1. Introduction: our debt to disease

Early in the fifth century A.D., the Huns, led by Attila, emerged from the Asian steppes and swept across Europe. They faced no serious resistance. What was left of the greatest civilization the world had seen, the Roman Empire, was a tottering wreck. One more good shove and the remains of Roman civilization would have taken a final nose-dive. But strangely, on the verge of storming Rome itself, Attila withdrew. Why?

For many centuries the official answer was that God had intervened in some mysterious way to protect his chosen city, Rome, seat of the papacy. In more recent times, such supernatural explanations have fallen out of favor and the question has arisen anew. Some have suggested that Attila was overawed ...

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