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This book is concerned with the escape of an increasing number of people from the trap of war, famine and disease. Two hundred years ago, leading thinkers such as Adam Smith, Edward Gibbon and Thomas Malthus could not see how the inhabitants of the earth, then numbering less than a billion, could be adequately fed, clothed and housed. The world now holds over six times that number, half of whom live well above subsistence level. In The Savage Wars of Peace Alan MacFarlane seeks to explain how this has happened.Through detailed comparative analysis of English and Japanese history the book explores such matters as the destruction of war, decline of famine, importance of certain drinks (especially tea), the use of human excrement and the effects of housing, clothing and bathing on human health. It also shows how the English and Japanese controled fertility through marriage and sexual patterns, biological and contraceptive factors, abortion and infanticide. It proposes a new way of linking cause and effect in history.At one level this is a book of detection, trying to solve one of the great unsolved mysteries of history.
At another it is a work of cultural translation, trying to explain the material and cultural underpinnings of East Asia (Japan) and Europe (England) through a long historical period. It thus combines history, anthropology, medicine and demography with a detailed use of contemporary sources including traveller's accounts, diaries and medical texts.
Alan MacFarlane is Professor of Anthropological Science at the University of Cambridge and a Fellow of King's College. In 1986 he was elected a Fellow of the British Economy. His previous books include The Origins of English Individualism, (1978) Marriage and Love in England (1986) and The Culture of Capitalism (1987), all published by Blackwell Publishers Ltd.