Epidemics and Pandemics
From Ancient Plagues to Modern-Day Threats
by Joseph P. Byrne and Jo N. Hays
January 2021, 741pp, 7x10
2 volumes, Greenwood

Hardcover: 978-1-4408-6378-3
$214, £165, 187€, A294
eBook Available: 978-1-4408-6379-0
Please contact your preferred eBook vendor for pricing.

Although COVID-19 caught the world by surprise, public health experts had warned for years that it was only a matter of time before the next global pandemic emerged.

Beyond their impact on public health, epidemics shape and are shaped by political, economic, and social forces. This book examines these connections, exploring key topics in the study of disease outbreaks and delving deep into specific historical and contemporary examples.

From the Black Death that ravaged Europe in the 14th century to the influenza pandemic following World War I and the novel strain of coronavirus that made “social distancing” the new normal, wide-scale disease outbreaks have played an important role throughout human history. In addition to the toll they take on human lives, epidemics have spurred medical innovations, toppled governments, crippled economies, and led to cultural revolutions.

Epidemics and Pandemics: From Ancient Plagues to Modern-Day Threats provides readers with a holistic view of the terrifying—and fascinating—topic of epidemics and pandemics. In Volume 1, readers will discover what an epidemic is, how it emerges and spreads, what diseases are most likely to become epidemics, and how disease outbreaks are tracked, prevented, and combatted. They will learn about the impacts of such modern factors as global air travel and antibiotic resistance, as well as the roles played by public health agencies and the media. Volume 2 offers detailed case studies that explore the course and lasting significance of individual epidemics and pandemics throughout history.


  • Examines the topic from a number of angles, offering readers a holistic view of how epidemics and pandemics have affected and continue to affect the world
  • Explains the science behind the emergence and spread of disease in easy-to-understand, jargon-free language
  • Considers issues relevant to today's readers, including the impact of the anti-vaccination movement, climate change, global travel, and antibiotic resistance
  • Offers a detailed look at the most famous examples of epidemics and pandemics throughout history, using a standardized format that makes finding information quick and easy
Joseph P. Byrne holds a doctorate in medieval and early modern European history from Indiana University and has taught in the honors program and history department at Belmont University since 1988. He has published five books and numerous articles on the Black Death and early medical history, including the Encyclopedia of the Black Death (ABC-CLIO, 2012) and Health and Wellness in the Renaissance and Enlightenment (Greenwood, 2013). Most recently, his The World of Renaissance Italy: A Daily Life Encyclopedia was published by Greenwood in 2017.

Jo N. Hays is professor emeritus of history at Loyola University. He received his PhD in history and the history of science from the University of Chicago. His fields of teaching at Loyola included the histories of science, medicine, and disease; medical humanities; the histories of modern Britain and the British Empire; and environmental history. His recent publications include the second edition of The Burdens of Disease (2009) and Epidemics and Pandemics: Their Impacts on Human History (ABC-CLIO, 2005).


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