Plagues and Peoples, by William McNeill

Humanity has been at the mercy of disease forever – plagues have destroyed entire civilizations – but through custom, science, and medicine, we’ve learned so much about disease in recent centuries that its threat has faded somewhat from modern life.  Another way to say this might be that, while disease used to be perhaps the most important historical factor in the success or failure of societies, it no longer is.

Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World, by Jack Weatherford

In all four episodes of Context released so far, we’ve focused on big picture historical events; on how environment and economics and politics and science shaped the rise of the modern world.  History is chaotic, but it’s always been my impression that by focusing on patterns instead of persons, forces instead of figures, it’s easier to make some sense of it, to trace its general direction.  Jack Weatherford’s book from 2004, Genghis Khan, and the Making of the Modern World, provides an exception.  Genghis Khan was so influential that it’s worth zooming all the way in.