Cover image for Born to die : disease and New World conquest, 1492-1650
Born to die : disease and New World conquest, 1492-1650
Cook, Noble David.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Cambridge ; New York : Cambridge University Press, 1998.
Physical Description:
xiii, 248 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm.

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Central Library E59.D58 C66 1998 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



The biological mingling of the Old and New Worlds began with the first voyage of Columbus. The exchange was a mixed blessing: it led to the disappearance of entire peoples in the Americas, but it also resulted in the rapid expansion and consequent economic and military hegemony of Europeans. Amerindians had never before experienced the deadly Eurasian sicknesses brought by the foreigners in wave after wave: smallpox, measles, typhus, plague, influenza, malaria, yellow fever. These diseases literally conquered the Americas before the sword could be unsheathed. From 1492 to 1650, from Hudson's Bay in the north to southernmost Tierra del Fuego, disease weakened Amerindian resistance to outside domination. The Black Legend, which attempts to place all of the blame of the injustices of conquest on the Spanish, must be revised in light of the evidence that all Old World peoples carried, though largely unwittingly, the germs of the destruction of American civilization.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

One of the older topics in New World history is the demographic decline of Native American societies at the hands of Old World diseases. Most studies on this subject have been limited to territory encompassed by one of the early colonial systems. In this work, Cook attempts a hemispheric synthesis. Ranging in expanse from the Tierra del Fuego to the St. Lawrence River Valley and covering the first century and a half of European occupation, Cook explores many of the issues that accompany the study of disease and epidemics in the New World. One of the first problems he faces is that of dating and identifying the lethal pathogens that arrived with the Europeans. Like their human vectors, they did not arrive all at once, nor did they necessarily stay. Next, Cook attempts to evaluate the impact of these illnesses on indigenous societies. The author notes that many groups remembered the arrival of diseases far more vividly than they did military conquest by outsiders. Some readers will argue that the chronological limits of the book should be pushed in both directions to make it more useful. Nevertheless, it is an important work that shows New World societies reeling from forces far beyond their control. All levels. J. A. Lewis; Western Carolina University

Table of Contents

1 In the path of the hurricane: disease and the disappearance of the peoples of the Caribbean, 1492-1518
2 The deaths of Aztec Cuitlahuac and Inca Huayna Capac: the first New World pandemics
3 Settling in: epidemics and conquest to the end of the first century
4 Regional outbreaks from the 1530s to century's end
5 New arrivals: peoples and illnesses from 1600-1650

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