With the shooting in San Bernardino and Donald Trump’s malignant anti-Muslim comments, any reminder of humanity’s capacity for good is especially welcome. With that in mind, let me recommend William Foege’s House on Fire: The Fight to Eradicate Smallpox.
To call it inspiring doesn’t do justice to the word. Foege played an integral role in a global effort to wipe smallpox from the face of the earth, perhaps the greatest achievement of modern public health. As his wise and humble book reminds us, smallpox’s eradication was not inevitable and it was no accident.
[S]mallpox disappeared because of a plan, conceived and implemented on purpose, by people. Humanity does not have to live in a world of plagues, disastrous governments, conflict, and uncontrolled health risks. The action of a group of dedicated people can plan for and bring about a better future. The fact of smallpox eradication remains a constant reminder that we should settle for nothing less.