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Angel of Death: The Story of Smallpox [Paperback]

Gareth Williams
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
Price: 10.99 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

26 Aug 2011
Angel of Death tells a lively and powerful tale: the story of our battle against smallpox, once humankind's greatest killer, but ultimately the only disease that we have successfully eradicated from the planet. By skilfully weaving together previously neglected voices with the personal experiences of colourful historical figures such as Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and Edward Jenner, Gareth Williams breathes life into one of the most exciting success stories in the history of medicine.

Filled with original and engaging insights into the anti-vaccination movement and the alarming unlearned lessons of smallpox, Angel of Death will appeal to all those moved by the thrill of discovery and the individual's fight against adversity.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 456 pages
  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan (26 Aug 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0230302319
  • ISBN-13: 978-0230302310
  • Product Dimensions: 20 x 13 x 3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 62,281 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

More About the Author

Gareth Williams

Gareth Williams was born in Glasgow in 1952 and grew up in Belfast, where he was taught English by the poet Michael Longley.

He won an Open Scholarship to Clare College, Cambridge to read medicine and qualified as a doctor with Honours in 1977.

After junior posts in London and Geneva, he moved to Liverpool in 1988 and built up a research group that became internationally renowned for its work on diabetes and obesity. He became a Professor of Medicine in 1995. From 2003-8, he was Dean of Medicine in Bristol and remains there as Professor of Medicine, now focusing on medical education.

Gareth has published about 200 scientific papers, mostly on diabetes and obesity, and edited or written over 20 medical books. The Textbook of Diabetes and Handbook of Diabetes (both with John Pickup) are leading texts in the field and have won several prizes, including BMA Book of The Year. His less serious articles include a case report on Squirrel Nutkin and the use of chocolates to diagnose puberty - both of which have dogs as co-authors.

Inspired by Edward Jenner, who lived and practised nearby, Gareth wrote Angel of Death: the story of smallpox, during a year's sabbatical leave in 2009-10. Angel was published by Palgrave Macmillan in May 2010, leading to appearances on national and international radio and television, and at the Hay Literary Festival and many other events.

Angel of Death has been reviewed as "an astonishing book ... the best yet on the history of smallpox" and "wonderful ... vividly written ... an example of medical history at its absolute best" - and has just been shortlisted for the prestigious Wellcome Trust Book Prize 2010. You can hear Gareth talking about the book at: http://www.meettheauthor.co.uk/bookbites/1903.html

He is in demand as a speaker, on topics ranging from Edward Jenner and smallpox to the Loch Ness Monster. He has also been Public Orator at Bristol University for the conferment of several honorary degrees, including one awarded to Acker Bilk. A fluent French speaker, he is a former British President of the Anglo-French Medical Society and has an honorary doctorate from the University of Angers. His other interests include playing music (reputable and disreputable), cycling and writing fiction. His first novel, Cutting Edges, set in the front line of medical research, is currently setting off in search of a publisher.

Gareth lives in the Gloucestershire village of Rockhampton with his wife Caroline, children Tim and Jo, and two well-published Border collies. He is Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Edward Jenner Museum, which will receive the royalties from sales of the Angel.

Product Description


Shortlisted for the Wellcome Trust Book Prize 2010

'This extraordinary book brings alive the sheer horrors of smallpox and how mankind has managed to wipe it out using vaccination, pioneered by a Gloucestershire country doctor in 1796. This history has a very modern message, and this book needs to be read by everyone interested in public health today.' - Mark Horton, presenter of BBC TV's Coast and Professor of Archaeology, University of Bristol

'The Angel of Death is a fascinating account of the most terrible disease to afflict mankind. Smallpox showed no mercy: the young, old, poor and royalty all equally at risk; whole societies almost wiped out in its inexorable wake. 2010 marks the 30th anniversary of its final eradication; Gareth Williams charts this compelling story with a plot that weaves seamlessly between cultures and centuries. Written in a wonderfully flowing and engaging style, this is a must read for all lovers of history. Highly relevant for today as the fight lives on to banish other deadly diseases from the world.' 
- Sarah Parker, Director, Edward Jenner Museum, Gloucestershire, UK 

'Filled with fascinating historical detail, this story resonates with contemporary concerns about epidemics and the fight against them. Gareth Williams effortlessly weaves together medical science writing and social history to tell the compelling tale of a battle against a deadly disease.'  - Alice Roberts, Research Fellow in Archaeology & Anthropology, University of Bristol, UK 

'In lively prose with unpatronising insight into past medical dilemmas, he dramatises the scourge and its treatment first by variolation (immunisation with live smallpox virus) then vaccination, but also shows how controversial smallpox vaccination was during the 19th century.' - The Lancet

'...the author explores one of the most exciting success stories in the history of medicine. His book also gives original and engaging insights into the anti-vaccination campaigns which remain active today.' - The Guild of Health Writers 

'...an engaging narrative, in which medical history is interweaved with social history and reflections on contemporary issues.' - BBC History Magazine 

