A vibrant cultural history investigating pandemics and vaccines, by bestselling author and historian Simon Schama
Cities and countries engulfed by panic and death, desperate for vaccines but fearful of what inoculation may bring. This is what the world has just gone through with Covid-19. But as Simon Schama shows in his epic history of vulnerable humanity caught between the terror of contagion and the ingenuity of science, it has happened before.
Characteristically, Schama’s message is delivered through gripping, page-turning stories set in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries: smallpox strikes London; cholera hits Paris; plague comes to India. Threading through the scenes of terror, suffering and hope – in hospitals and prisons, palaces, and slums – are an unforgettable cast of characters: a philosopher-playwright burning up with smallpox in a country chateau; a vaccinating doctor paying house calls in Halifax; a woman doctor in south India driving her inoculator-carriage through the stricken streets as dead monkeys drop from the trees. But we are also in the labs when great, life-saving breakthroughs happen, in Paris, Hong Kong, and Mumbai.
At the heart of it all is an unsung hero: Waldemar Haffkine, a gun-toting Jewish student in Odesa turned microbiologist at the Pasteur Institute, hailed in England as “the saviour of mankind” for vaccinating millions against cholera and bubonic plague in British India while being cold-shouldered by the medical establishment of the Raj. Creator of the world’s first mass production line of vaccines in Mumbai, he is tragically brought down in an act of shocking injustice.
Foreign Bodies crosses borders between east and west, Asia and Europe, the worlds of rich and poor, politics and science. Its thrilling story carries with it the credo of its author on the interconnectedness of humanity and nature; of the powerful and the people. Ultimately, Schama says, as we face the challenges of our times together, “there are no foreigners, only familiars.”
Simon Schama is University Professor of Art History and History at Columbia University in New York. His award-winning books include Scribble, Scribble, Scribble; The American Future: A History; National Book Critics Circle Award winner Rough Crossings; The Power of Art; The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age; Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution; Dead Certainties (Unwarranted Speculations); Landscape and Memory; Rembrandt's Eyes; and the History of Britain trilogy. He has written and presented forty television documentary films for the BBC, PBS, and The History Channel, including the Emmy-winning Power of Art, on subjects that range from John Donne to Tolstoy.
"A vivid account of the horror of epidemics and the breakthroughs that can bring them under control." — Kirkus Reviews
“A splendid and often moving work of history. . . .Schama has a gift for combining novelistically colorful detail, serious analysis, and wryly amusing asides.” — Daily Telegraph (London)
"Superb." — Observer
“Extraordinary. . . . A meticulous retelling of a terrible yet scientifically innovative period. . . . Schama makes an urgent case for building a better future on our toxic past.” — The Guardian
“Gripping. . . . This is history of the best sort—humanly engaged but never sentimental.” — Mail on Sunday
“An epic and impassioned history.” — Financial Times
“A very personal and rather wonderful book.” — Literary Review
“Vast, terrifying, and somehow beautiful. . . .A masterful work of nonfiction.” — Irish Times
“Insightful . . . . Schama’s wide-ranging history brings worthwhile lessons from the past to the present. Readers will be enlightened.” — Publishers Weekly
"[An] important and inimitable book...always cautionary and sage." — Booklist (starred review)
“In his eloquent, discursive Foreign Bodies, the art historian and Europhile turns his colossal erudition to pandemics and the women and men who transformed our understanding of them. It's just what the doctor ordered as a robust SARS CoV-2 variant surges across the globe. . . . Foreign Bodies is sterling cultural history, but it also reminds us that political concerns mold our choices as future pandemics brew.” — Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Fascinating. . . . a sweeping social history of inoculation. . . . Along the way, readers meet vaccination’s most regular traveling companion—distrust.” — The Economist
"Foreign Bodies is sterling cultural history, but it also reminds us that political concerns mold our choices as future pandemics brew.” — Hamilton Cain, Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Fascinating. . . . a sweeping social history of inoculation. . . . Along the way, readers meet vaccination’s most regular traveling companion—distrust.” — Economist
“In Foreign Bodies, Simon Schama studies pandemics past and present, and how much — and little — we have learned. . . . The appearance of yet another enthusiastic and erudite history from Simon Schama is an event always to be welcomed. . . . The story of Waldemar Mordechai Wolff Haffkine, little told in the West beyond the world of bacteriology and within the annals of Judaica, is thrilling in its nobility and verve. . . . Schama’s central character proves an irresistible enchantment.” — New York Times Book Review
“[Schama] reconciles the weight of medical detail with the light-footed pleasures of narrative discovery. His book profiles some of the unsung miracle workers of modern vaccination, and offers a subtle rumination on borders political and biological.” — Wall Street Journal