The story of a vision that became a reality. Gareth Williams dramatically brings to life the history of smallpox, its devastating effect across the world on both rich and poor through the centuries, and its eventual defeat. I did not know that, before Jenner invented the safe procedure of vaccination, people were prepared to go through the horrors of variolation which carried a real risk of death. They thought it a better bet than catching a disease which meant an agonising death for many and disfigurement for most of those who survived. Nor did I know that smallpox had its origins in a gerbil pox. Nor that Jenner receives far greater recognition for his contribution outside Britain than in his home country.
Once vaccination had been invented and proved effective, proponents had to fight off a backlash, not least from the medical profession which risked losing the lucrative business of administering the more complex and costly procedure of variolation. Anti-vaccination movements developed the strategies and rhetoric which live on in the 20th century with the attacks on the MMR vaccine.
An attempt to consign the idea of eradicating smallpox to the long grass by giving the task to an unlikely candidate failed. An underfunded worldwide organisation was cobbled together and, 30 years ago, was able to announce that there were no more cases in the wild. It puts to shame the many bureaucratic multi-national efforts, official and non-governmental, which are carried on today.
Williams ends his fascinating story by speculating on the dangers posed, in our unstable world, by the remaining stocks of smallpox virus which various governments have chosen to keep.
All this, and much, much more, awaits you in this exciting and compelling volume.