The American Plagueby Mary Caldwell Crosby
This book traces the history of the Yellow Fever virus in America from its origins to its current status in modern medicine. The majority of this story revolves around two geographical areas. The first area is Memphis, Tennessee which was basically decimated by Yellow Fever in the late 1800s and the second is Cuba, where doctors from the United States gathered to study the virus and attempt to find a vaccine. Following the stories of some of the people who survived the epidemic as well as some of those who didn’t, the author effectively portrays the devastation that the virus wreaked not only on the individuals directly impacted but also on the surrounding inhabitants who lived in constant fear of the invisible cause of grotesque, painful death.
Overall, the story is a fascinating tale of how suffering, perseverance, ignorance, pride, politics and commerce all come into play in how a virus is spread or contained and how decisions in arenas that have nothing to do with medicine or health can directly impact the health of a nation. At times the story seems to stall or drag, but the chronological approach that the author takes in telling the tale seemingly demands these moments of academic argument and political posturing, which had a tremendous impact on the lives of thousands of people. If you have an interest in medicinal history or just a curiosity about how Yellow Fever has impacted America, this book is worth the read.