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Nature Insects & Spiders

The Mosquito

A Human History of Our Deadliest Predator

by (author) Timothy C. Winegard

Penguin Group Canada
Initial publish date
Jul 2020
Insects & Spiders, Civilization, Natural History
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Aug 2019
    List Price
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Jul 2020
    List Price

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“Hugely impressive, a major work.”--NPR
A pioneering and groundbreaking work of narrative nonfiction that offers a dramatic new perspective on the history of humankind, showing how through millennia, the mosquito has been the single most powerful force in determining humanity’s fate

Why was gin and tonic the cocktail of choice for British colonists in India and Africa? What does Starbucks have to thank for its global domination? What has protected the lives of popes for millennia? Why did Scotland surrender its sovereignty to England? What was George Washington's secret weapon during the American Revolution?

The answer to all these questions, and many more, is the mosquito.

Across our planet since the dawn of humankind, this nefarious pest, roughly the size and weight of a grape seed, has been at the frontlines of history as the grim reaper, the harvester of human populations, and the ultimate agent of historical change. As the mosquito transformed the landscapes of civilization, humans were unwittingly required to respond to its piercing impact and universal projection of power.

The mosquito has determined the fates of empires and nations, razed and crippled economies, and decided the outcome of pivotal wars, killing nearly half of humanity along the way. She (only females bite) has dispatched an estimated 52 billion people from a total of 108 billion throughout our relatively brief existence. As the greatest purveyor of extermination we have ever known, she has played a greater role in shaping our human story than any other living thing with which we share our global village.

Imagine for a moment a world without deadly mosquitoes, or any mosquitoes, for that matter? Our history and the world we know, or think we know, would be completely unrecognizable.

Driven by surprising insights and fast-paced storytelling, The Mosquito is the extraordinary untold story of the mosquito’s reign through human history and her indelible impact on our modern world order.

About the author

Timothy C. Winegard served nine years as an officer in the Canadian Forces, including a two-year attachment to the British Army. He is the author of Oka: A Convergence of Cultures and the Canadian Forces and Indigenous Peoples of the British Dominions and the First World War. He teaches at Colorado Mesa University.

Timothy C. Winegard's profile page


  • Short-listed, RBC Taylor Prize

Excerpt: The Mosquito: A Human History of Our Deadliest Predator (by (author) Timothy C. Winegard)

