The Mosquito

A Human History of Our Deadliest Predator
Narrated by: Mark Deakins
Length: 19 hrs and 7 mins
4.3 out of 5 stars (357 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

The instant New York Times best seller

An international best seller

"Hugely impressive, a major work." (NPR)

A pioneering and groundbreaking work of narrative nonfiction that offers a dramatic new perspective on the history of humankind, showing how through millennia, the mosquito has been the single most powerful force in determining humanity’s fate

Why was gin and tonic the cocktail of choice for British colonists in India and Africa? What does Starbucks have to thank for its global domination? What has protected the lives of popes for millennia? Why did Scotland surrender its sovereignty to England? What was George Washington's secret weapon during the American Revolution? 

The answer to all these questions, and many more, is the mosquito.

Across our planet since the dawn of humankind, this nefarious pest, roughly the size and weight of a grape seed, has been at the frontlines of history as the grim reaper, the harvester of human populations, and the ultimate agent of historical change. As the mosquito transformed the landscapes of civilization, humans were unwittingly required to respond to its piercing impact and universal projection of power.

The mosquito has determined the fates of empires and nations, razed and crippled economies, and decided the outcome of pivotal wars, killing nearly half of humanity along the way. She (only females bite) has dispatched an estimated 52 billion people from a total of 108 billion throughout our relatively brief existence. As the greatest purveyor of extermination we have ever known, she has played a greater role in shaping our human story than any other living thing with which we share our global village.

Imagine for a moment a world without deadly mosquitoes, or any mosquitoes, for that matter? Our history and the world we know, or think we know, would be completely unrecognizable.

Driven by surprising insights and fast-paced storytelling, The Mosquito is the extraordinary untold story of the mosquito’s reign through human history and her indelible impact on our modern world order.

©2019 Timothy C. Winegard (P)2019 Penguin Audio

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  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

A Bit of A Disappointment

I was very excited to listen to this book and I was thrilled that is so quickly came to Audible. The first 30 minutes were incredibly interesting and then .... it quickly became dull as dishwater with only a few interesting breaks in the last 18 hours of the book. The issue, to me, was the fact that for 2/3 of the book, the mosquito is not even a character - the book is merely a very very cursory history of major world conflicts. Also, very disappointedly, the book makes some very general assumptions and does NOT go into detail explaining them. A big example of this is the concept of 'seasoning' that makes people who have been exposed to malaria less likely to have (severe) symptoms in the future. While this word was used hundreds of times, never was it explained what physiologically happens in a human's body to become 'seasoned' to malaria. This is particularly grating when so much of the book was wasted on a non-mosquito general history. On a positive note, the narrator deserves a 10+ for his performance. Sadly, I can not recommend this book.

21 people found this helpful

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Needs editing

Some good material but way too much repetition. 'The mosquito did X. When the mosquto did X, Y happened. Previous clause unnecessarily repeated. Needs basic editing and shortening.

15 people found this helpful

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Major Disappointment

This was an extremely disappointing book. What I'd hoped would be a revelatory work on epidemiology and anthropology was quickly discovered to be a florid, Western/American-centric military history, with some cultural and social trappings thrown in for good measure. A promising opening few chapters drew me in, but by the time I hit chapter 3 or so, the whole story started to feel like a grind. Almost every chapter focused on some military campaign or other, almost to the exclusion of other considerations. Where you might have expected to learn how South Asian cultures grew and evolved alongside mosquitoes and their tropical diseases, or what ancient China did about malaria (beyond the author's small mention of some traditional Chinese medical treatments), you instead get a march through Western military history from the Peloponnesian War to WWII. Often, campaigns are recounted in some detail, for the paragraph to end with "And the soldiers were being eaten by mosquitoes all the while." The few bright spots in the book were also riven with obnoxious anthromorphizations of the mosquito as "General Anopheles." Cute the first time, it quickly grated on me. Furthermore, many of the elaborate metaphors felt misleading, if not wrong. "The parched mosquito" feasted on the "virgin blood" of Mongol warriors in Eastern Europe, for example. Why "parched"? Had mosquitoes not been feasting on Hungarians and Poles and were they abnormally malnourished? Why "virgin blood"? Had the Mongols not encountered malaria up to that point? Were these fresh young troops recruited from the north Caucasus or Kazakhstan where malaria was scarce? No explanation for this type of word choice exists. Instead, it feels like the author wrote this book with a thesaurus close at hand, thumbing through it for substitutes and alliterative synonyms that distracted from the message or gave false impressions; while "contagion" is a loose synonym for "disease," it doesn't describe malaria, which is not contagious. Another frustration is the Euro-American focus of the book. Famously, European conquest of Africa was perennially thwarted by tropical disease. I (wrongly) assumed that the chapter on "Expansion and Imperialism," following the entire chapter devoted to the US Civil War, would involve the scramble for Africa and how Europe was finally able to conquer the continent. Nope. Instead, the Spanish-American War and the occupations of the Philippines and Hawaii took up most of the chapter. The Panama canal gets a deserved mention, but Africa and South East Asia only received a few paragraphs' nod. Unfortunately, the book reads like a wikipedia page, replete with tangential anecdotes about pop culture and bizarre time jumps (Pay close attention to which World War is being discussed sentence to sentence) as the author tries to organize his thoughts. This book could have used a few more edits and a major expansion of its focus if it really wants to be "A Human History" of the mosquito. When the author admits in the intro that he is an historian, not an entomologist or epidemiologist, take heed. Even then, he seems like a superficial historian, at best. If you're "famished" for a book about the impact of mosquitoes on human history, I suggest you look elsewhere.

