Andrew Spielman
& Michael D'Antonio,
(Hyperion, 2001)

Mosquito: A Natural History of Our Most Persistent and Deadly Foe tells you everything you ever wanted to know -- as well as plenty you never wanted to know -- about that pervasive, pernicious pest, the mosquito. Andrew Spielman and Michael D'Antonio present their information in a lively, genial style that engages you in spite of the subject matter.

The authors take you through the life cycle of the mosquito, from egg to larva to adult. You learn exactly how the female mosquito bites her victim and what she does with the blood she ingests. Their chatty, anecdotal style helps overcome any squeamishness as you begin to understand the implications of the impact this tiny insect has had on human society.

Not only is the mosquito a nuisance, she is potentially life-threatening as the vector for diseases such as yellow fever, malaria, dengue fever, encephalitis and, most recently, West Nile fever. Spielman and D"Antonio recount the research on the transmission of these diseases, as well as the programs conducted to eradicate them through mosquito control. Economies and armies can fall under the bite of a malaria-infected mosquito, the authors warn, for while not every mosquito carries the diseases which it can potentially be a host, all it takes is to bite a person who already carries the disease. She is a gracious and generous hostess, sharing the infection with whomever she bites subsequently. Furthermore, a mosquito can very easily stow away on a ship, an airplane or a car and carry the infection far from the point of origin.

Underlying the text is Spielman's passion for the subject; he is an authority on mosquitoes and the diseases they transmit. He is also Harvard's senior investigator in tropical diseases. His description of the various species of mosquitoes -- for not all mosquitoes are alike -- is almost loving in its thoroughness. The writing is clear and accessible, and while the color plates of mosquitoes, their eggs and their larvae may not appeal to every reader, some will find them as fascinating as I did.

Mosquito is thought-provoking, insightful and an important reminder of the huge impact such a tiny creature can have on the world as we know it.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]
Rambles: 8 December 2001

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