We are at war with the mosquito.
A swarming and consuming army of 110 trillion enemy mosquitoes patrols every inch of the globe save Antarctica, Iceland, the Seychelles, and a handful of French Polynesian micro-islands. The biting female warriors of this droning insect population are armed with at least fifteen lethal and debilitating biological weapons against our 7.7 billion humans deploying suspect and often self-detrimental defensive capabilities. In fact, our defense budget for per­sonal shields, sprays, and other deterrents to stymie her unrelenting raids has a rapidly rising annual revenue of $11 billion. And yet, her deadly offensive campaigns and crimes against humanity continue with reckless abandon. While our counterattacks are reducing the number of annual casualties she perpetrates, the mosquito remains the deadliest hunter of human beings on the planet. Last year she slaughtered only 830,000 people. We sensible and wise Homo sapiens occupied the runner-up #2 spot, slaying 580,000 of our own species.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has contributed nearly $4 billion to mosquito research since its creation in 2000, releases an annual report that identifies the animals most lethal to humans. The contest is not even close. The heavyweight champion, and our apex pred­ator in perpetuity, is the mosquito. Since 2000, the annual average num­ber of human deaths caused by the mosquito has hovered around 2 million. We come in a distant second at 475,000, followed by snakes (50,000), dogs and sand flies (25,000 each), the tsetse fly, and the assassin or kissing bug (10,000 each). The fierce killers of lore and Hollywood celebrity appear much further down our list. The crocodile is ranked #10 with 1,000 annual deaths. Next on the list are hippos with 500, and elephants and lions with 100 fatalities each. The much-slandered shark and wolf share the #15 position, killing an average of ten people per annum.
The mosquito has killed more people than any other cause of death in human history. Statistical extrapolation situates mosquito-inflicted deaths approaching half of all humans that have ever lived. In plain num­bers, the mosquito has dispatched an estimated 52 billion people from a total of 108 billion throughout our relatively brief 200,000-year existence.
Yet, the mosquito does not directly harm anyone. It is the toxic and highly evolved diseases she transmits that cause an endless barrage of desolation and death. Without her, however, these sinister pathogens could not be transferred or vectored to humans nor continue their cycli­cal contagion. In fact, without her, these diseases would not exist at all. You cannot have one without the other. The nefarious mosquito, roughly the size and weight of a grape seed, would be as innocuous as a generic ant or housefly and you would not be reading this book. After all, her dominion of death would be erased from the historical record and I would have no wild and remarkable tales to tell. Imagine for a moment a world without deadly mosquitoes or any mosquitoes for that matter? Our history and the world we know, or think we know, would be com­pletely unrecognizable. We might as well live on a foreign planet in a galaxy far, far away.
As the pinnacle purveyor of our extermination, the mosquito has consistently been at the front lines of history as the grim reaper, the harvester of human populations, and the ultimate agent of historical change. She has played a greater role in shaping our story than any other animal with which we share our global village. Within these bloody and disease-plagued pages, you will embark on a chronological mosquito-tormented journey through our tangled communal history. Karl Marx recognized in 1852 that “men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please.” It was the steadfast and insatiable mosquito that manipulated and determined our destiny. “It is perhaps a rude blow to the amour propre of our species,” writes acclaimed University of George­town history professor J. R. McNeill, “to think that lowly mosquitoes and mindless viruses can shape our international affairs. But they can.” We tend to forget that history is not the artifact of inevitability.
A common theme throughout this story is the interplay between war, politics, travel, trade, and the changing patterns of human land use and natural climate. The mosquito does not exist in a vacuum, and her global ascendancy was created by corresponding historical events both natu­rally and socially induced. Our relatively short human journey from our first steps in and out of Africa to our global historical trails is the result of a coevolutionary marriage between society and nature. We as humans have played a large role in the transmission of mosquito-borne diseases through population migrations (involuntary or otherwise), densities, and pressures. Historically, our domestication of plants and animals (which are reservoirs of disease), advancements in agriculture, deforestation, climate change (natural and artificially encouraged), and global war, trade, and travel have all played a part in nurturing the ideal ecologies for the proliferation of mosquito-borne illnesses.
Historians, journalists, and modern memories, however, find pesti­lence and disease rather dull, when compared to war, conquest, and na­tional supermen, most often legendary military leaders. The literary record has been tainted by attributing the fates of empires and nations, the outcome of pivotal wars, and the bending of historical events to in­dividual rulers, to specific generals, or to the larger concerns of human agencies such as politics, religion, and economics. The mosquito has been written off as a sidelined spectator, rather than an active agent within the ongoing processes of civilization. In doing so, she has been defamed by this slanderous exclusion of her enduring influence and im­pact in changing the course of history. Mosquitoes and her diseases that have accompanied traders, travelers, soldiers, and settlers around the world have been far more lethal than any man-made weapons or inven­tions. The mosquito has ambushed humankind with unmitigated fury since time immemorial and scratched her indelible mark on the modern world order.

Editorial Reviews

An instant New York Times bestseller

“Timothy C. Winegard's The Mosquito is as wildly entertaining as any epic narrative out there. It's also all true . . . Winegard masterfully weaves historical facts and science to offer a shocking, informative narrative that shows how who we are today is directly linked to the mosquito.”NPR
“Winegard’s reminder of their enormous potential for destruction is a timely one for all of us…we modern folk are also guilty of believing that our hopes and our technology will somehow make us exempt from the workings of the natural world. The entire time that humanity has been in existence, the mosquito has been proof that we are not.”The New Yorker
“Thrilling . . . a lively history of mosquitoes. Mr. Winegard convincingly argues that the insect has shaped human life as well as delivering death… Mr. Winegard is an engaging guide, especially when he combines analysis with anecdote.”The Economist
“It’s not guns, germs and steel here—it’s all germs. The Mosquito is one of those (compound-) eye-opening books that permanently shift your worldview . . . Those who crave a deep dive into one world-shaking bug should grab The Mosquito.”—The New York Times Book Review
“Written as a big-picture, impersonal history—think Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel. . . . The Mosquito serves up an eye-opening, deeply alarming, and absolutely engrossing view of humanity’s most tenacious foe.”—Foreign Policy
“With the deeply researched Mosquito . . . [Winegard] uses the bellicose insect to tie together a fascinating, sprawling history—from dinosaurs to the banned insecticide DDT.”—Literary Review of Canada
“A tribute to the power of the mosquito and the bitterness of our war with it.”—MacLean’s

