the papacy from 1046 and was himself pope from 1073 to his death 1085.
There are various ways of reading Timothy Garton Ash's History of the Present and I shall try to look at it through four different sets of criteria. These are iconographical, historical-historiographical, political and sociological, and, finally, literary.
This book began life some years ago as a doctoral thesis, prepared under the direction of John Merriman. It is an investigation of conflicting nineteenth-century theories on contagion. Some experts thought that illness was brought in from outside society, particularly by immigrants, others that disease arose from within through a combination of physical and moral imperfections.
By any stretch of the imagination Hitler’s rise and fall was extraordinary. He was not an intellectual. He produced no great works of philosophy or art.
This is an admirable feat of constructive compression. It achieves synthesis without sacrificing clarity, a feature that has become one of the author's hallmarks. What makes this book the more impressive is that within small confines it argues so effectively against reductionism in the study of national identity.