Monday, March 18, 2013

A Very Selective History

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

Summary: Slave ships brought it to America as far back as 1648-and over the centuries, yellow fever epidemics plagued the United States. Carried along the mighty Mississippi River, it ravaged towns from New Orleans to St. Louis. New York City lost 2,000 lives in one year alone. It even forced the nation's capital to relocate from Philadelphia to Washington, DC.

The American Plague reveals the true story of yellow fever, recounting Memphis, Tennessee's near-destruction and resurrection from the epidemic-and the four men who changed medical history with their battle against an invisible foe that remains a threat to this very day.

Review: A patchy overview of yellow fever and its effect on history.

I love medical history. Medicine has come so far in such a short amount of time. It's fascinating to learn how people used to deal with diseases and what they thought actually caused some diseases. I might have heard of yellow fever before I read this book, but if I had, I didn't know much about it. The book's title makes some big claims and I was prepared to be impressed. I went into this book thinking it would be close to a definitive history of yellow fever like The Emperor of All Maladies did with cancer.

Unfortunately, this book disappointed me. The book only briefly mentions how the disease works and its symptoms. I would have liked a lot more detail about that since this book is supposed to be about yellow fever. It starts off in Africa and tells the story of how it came to America. It makes me think about how quickly yellow fever would have come over to America if it wasn't for slavery. Then it jumps to Memphis and it was interesting to learn how disease did shape Memphis as a city. Then we jump to the present day. I had hope for a more continuous narrative and feel that I don't know nearly enough about yellow fever as I should after reading this book.


Recommendation: I would recommend this people interested in diseases, American history, or medical history.

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