Rats, Lice and History

Rats, Lice and History is a 1935 book written by biologist Hans Zinsser on the subject of typhus, a disease on which he performed significant research. Zinsser frames the book as a biography of the infectious disease, tracing its path through history. An important theme of the book is the (according to Zinsser, underappreciated) effect infectious diseases such as typhus had on the course of history, a topic which would later be treated in other popular works such as Plagues and Peoples and Guns, Germs and Steel.

Written for a lay audience, Zinsser's humorous and literate style was well received by readers, and it was widely read on its release, and has since gone through many editions.

Rats, Lice and History
AuthorHans Zinsser
CountryUnited States
Subjecttyphus, history, epidemics
Genrepopular science
PublisherLittle, Brown and Company
Publication date
Media typeprint


The book is divided into sixteen chapters. As alluded to in the book's original subtitle, Being a Study in Biography, Which, After Twelve Preliminary Chapters Indispensable for the Preparation of the Lay Reader, Deals with the Life History of Typhus Fever, the proper "biography" of typhus occurs only in the last four chapters.

The first two thirds of the work provide background information on topics such as:

  • Scientific concepts and definitions (e.g. Chapter III: Leading up to the definition of bacteria and other parasites, and digressing briefly into the question of the origin of life, Chapter IV: On parasitism in general, and on the necessity of considering the changing nature of infectious diseases in the historical study of epidemics)
  • Diseases of the ancient world (chapter VI) and their effect on political and military history (chapters VII and VIII)
  • The important vectors of typhus mentioned in the title, rats and lice (chapters IX through XI)

Having received a classical education that emphasized liberal arts[1], Zinsser refers to a number of classical works throughout the text, occasionally quoting passages in Latin, French, and German (without translation).


Rats, Lice and History received an overwhelmingly positive critical reception on its release. In his review for The New York Times Book Review, R. L. Duffus wrote that "Dr. Zinsser, without being condescending and with no taint of "popularization," has written one of the wisest and wittiest books that have come off the presses in many a long month."[2] In a front-page review in the New York Herald Tribune Books, physician and medical writer Logan Clendening wrote "It is impossible for me to overpraise this fascinating volume".[1]

Rats, Lice and History was listed by the New York Times as the 8th bestselling nonfiction book of 1935.[3]

Later generations of scientists and physicians such as Emil Frei[4] and Gerald Weissmann[5] have cited Rats, Lice and History as an inspiration for their scientific careers.


  1. ^ a b Grob, Gerald N. "Introduction to the Transaction Edition". Rats, Lice and History. Transaction Publishers. ISBN 978-1-4128-0672-5.
  2. ^ Duffus, R.L. (February 17, 1935). "MAN'S WAR AGAINST PESTILENCE; Dr. Zinsser Makes a Remarkable Excursion Into History RATS, LICE AND HISTORY". The New York Times. Retrieved February 25, 2019.
  3. ^ Schuessler, Jennifer (December 12, 2008). "Inside the List". Retrieved February 25, 2019.
  4. ^ Fox, Margalit (4 May 2013). "Emil Frei III, Who Put Cancer Cures in Reach, Dies at 89". The New York Times. Retrieved February 25, 2019.
  5. ^ Weissmann, Gerald (March 2005). "Rats, Lice, and Zinsser" (PDF). Emerging Infectious Diseases. 11 (3): 492–496. Retrieved February 25, 2019.
1935 in science

The year 1935 in science and technology involved some significant events, listed below.

Antonine Plague

The Antonine Plague of 165 to 180 AD, also known as the Plague of Galen (from the name of the Greek physician living in the Roman Empire who described it), was an ancient pandemic brought back to the Roman Empire by troops returning from campaigns in the Near East. Scholars have suspected it to have been either smallpox or measles, but the true cause remains undetermined. The epidemic may have claimed the life of a Roman emperor, Lucius Verus, who died in 169 and was the co-regent of Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, whose family name, Antoninus, has become associated with the epidemic. The disease broke out again nine years later, according to the Roman historian Dio Cassius (155–235), causing up to 2,000 deaths a day in Rome, one quarter of those who were affected, giving the disease a mortality rate of about 25%. The total deaths have been estimated at five million, and the disease killed as much as one-third of the population in some areas and devastated the Roman army.Ancient sources agree that the epidemic appeared first during the Roman siege of Seleucia in the winter of 165–166. Ammianus Marcellinus reports that the plague spread to Gaul and to the legions along the Rhine. Eutropius asserts that a large population died throughout the Empire.Rafe de Crespigny speculates that the plague may have also broken out in Eastern Han China before 166, given notices of plagues in Chinese records. The plague affected Roman culture and literature, and may have severely affected Indo-Roman trade relations in the Indian Ocean.


Apitherapy is a branch of alternative medicine that uses honey bee products, including honey, pollen, propolis, royal jelly and bee venom. Proponents of apitherapy make claims for its health benefits which are unsupported by evidence-based medicine.

