Books to Note: Winter 2008/9

William R. Clark. Bracing for Armageddon? The Science and Politics of Bioterrorism in America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008. xiii + 211 pp. $21.95.

William R. Clark approaches the subject of bioterrorism from several useful angles: a history of bioterrorism as it has been perpetrated, descriptions of different pathogens, an overview of steps already taken in the face of these threats, and finally, a discussion of what reasonable preparations we can make while facing the frustrating truth that “bioterrorism is a low-probability/high-consequence event.” Perhaps the most provocative element of Clark’s discussion concerns the legal and ethical dilemmas that both individuals and governments may encounter during an epidemic, whether spread by man or nature. Despite these concerns, Clark is determined to bring sense and perspective to an otherwise alarming subject. A book that manages to be at once fairly comprehensive in scope and accessible to the general public, Bracing for Armageddon should be of interest not only to those involved in science and policy, but also to those wanting to know the details of existing threats, and what is being done to thwart them. --Julia Erdosy

 

James Delbourgo; Nicholas Dew, editors. Science and Empire in the Atlantic World. New York: Routledge, 2007. 384 pp. $95 Cloth, $31.95 paper.

This anthology investigates the relationship between scientific study and the natural environment of the early modern Atlantic world with 12 chapters on navigation, empirical observations of nature, aboriginal discoveries later claimed by European scientists, and the mechanics of gathering and transmitting knowledge. Together these essays form an argument that Atlantic imperial travelers, whose discoveries and observations often made them accidental scientists, did more than shape colonial development in the Americas and West Africa and provide novelties to their patrons in Europe. Rather, along with the people and the environment they encountered in their travels, Europeans in the Americas and West Africa also shaped methods of pursuing scientific knowledge. Beyond an account and analysis of science specific to the early modern Atlantic world, this book debates the long-observed notion that science and knowledge production must be ruled by elite groups rather than result from diffuse knowledge-gathering and propagation among less well-appointed and recognized scientists. --Amy Leyva