Russian Roulette

Boris drunk at a state banquet Boris slurring his words on TV Boris stumbling at a parade Boris leaping onstage to dance out of time and sing out of tune. It is all on YouTube now. But back in the 1990s, watching their president's alcoholism on display was a grim reality for Russians as the country staggered from communism to capitalism. But at least Boris Yeltsin had staying power. He lived to be seventy-six. For most of his countrymen, that is a distant prospect. Russia is Europe's sickest...

The Contraceptive Cavalry

The crusade to lower fertility rates in the developing world began in Japan. Until the mid-nineteenth century, when Commodore Matthew Perry of the American navy burst open the door, Japan was a closed and feudal society. But after the fall of shogun rule, Western ideas about health and sanitation began to infiltrate Japan and death rates fell. The country's population doubled to sixty million by the early 1920s and kept on rising. Japan was growing short of land and natural resources. But it...

An Ornithologist Speaks

In 1917, at the height of the First World War, the small Belgian village of Passchendaele suffered what was at the time the largest bombardment of military hardware in history. Over five months, a million shells rained down on German, British, Australian, and Canadian soldiers dug into waterlogged trenches. They left three-quarters of a million dead. A few months before, a million had died in the Battle of The Somme. Overall, fifteen million died in the war. By the end, France had lost 3...

Six Dollars a Snip

There is a long tradition of Malthusian doomsaying about India. In the early nineteenth century, virtually every British colonial satrap had heard Malthus lecture at the East India College before he set foot in the country. Just like the British administrators in Ireland, they blamed the country's repeated famines on overpopulation, even as shiploads of grain left Indian ports bound for Europe. So it was in the late 1870s, when between five million and eight million people starved to death...