Gout is a strange, medieval type of medical condition that manifests without warning, often in a person’s big toe, of all places, and causes almost unbearable pain and suffering without being fatal. Gout disappears just as mysteriously, and always threatens to reappear at any time, like some sort of invisible, unreasonable, otherworldly punishment.

If ever there was a medical condition perfectly suited to myth and literature, gout is it. Not surprisingly, it has shown up among famous literary characters throughout the centuries, including Sir Leicester Dedlock of Dickens’ Bleak House and Casaubon in Eliot’s Middlemarch. It has also occurred throughout the ages among many literary writers themselves, as well among legendary leaders and intellectual giants, including John Milton, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Joseph Conrad, King Henry VIII of England, Martin Luther, Voltaire, Charles Darwin, Sir Isaac Newton, and Benjamin… More…

 

A scientist once told me that she wished for a safe way to obliterate mosquitoes from the Earth. I was kind of shocked, since it seemed like this would tinker with the natural order of the world. Don’t worry, she said: “They have absolutely no ecological value.” And just imagine the benefits: Without mosquitoes there would be no malaria and no dengue fever, also no yellow fever, no Rift Valley fever, no West Nile virus, no Japanese encephalitis, no St. Louis encephalitis virus. And of course, there would also be the far less consequential miracle of no more itchy bumps.

We’re lucky here in the United States that, with their nasty bites, our mosquitoes deliver just the small bump and itch. While I dread both — mosquitoes plague me all summer long — it could be a lot… More…