22 people found this helpful

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Read it if Malaria excites you

It is likely that the author had a slick publisher who suggested that the title be changed from 'Malaria in History' to the current title. The Preface and possibly chapters 18 and last are about mosquitoes. Be ware as the remainder, of this long, carefully researched history, is a telling of the role of Malaria, Dengue and West Nile. Absent are wonders of the mosquito including its anatomy, the remarkable anesthetic and micro probe system, the interference RNA that protects it from the diseases conveyed, the sequestered ability of malaria and viruses in its saliva. In short, if you wish the science of this unique organism, its genetics and evolution, its complicated role as viral provocateur, do not go here. Similarly if you wonder about why human genomic material is laden with viral genes (?mosquito catalyst) you wont find it. So the book was done with turgid care, slow but acute attention to history but without the excitement that might have been.

3 people found this helpful

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Disappointing

As a physician with a longtime interest in malaria’s interactions with human migration I was incredibly excited to start this book. It was all down hill from there. The book is a dry rehashing of military history occasionally connected to mosquitoes with overwrought metaphors of “General anopheles” and other anthropomorphisms that similarly distract from the natural history. So close, yet so far

2 people found this helpful

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How many times must we hear "General Anopheles"

I love well written books that explore a fundamental factor that has influenced history. The Mosquito is not such a book. Author WInegard is enthusiastic about his topic, but I found his writing consistently trite. I credit Winegard with citing several sources, but I kept wishing i was reading one of them, e.g. J. R. McNeill's Mosquito Empires. Seems Winegard has a background in military service, and this book seemed to me more like his summary of world military history. There was way too much content that had little to do with mosquito-borne illness, instead superficially recounting war and battles. Until the 19th century, Winegard was unable to demonstrate why malaria made a DIFFERENCE; how would it have afflicted one group of combatants more than the enemy? Most chapters I found tiresome and repetitive. Often the body of the chapter added little meaningful content to what Winegard said in the introduction to that chapter. He does make the point that mosquito borne illness has taken countless lives and in a warming world of jet travel will be a bigger problem in the future.

2 people found this helpful

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What a great education!

The near total integration of the mosquito and humanity is a fastening story, which, in my opinion should be understood by all persons in search of life on earth! Being well written and narrated added to the experience!

8 people found this helpful

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Ok... we get it!

Didn’t read the book reviews or “back cover”, but this books title is misleading. I know this book is supposed to be able the influences the mosquito had and has on human civilizations, but this is more of a world history that includes mosquito facts than it is a book about mosquitoes. Why do I say this? Just look at the chapter headings. (Should have been a sign) Each chapter is designated to a period in time surrounding a specific culture or leader. Technically there is nothing wrong with this, but each chapter ends up being a series or random facts about famous world leaders and how their wars were won with mosquitoes. Seriously, there are at least 2 chapters about the mosquitoes in the swamps around Rome, with the mosquito playing the same role. Both chapters could have been combined into a chapter about that region of the Earth and mosquitoes in it. Seriously, why did I need to know about King Author’s horse? Why did I need to know about origins of Han’s name and his offspring? Why did I need to hear about Columbus motives for sailing and the motives of the Spanish court to supply the funds? Nearly 75% of each chapter is a history lesson containing relatively well known history trivia, none of which relates to mosquitoes. To be clear, all of these eras and geographical regions are relevant. There is information in each chapter that is good, but this book could be at least half as long if it were told through the lens of the mosquito rather than the lens of world leaders and their desire for conquest. How about 1 chapter, JUST ONE, on how mosquitoes foiled the plans of famous world leaders by sickening their armies. Then 1 on how marshes acted in favor of a city by defending it. Then 1 on unintended consequences of introducing mosquitoes and their diseases to new worlds. The 1 on medical break throughs related to mosquitoes. The 1 on the biology of mosquitoes. Then 1 on the diseases carried by mosquitoes. Notice how this list contains different concepts related to the mosquito that impacts more than just the geopolitical arm of human history. That would be interesting. Therefore if you want to skip this book, just pick up a world history textbook and insert “and they were weakened by the disease carried by mosquitoes” after reading about EVERY civilization that lost a war. LITERALLY ALL OF THEM!!!!

1 person found this helpful

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A different history protagonist

The body of research is quite impressive and although some social, economic and political conclusions can be a little far fetched, overall is a great Western history book. Sometimes repetitive, by the forth or fifth chapter you are either used to the rhythm and will continue to enjoy the book, or be fed up and leave it aside. I would recommend to stick with it because the story is worth it and as much as one knows of history, this is a very valuable perspective on the making of the West world.

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Good at First...

Interestingly written, but as others have mentioned, I noticed that the author is inaccurate on numerous occasions- and each time an error was stated as fact, made me wonder about all the other information on the topic included in the book. Narrator is very good and easy to listen to.