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War Against Smallpox
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Book description

Michael Bennett provides the first history of the global spread of vaccination during the Napoleonic Wars, offering a new assessment of the cowpox discovery and Edward Jenner's achievement in making cowpox inoculation a viable and universally available practice. He explores the networks that took the vaccine around the world, and the reception and establishment of vaccination among peoples in all corners of the globe. His focus is on the human story of the horrors of smallpox, the hopes invested in vaccination by medical men and parents, the children put arm-to-arm across the world, and the early challenges, successes and disappointments. He presents vaccination as a quiet revolution, genuinely emancipatory, but also the sharp end of growing state power. By the end of the war in 1815, millions of children had been vaccinated. The early success of the war against smallpox paved the way to further advances towards eradication.


‘It's as commonplace as it is true to say that infectious disease knows no borders. In War Against Smallpox, Michael Bennett offers us something immeasurably more intriguing: the border crossing of vaccination. Bennett follows this strange procedure's rapid-fire travels from London to Spain, India, the Cape, the New World, China and beyond. And as if that intercontinental story is not fascinating enough, it all took place either side of 1800, as the global Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars wrenched the world into a new century. A major new global history. The world connected arm-to-arm.'

Alison Bashford - University of New South Wales

‘A valuable account by a leading scholar of the subject, one that skilfully links the global range of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century engagement with smallpox. The global spread of vaccination illustrates more general points about processes of learning, information, technology and diffusion. Methodologically acute and conceptually significant.'

Jeremy Black - University of Exeter

'This impressive culmination of 15 years of research minutely details the international spread not of variola virus, but of its containment.'

Kate Womersley Source: The Spectator

‘This book gives fascinating insight into the challenges of disseminating scientific information at a time of international conflict and in the face of opposing campaigns of misinformation …’

Tim Mason Source: British Society for the History of Medicine (

‘An incredible journey, with walk-on parts for Napoleon, Jefferson and the tsar of Russia.’

Gareth Williams Source: BBC History Magazine

‘Bennett’s work draws on a huge body of primary and secondary literature to create a coherent story of the spread of vaccination around the globe … Nevertheless, Bennett’s work has a much wider implication, providing historians with a model of how (and how successfully) ideas and practices moved around in the early nineteenth century, just before the emergence of the modern profession with its expectations of the rapid exchange of new knowledge through medical journals and societies.’

Deborah Brunton Source: Social History of Medicine

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