Epidemic typhus

Epidemic typhus is a form of typhus so named because the disease often causes epidemics following wars and natural disasters. The causative organism is Rickettsia prowazekii, transmitted by the human body louse (Pediculus humanus corporis).

Flea circus

A flea circus is a circus sideshow attraction in which fleas are attached (or appear to be attached) to miniature carts and other items, and encouraged to perform circus acts within a small housing.

Hans Zinsser

Hans Zinsser (November 17, 1878 – September 4, 1940) was an American physician, bacteriologist, and prolific author.

The author of over 200 books and medical articles, he was also a published poet. Some of his verses were published in The Atlantic Monthly.

His 1940 publication, As I Remember Him: the Biography of R.S., won one of the early National Book Awards, the sixth and last annual award for Nonfiction voted by members of the American Booksellers Association.He is remembered especially for his 1935 book, Rats, Lice and History.

Human interactions with insects

Human interactions with insects include both a wide variety of uses, whether practical such as for food, textiles, and dyestuffs, or symbolic, as in art, music, and literature, and negative interactions including serious damage to crops and extensive efforts to eliminate insect pests.

Academically, the interaction of insects and society has been treated in part as cultural entomology, dealing mostly with "advanced" societies, and in part as ethnoentomology, dealing mostly with "primitive" societies, though the distinction is weak and not based on theory. Both academic disciplines explore the parallels, connections and influence of insects on human populations, and vice versa. They are rooted in anthropology and natural history, as well as entomology, the study of insects. Other cultural uses of insects, such as biomimicry, do not necessarily lie within these academic disciplines.

More generally, people make a wide range of uses of insects, both practical and symbolic. On the other hand, attitudes to insects are often negative, and extensive efforts are made to kill them. The widespread use of insecticides has failed to exterminate any insect pest, but has caused resistance to commonly-used chemicals in a thousand insect species.

Practical uses include as food, in medicine, for the valuable textile silk, for dyestuffs such as carmine, in science, where the fruit fly is an important model organism in genetics, and in warfare, where insects were successfully used in the Second World War to spread disease in enemy populations. One insect, the honey bee, provides honey, pollen, royal jelly, propolis and an anti-inflammatory peptide, melittin; its larvae too are eaten in some societies. Medical uses of insects include maggot therapy for wound debridement. Over a thousand protein families have been identified in the saliva of blood-feeding insects; these may provide useful drugs such as anticoagulants, vasodilators, antihistamines and anaesthetics.

Symbolic uses include roles in art, in music (with many songs featuring insects), in film, in literature, in religion, and in mythology. Insect costumes are used in theatrical productions and worn for parties and carnivals.

List of Armed Services Editions

Armed Services Editions (ASEs) were small paperback books of fiction and nonfiction that were distributed in the American military during World War II. From 1943 to 1947, some 122 million copies of more than 1,300 ASE titles were published and printed by the Council on Books in Wartime (CBW) and distributed to servicemembers, with whom they were enormously popular.

This list of all 1,322 ASEs is based, unless otherwise indicated, on the data in appendix B to Molly Guptill Manning's book When Books Went To War (2014), a history of the ASEs and related efforts to promote wartime reading in the United States. Some full author names are taken from the list in the appendix to John Y. Cole's study of the ASEs from 1984.

List of agnostics

Listed here are persons who have identified themselves as theologically agnostic. Also included are individuals who have expressed the view that the veracity of a god's existence is unknown or inherently unknowable.

List of books and articles about rats

This list of books and articles about rats is an English only non-fiction bibliography using APA style citations.


Louse (plural: lice) is the common name for members of the order Phthiraptera, which contains nearly 5,000 species of wingless insect. Lice are obligate parasites, living externally on warm-blooded hosts which include every species of bird and mammal, except for monotremes, pangolins, and bats. Lice are vectors of diseases such as typhus.

Chewing lice live among the hairs or feathers of their host and feed on skin and debris, while sucking lice pierce the host's skin and feed on blood and other secretions. They usually spend their whole life on a single host, cementing their eggs, called nits, to hairs or feathers. The eggs hatch into nymphs, which moult three times before becoming fully grown, a process that takes about four weeks.

Humans host two species of louse—the head louse and the body louse are subspecies of Pediculus humanus; the pubic louse, Pthirus pubis. The body louse has the smallest genome of any known insect; it has been used as a model organism and has been the subject of much research.

Lice were ubiquitous in human society until at least the Middle Ages. They appear in folktales, songs such as The Kilkenny Louse House, and novels such as James Joyce's Finnegans Wake. They commonly feature in the psychiatric disorder delusional parasitosis. A louse was one of the early subjects of microscopy, appearing in Robert Hooke's 1667 book, Micrographia.

