An American Plague by Jim Murphy This is, as the subtitle says, the true and terrifying story of the yellow fever epidemic of 1793. Over the course of a few short months, the population of Philadelphia, then the capital of the United States, was laid waste by a disease with no cure. Everyone who could afford to fled the city, leaving masses of sick and poor and only a few officials with no authority to do anything. The book describes the panic, the reactions of authorities, the arguing among doctors as to cause or cure, the heroic efforts of black nurses sent by the Free African Society, and the eventual waning of the disease. The United States government was unable to do anything during this time, as no one dared to enter the city, but the Constitution forbade convening Congress anywhere else. We hear about the lasting changes to emergency systems and the medical disaster that could still happen today: while we now know the cause of yellow fever, there is still no cure. Every chapter begins with a reproduction of a document from the time, so you can read, for example, the letter that mayor wrote to the newspaper, different ideas for cures, and the names and occupations of the dead. The text is lively, and frequent quotes from diaries, letters and newspapers bring us close to this long-ago event. This is an exciting book that would go well with Laurie Halse Anderson’s Fever, 1793.
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