Wednesday, March 2, 2011

An American Plague - Book Review

It was Neal's turn to pick the book I would read aloud to the kids. He chose An American Plague : The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793. I bought the book from a book order a couple of years ago. It's just been sitting on  my shelf since then. It was about time we read it. For the past week I have been reading (and dreaming) about a horrible plague illness wiping out large chunks of the population.

In the late summer of 1793, Philadelphia, then the nations capital, was hit by a horrifying epidemic. Hundreds of people were falling ill to yellow fever. There was no cure and at the time the cause of the disease was also unknown. Wealthy citizens and most of the national, state, and city government fled the city to avoid the fever. Those who remained struggled to care for the sick and dying while maintaining order in an abandoned city. In a city of 30,000 people (the largest city in the US at the time) between 3000 and 5000 people eventually died of the yellow fever that year.

It would be over a hundred years before doctors finally discovered the way the fever was spread (a type of mosquito, of course) and it was the mid-twentieth century before scientists created a vaccine for the yellow fever. There is still no known cure.

The book, written by Jim Murphy, is fascinating, thoroughly researched and well written. While intended for young readers, it is written in an academic style. It is not for those with a weak stomach. Neal and I enjoyed it.

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