Medical entomology

The discipline of medical entomology, or public health entomology, and also veterinary entomology is focused upon insects and arthropods that impact human health. Veterinary entomology is included in this category, because many animal diseases can "jump species" and become a human health threat, for example, bovine encephalitis. Medical entomology also includes scientific research on the behavior, ecology, and epidemiology of arthropod disease vectors, and involves a tremendous outreach to the public, including local and state officials and other stake holders in the interest of public safety, finally in current situation related to one health approach mostly health policy makers recommends to widely applicability of medical entomology for disease control efficient and best fit on achieving development goal and to tackle the newly budding zoonotic diseases. Thoughtful to have and acquaint with best practice of Med. Entomologist to tackle the animal and public health issues together with controlling arthropods born diseases by having Medical Entomologists’ the right hand for bringing the healthy world [Yon w].

Medical Entomologists are employed by private and public universities, private industries, and federal, state, and local government agencies, including all three branches of the US military - who hire medical entomologists to protect the troops from infectious diseases that can be transmitted by arthropods. Historically, during wars, more people have died due to insect-transmitted diseases, than to all the battle injuries combined.

Medical entomologists are also hired by chemical companies - to help develop new pesticides which will effectively decrease insect pest populations while simultaneously protecting the health of the public.

Public health entomology has seen a huge surge in interest since 2005, due to the resurgence of the bed bug, Cimex lectularius.


Moths comprise a group of insects related to butterflies, belonging to the order Lepidoptera. Most lepidopterans are moths, and there are thought to be approximately 160,000 species of moth, many of which have yet to be described. Most species of moth are nocturnal, but there are also crepuscular and diurnal species.

Picardy sweat

The Picardy sweat was an infectious disease of unknown cause. It appeared in the northern French province of Picardy in 1718. Between 1718 and 1874, 194 epidemics of the Picardy sweat were recorded. The last extensive outbreak was in 1906, which a French commission attributed to fleas from field mice. A subsequent case was diagnosed in 1918 in a soldier in Picardy.It was named suette des Picards in France, and picard'scher Schweiß or picard'sches Schweissfieber in Germany. There were several longer descriptions of the disease.The disease was similar to the English sweat but differed in some symptoms and in its course and mortality rate. Some of the symptoms were high fever, rash, and bleeding from the nose. Many victims died within two days.

Plague of Athens

The Plague of Athens (Ancient Greek: Λοιμός τῶν Ἀθηνῶν Loimos tôn Athênôn) was an epidemic that devastated the city-state of Athens in ancient Greece during the second year of the Peloponnesian War (430 BC) when an Athenian victory still seemed within reach. It is believed to have entered Athens through Piraeus, the city's port and sole source of food and supplies. Much of the eastern Mediterranean also saw outbreak of the disease, albeit with less impact. The plague returned twice more, in 429 BC and in the winter of 427/426 BC. Some 30 pathogens have been suggested as causing the plague.


Rat baiting is a blood sport, which involves placing captured rats in a sunken pit or other enclosed area surrounded by spectators, and then betting on how long a dog, usually a terrier, takes to kill them by taking rats in its mouth and shaking them to death. Often, two dogs competed, with the winner receiving a cash prize. It is now illegal in most countries.

The Cartoon History of the Universe

The Cartoon History of the Universe is a book series about the history of the world. It is written and illustrated by American cartoonist, professor, and mathematician Larry Gonick, who started the project in 1978. Each book in the series explains a period of world history in a loosely chronological order. Though originally published as a comic book series, the series is now published in trade paperback volumes of several hundred pages each. The final volume covers history from the late 18th century to early 2008. The final two volumes, published in 2007 and 2009, are named The Cartoon History of the Modern World volumes one and two. The books have been translated into many languages, including Portuguese, Greek, Czech and Polish.


Typhus, also known as typhus fever, is a group of infectious diseases that include epidemic typhus, scrub typhus, and murine typhus. Common symptoms include fever, headache, and a rash. Typically these begin one to two weeks after exposure.The diseases are caused by specific types of bacterial infection. Epidemic typhus is due to Rickettsia prowazekii spread by body lice, scrub typhus is due to Orientia tsutsugamushi spread by chiggers, and murine typhus is due to Rickettsia typhi spread by fleas.Currently no vaccine is commercially available. Prevention is by reducing exposure to the organisms that spread the disease. Treatment is with the antibiotic doxycycline. Epidemic typhus generally occurs in outbreaks when poor sanitary conditions and crowding are present. While once common, it is now rare. Scrub typhus occurs in Southeast Asia, Japan, and northern Australia. Murine typhus occurs in tropical and subtropical areas of the world.Typhus has been described since at least 1528 AD. The name comes from the Greek tûphos (τύφος) meaning hazy, describing the state of mind of those infected. While "typhoid" means "typhus-like", typhus and typhoid fever are distinct diseases caused by different types of bacteria.

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