The Four Horsemen by Emily Mayhew

4 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

The four horsemen. War, Pestilence, Famine and Death appear in the Bible a couple of times, but they are best known in the book of Revelations. Their appearance on the Earth in this text is to bring about the end of humanity and they are pretty effective at their job. History shows how they can reduce cities and societies to a shadow of their former selves.

It can still happen these days, examples include Syria and Yemen. However, the tools that we have at our disposal in this modern age mean that we now have the ability to take them on. I this book, historian Emily Mayhew traces the advances in science, technology and humanitarianism that the engineers, scientists, doctors and other skilled professionals are using to combat these four horsemen.

In the book, Mayhew takes us through a little of the history behind each, before using real-life examples, to show exactly how we are standing up against these spectres. She details the way that the Iraqi city of Mosel was overrun with ISIS fighters and how the local people slowly reclaimed their ancient city. For the chapter on Pestilence, she looks at the response that the authorities had against the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2017. This was a precursor to the Covid pandemic that also is discussed.

The next horseman is famine. This slots in neatly behind the first two and has the capacity to bring a state or region to its knees. One example discussed in this chapter is wheat rust. One particular form appeared in 1999 and then promptly disappeared for a few years. When it returned, it suddenly was rife across East Africa. The other example discussed is bananas, the current species that is consumed in vast quantities is affected by Panama disease. Fighting this may mean going back to the jungles of New Guinea and finding a new resistant species. The final chapter, Death talks about the relief response to the tsunami that took place in 2004 along with other disasters that have claimed huge numbers of people. How the dead are handled with respect to the local cultures by the people that deal with the aftermath is quite moving reading.

I thought this was going to be a pretty grim read, and to my surprise, it wasn’t. That said, there are some grim elements to it, it is kind of inevitable really given that the subject is about the four horsemen of the apocalypse. However, Mayhew makes this eminently readable by looking at each of them in turn and explaining what used to happen and how the collective actions of scientists, medical staff and engineers who are pushing back again the potential tide of misery with solutions for the many problems that we face as a race.

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  1. Liz Dexter

    Gosh, you’re facing up to some heavy reads at the moment; I hope you’re getting some light relief, too!

    • Paul

      This was not as heavy as it could have been! I have read three fiction books this year if that counts as light relief?

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