Smallpox is tough to grasp, but here’s a helpful point of comparison. We don’t have a very precise picture of the death toll of either smallpox or World War II, but in rough terms it is reasonable to estimate that smallpox killed ten times as many people in the 20th century as died in World War II.

Think for a minute, let that sink in. Smallpox killed an order of magnitude more people than the event that we (that I, at least) generally think of as the ultimate horror.

For your Monday morning reading, I offer the tale of smallpox in Aralsk, a Russian city on the edge of the Aral Sea, the last outbreak of the disease in the then-Soviet Union, a tale of some mystery and intrigue.