Friday, January 26, 2007

The American Plague: The Untold Story of Yellow Fever, the Epidemic that Shaped Our History by Molly Caldwell Crosby

I've never considered myself a fan of history, at least not in so far as sitting down and reading a history book for pleasure. Let alone a medical history book. Anytime I read anything about diseases or injuries, I get these weird squeamish feelings. This book, however, intrigued me and I'm glad it did.

"The American Plague" does not cover the full history of Yellow Fever but does cover what seems to be the most important time period of this fatal disease that could still be a threat today. The time period covered is from 1878 when tens of thousands of people in Memphis, TN died and destroyed the city of Memphis as it once was, through to the turn of the century (18th to 19th) when Walter Reed and many others became martyrs in order to understand the cause of Yellow Fever, and finally to the late 1920's when a vaccine was created.

So why would I torment myself with a medical history book? Because this one is so well written. From page 1 the author leads the reader through life during the epidemic, quarantine, treatment, deaths and discovery of the yellow fever virus. At times I forgot I was reading non-fiction. Now this isn't to say that the facts seemed stretched but just that the prose used in this storytelling captivated me so much I was in the middle of the book before I realized that I hadn't put it down.

Not only is the storytelling great, but the cast of characters just jump out of the book in full life. This is not only due to Ms. Crosby's great writing but to her in depth research. In fact, most of the times when I read a non-fiction book that has appendices and such, I don't bother reading the notes sections. But for this book I stuck around for the notes section and loved discovering how the author uncovered her facts. It's like sticking around for the credits of a movie to find out who did that song that was so awesome.

So do yourself a little favor and read some history. It was fun for me to learn this stuff. By the way, this makes me glad I was vaccinated in the U.S. Navy for Yellow Fever...whew!

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