Image: © Jonathan Cole
According to the widely accepted narrative, a few great humans have been responsible for shaping the arc of history. But from the first success of Homo sapiens over the equally intelligent Neanderthals, to the fall of Rome and the rise of Islam, Jonathan Kennedy argues that germs have had an extraordinary influence on the course of history. He investigates how an Indonesian volcano helped caused the Black Death and set Europe on the road to capitalism, and how 168 men extracted the largest ransom in history from an opposing army of 80,000.
The latest science reveals that infectious diseases are not just something that happens to us, but a fundamental part of who we are. Indeed, the only reason humans don’t lay eggs is that a virus long ago inserted itself into our DNA, and there are now as many bacteria in our bodies as there are human cells. We have been thinking about the survival of the fittest all wrong: evolution is not simply about human strength and intelligence, but about how we live and thrive in a world dominated by microbes.
By exploring the startling intimacy of our relationship with infectious diseases, Jonathan Kennedy shows how they have been responsible for some of the seismic revolutions of the past 50,000 years, transforming our understanding of the human story and revealing how the crisis of a pandemic can offer vital opportunities for change.
Dr Jonathan Kennedy teaches global public health at Queen Mary University of London. He has a PhD in sociology from the University of Cambridge. His interdisciplinary research has been published in leading medical, public health, sociology and history journals, and he has written for newspapers including the Guardian and El Pais.
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Drinks are served in the Members’ Room after the lecture