Mosquito Empires is a book about the power of the mosquito. More to the point, author J. R. McNeill tracks the havoc cased by the female Aedes aegypti species that transmits yellow fever and the Anopheles quadrimaculatus species that communicates malaria throughout the Atlantic world (p. 3). McNeill’s book reads like a disaster novel you cannot put down. Divided into eight chapters, including an introduction and conclusion, Mosquito Empires relays one sordid story after another of settlers, prospectors, investors, and colonizers traipsing around torrid zones of the Americas trying to strike it rich, subdue native populations, or just survive.

For example, in chapter 4, “Fevers Take Hold: From Recife to Kourou,” McNeill lays out the tragedies that befell seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Dutch, English, Scot, and French settlers and conquerors in Recife, Brazil, Jamaica, Darien in Panama, and Kourou in Guyana. Throughout the book’s...

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