'Williams's account of our battle with the disease revisits historical accounts of its horrendous impact and the fascinating story of medical progress - including the pioneering use of vaccination by a country doctor in 1796 - and its relevance in the fight against modern epidemics.' - The Times 

'Wonderful. Wonderfully-researched, vividly-written, an example of medical history at its absolute best.' - Michael Neve 

'Williams has managed to bring to life one of the most enthralling, life changing success stories in the history of medicine' - Laboratory News 

'A breezy, accessible account by a professor of medicine.' - The Week


Book Description

The story of smallpox, one of the most savage killers in the history of mankind, and the only disease ever to be successfully exterminated (30 years ago next year) by a public health campaign

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very informative and a great read 1 Sep 2010
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Many people know the story of Jenner, cowpox, and the birth of vaccination against smallpox. While that story plays a central role in this book, Gareth Williams gives it a great deal of context without which the history of vaccination cannot be understood. So the first third or so of the book gives us the history of variolation, the procedure of inoculating with smallpox itself, a practice common in different forms in different forms across the world (e.g. Africa, China, Turkey) and popularised in Britain by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (who brought it from Istanbul) and then in the American Colonies by Cotton Mather (who was also involved in the Salem witch trials). Williams's book not only tells us about the history of smallpox before vaccination, and Jenner's discovery (and the disputes and battles surrounding it), but also the subsequent history of smallpox vaccination and resistance to it, up to the smallpox eradication campaign led by Donald Henderson.

This book is a joy to read. There is solid scholarship behind it, but this does not affect the writing style which is straightforward and engaging. The story of smallpox is a story of suffering and of discovery, it is also the storey of many compelling characters who come through vividly in this super book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
By paulus
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
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.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An enthralling read 23 Jun 2010
This is just the kind of book I enjoy most, in which history is learned effortlessly through the lives of extraordinary people. And there are many of those in this book, people from all walks of life and from all parts of the world, whose lives were transformed by smallpox in one way or another. Gareth Williams has dug deep into history to come up with this riveting book. I found it very difficult to put down. Highly recommended.
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5.0 out of 5 stars fascinating history 28 Dec 2013
By Sausage
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Very well researched and very readable history of smallpox. Social, medical and scientific history is covered. I am looking forward to reading the polio history.
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Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is a fabulous account of the history of this thankfully eliminated ghastly illness. Well written, meticulously researched and a riveting story.
Makes it all the more extraordinary that Edward Jenner is so little regarded - his home should be a UNESCO world heritage site and many more should make the effort to learn about this extraordinary discovery and its wonderful consequences for humankind.
Lifts one spirits and makes one proud to be British and to think of the achievements science is capable of. Millions will be spared the agonies and devastation of this awful illness. This is a great read - thoroughly recommended
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Informative and easy-to-read. Should be made compulsory reading for anti-vaxers and supporters of ex-doctor Andrew Wakefield. Recommended.

In many ways, vaccination programs have become the victim of their own success.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A good book about an interesting subject 1 May 2012
The books provides a good review of our dealings with smallpox since it first appeared right up to its eradication and the possibility of reappearance of "The Angel". While the style of telling the bulk of the story through significant characters was a good one there were a couple of places where it read more like a biography of the character rather than the story of smallpox. Overall this was a well written book about a fascinating subject.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars The Angel of Death
I'm in the middle of the book and so far fascinated. I'm not quite a scientific guy (primary teacher in Switzerland) and I like it a lot. Read more
Published on 13 Sep 2011 by pedrocarnier
5.0 out of 5 stars Good read
Was expecting this to be dry read and was pleasantly surprised by the style of narrative about what is, or more accurately was, an horrific disease.
Published on 8 Feb 2011 by F. M. Macey
5.0 out of 5 stars Illuminating human behaviour
This was one of my best reads this year. It charts the many attempts to outwit the smallpox virus and protect humans against this universal killer. Read more
Published on 24 Dec 2010 by HilaryCustanceGreen
5.0 out of 5 stars I agree with all the other reviewers!
I did plan to find my own words to review this book however the other reviewers have done such an excellent job of describing this wonderful work that I don't need to bother!
Published on 17 Nov 2010 by Mark Lloyd
5.0 out of 5 stars Social history at its most gripping
As a non-medic, I was slightly nervous that the `story of smallpox' would be a heavy read. By the end of the first chapter these fears had been forgotten and I devoured the book at... Read more
Published on 14 Sep 2010 by cjt
4.0 out of 5 stars History that still resonates
Smallpox was a disfiguring and often deadly disease. There has never been any cure. Nevertheless a rigorous World Health Organization campaign of mass vaccination, followed by... Read more
Published on 18 Aug 2010 by SJD
5.0 out of 5 stars The Defeat of Smallpox
A magnificently written, comprehensive and superbly researched and illustrated account of the history of this ubiquitous and lethal disease which dominated and threatened the lives... Read more
Published on 6 July 2010 by Dr John
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