“Warning: not a book to read outdoors without a healthy dose of deet.”—Toronto Star
“Readers of non-fiction, history and science will enjoy Winegard's unique take on the ever-present pest. If you can't get away from mosquitoes in your backyard, then immerse yourself in this book and learn a new perspective on this seemingly insignificant part of summer.”The Associated Press
“Written as a big-picture, impersonal history—think Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel . . . The Mosquito serves up an eye-opening, deeply alarming, and absolutely engrossing view of humanity’s most tenacious foe.”—Foreign Policy
“Fascinating... an entertainingly educational new opus... Winegard’s study marshals scientific facts and millennia of historical background about the droning pest we all encounter and which has killed nearly half of all human beings who’ve ever lived, profoundly altering our world along its bloodsucking way.”—USA Today
“[The Mosquito] takes readers on a riveting adventure, documenting the mosquito’s outsized role in conflict since antiquity…Winegard’s earnest voice on this brings the seriousness of research and action on the mosquito up to the needed decibel.”—Nature
“A fascinating history of everyone’s least favorite insect.”—Lit Hub
“[P]unchy presentation . . . [and] peppy style . . . ”The London Review of Books
“Convincingly portrays the ignoble mosquito as a malignant force more influential in human affairs than the legendary Illuminati.”—Natural History Magazine
[The Mosquito] is elegantly written and promises to keep you entertained, if not fascinated, horrified, appalled. . .”Asia Sentinel
“Certainly, history buffs and science lovers will enjoy this book but it’s also a heavier-duty, gee-whiz tale that’s totally absorbing. If you’re ready to learn, look for The Mosquito. You know the drill.”—The Quad-City Times
“Timothy Winegard’s entertaining new book, The Mosquito, chronicles the impact of mosquito-borne disease, principally malaria, throughout history. Readers of this book will no doubt enjoy Winegard’s rapid journey through many of humanity’s major population movements, campaigns, and wars.”—Science Magazine
“An epic analysis of the fiendish female insects.”The Boulder Lifestyle Magazine
“A gripping book.”The Los Angeles Times
“Fascinating . . . The Mosquito traces the defeat of armies, birth of nations, and shaping of culture all at the hand—or wings—of the mosquito.”—Garden & Gun
“A fascinating read.”—The Millstone News
“Any fan of history and long-lost tales will enjoy this book.”The Emporia Gazette

“Heavily detailed (and witty).”—The Denver Post

“One of Fall 2019's Biggest Books . . . Winegard is a great storyteller who makes the icky fascinating.”—The Philadelphia Inquirer
“A combination of well-researched incredible scientific facts and enthusiastic, imaginative narrative, The Mosquito is a fascinating and important book, both educational and entertaining.”—Ft. Myers Magazine
“For 190 million years, the mosquito has been waging a war against the rest of the planet, and for all of that history we have been fighting a mostly losing battle. . . . This has long been one of my very favorite topics; I am thrilled there is finally a book dedicated to it.”Bloomberg News

“Winegard’s book is about one thing that bites and kills more humans than any other creature. How can you resist [?]”The Philadelphia Tribune
“Statistics alone are enough to stun the reader in this fascinating, in-depth and tale-driven epic of the mosquito’s role in shaping Western civilization. . . . Timothy Winegard . . . spins the causes and effects of horrific devastations in propulsive, often lyrical and always brutally riveting prose.”Providence Journal

Other titles by Timothy C. Winegard