When Uncle Sam Battled Malaria

It is said that half of all humans who have ever lived died from one cause: malaria. It's hard to imagine any disease having a toll like that. However, the prowess of malaria is something that has modified human behavior--and indeed genes--for a very long time. 

A book I just finished tells the remarkable story of how the WWII-era US military engaged in all out war against this microbe that had a real potential to derail the war effort. Johns Hopkins University lecturer Karen Masterson expertly details the extensive history of these efforts in The Malaria Project: The U.S. Government's Secret Mission to Find a Miracle Cure.

The book reads almost like an adventure story chock full of memorable characters that range from revered generals and scientists to sociopathic murderers as well as Dr. Suess. The events take place on almost every continent and tell the story of how all our modern anti-malarials came to fruition while also addressing important issues such as experimentation on prisoners. The book also concretizes why, even to this day, the military has such a strong interest in infectious diseases--in a phrase: force protection.

The sheer amount of material that Ms. Masterson must have had to find and analyze in order to produce this exciting and highly educational narrative must have been daunting. The benefit one gets from reading the book, by comparison, is a bargain because of her diligent work.