"Poisons of the Past" by Mary Kilbourne       Matossian

Poisons of the Past Molds, Epidemics, and History Mary Kilbourne Matossian

Format:
Paperback
Publication date:
24 Jul 1991
ISBN:
9780300051216
Imprint:
Yale University Press
Dimensions:
208 pages: 235 x 156mm
Illustrations:
23 b-w illus.

Did food poisoning cause the Black Plague, the Salem witch-hunts, and other significant events in human history? In this pathbreaking book, historian Mary Kilbourne Matossian argues that epidemics, sporadic outbursts of bizarre behavior, and low fertility and high death rates from the fourteenth to the eighteenth centuries may have been caused by food poisoning from microfungi in bread, the staple food in Europe and America during this period.

“A bold book with a stimulating thesis. Matossian’s claims for the role of food poisoning will need to be incorporated into any satisfactory account of past demographic trends.”—John Walter, Nature

“Matossian’s work is innovative and original, modest and reasoned, and opens a door on our general human past that historians have not only ignored, but often did not even know existed.”—William Richardson, Environmental History Review

“This work demonstrates an impressive variety of cross-national sources. Its broad sweep also reveals the importance of the history of agriculture and food and strengthens the view that the shift from the consumption of mold-poisoned rye bread to the potato significantly contributed to an improvement in the mental and physical health of Europeans and Americans.”—Naomi Rogers, Journal of American History

“This work is a true botanical-historical tour de force.”—Rudolf Schmid, Journal of the International Association of Plant Taxonomy

“Intriguing and lucid.”—William K. Beatty, Journal of the American Medical Association

"I am convinced that Matossian is on to a real and significant factor in history that has been missed?or almost entirely missed?until now. This is an important book."?William H. McNeill, professor of history, University of Chicago


"An outstanding contribution in a neglected aspect of toxicology and its role in human affairs."?Richard Evans Schultes, emeritus professor of botany, Harvard University


"Mary Kilbourne Matossian [presents a] fascinating thesis in this cogent, persuasive, and quietly terrifying book. . . . So clearly, systematically, and gracefully does the author build her argument that I found it almost faultless."?Wilson Library Bulletin


"Elegantly written."?Manuela Hoelterhoff, Wall Street Journal


"[Matossian] has . . . made a strong case for her hypotheses and has done so in an intriguing and lucid manner. . . . This well-documented book will be of interest to several groups of readers, and it should also stimulate additional investigations."?William K. Beatty, Journal of the American Medical Association


"[A] fascinating . . . cogent, persuasive, and quietly terrifying book."?Peg Padnos, Wilson Library Bulletin


"In her masterly reading of demographic records Matossian makes a strong case for the central role of fungi in shaping the health and ultimately the fate of nations."?The Sciences


"Fascinating. . . . Matossian?s approach is one that ancient historians might keep in mind."?Barry Baldwin, Ancient History Bulletin


"Well researched, this book explores relatively new territory, offers a novel outlook on health history, and makes for revealing reading."?Choice


"This fascinating and important study by a historian of Russia maintains that the fourteenth century black plague in Europe, the 1692 Salem, Massachusetts witch trials, mass hysteria in France in 1789, and various other historical phenomena resulted from people eating food contaminated with microorganisms. . . . A true botanical-historical tour de force."?Rudolf Schmid, Taxon--Journal of the International Association of Plant Taxonomy


"Poisons of the Past is worth reading because it just might be true."?George Grantham, Journal of Economic History


"[A] thought-provoking book. . . . [Matossian] has assembled a great deal of interesting . . . data. . . . This collation clearly provides a valuable service."?Thomas G. Benedek, M.D., Journal of the History of Medicine


"This book is especially valuable, in that it applies the techniques of science, and most particularly the study of microtoxins, to the examination of history in a convincing, stimulating, and frequently entertaining way. . . . Poisons of the Past is clearly the result of much careful and patient research in a wide variety of sources and materials in a number of languages. . . . The text is accompanied by a series of valuable tables and charts that offer useful and convincing data in support of the book?s main argument. . . . The book is written in a style that should be accessible to non-specialists yet interesting to historians and other scholars. . . . Poisons of the Past reminds historians interested in environmental and health issues that much is still to be learned about previously unexplored aspects of human history, and that traditional means of inquiry and analysis cannot always tell us everything we would like to know. Professor Matossian?s work is innovative and original, modest and reasoned, and opens a door on our general human past that historians have not only ignored, but often did not even know existed."?William Richardson, Environmental History Review


"Poisons of the Past is an outstanding contribution in a neglected aspect of toxicology and its role in human affairs. . . . The author has presented many original ideas concerning the possible effect of contaminated diets on fertility, mortality, demographic depressions, witch persecution, and mental illness as the results of food poisoning primarily from molds in Europe during the Middle Ages. . . . Each chapter has copious bibliographic notes. There is an extremely detailed index that directs the reader to the wealth of material in these eleven chapters."?Richard Evans Schultes, Ethnopharmacology and Economic Botany


"Matossian had two purposes in writing this book: to show mycotoxins reduced fertility and increased mortality by insidious poisoning of the food supply, and to show how mycotoxins may have caused mass hallucinations, witch persecutions, and panics."?Louis Lasagna, Quarterly Review of Biology


"This work demonstrates an impressive variety of cross-national sources. Its broad sweep also reveals the importance of the history of agriculture and food and strengthens the view that the shift from the consumption of mold-poisoned rye bread to the potato significantly contributed to an improvement in the mental and physical health of Europeans and Americans."?Naomi Rogers, Journal of American History


"Mary Kilbourne Matossian?s bold case is that microfungi, producing poisons in food, have had a great influence on human history. . . . Matossian has a more expert knowledge of the biochemistry and biology of the subject than previous writers; and she presents far more evidence?sometimes more persuasively?to underline its importance. . . . Matossian is absolutely right to direct attention to diet?and, one may add, climate--as important factors in our history."?Paul Slack, Times Higher Education Supplement


"For specialists in the history of medicine or people interested in the impact of disease and epidemics on history, this book will be important. . . . Poisons of the Past is a study of the possible connection between ergot poisoning and selected events of the past in the United States and Europe. Ergot poisoning, which Mary Matossian suggest as the cause of the bizarre behavior involved in the Salem witch trials, the New England religious revival known as the Great Awakening, the early origins of the French Revolution of 1789, and the outbreak of diptheria in colonial New England, is the result of a fungus that grows on rye. . . . The research is impressive, relying heavily on Russian fertility and mortality statistics during the period of 1865 to 1914, and her caution is apparent, and for these reasons the book deserves serious consideration. . . . Matossian provocatively argues that food poisoning was a factor in historical development."?D. Clayton Brown, History: Reviews of New Books