Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Review of "An American Plague," by Jim Murphy

 Review of

An American Plague, by Jim Murphy ISBN 0395776082

Five out of five stars

A reminder of the grisly cycles

 The year 2020 has been memorable for the return of the pandemic. Something largely predicted in the last paragraph of this book. People that study infectious diseases and public health understand that mass outbreaks of fatal diseases have been part of the human condition since humans gathered together into groups. Literature from science fiction to fact has stated many times that humans have been due for another pandemic for some time due to the mass and rapid modern travel. Even though modern science quickly identified the causative agent and engaged in aggressive treatment and prevention, the corona virus has proven deadly on a mass scale.

This book is about an outbreak of yellow fever in Philadelphia in 1793, when that city was the temporary capital of the United States. Those with the means chose to flee the city, that included President Washington and nearly all the rest of the national government.

With very little known about the causative agents of the disease, some of the treatments were bizarre and extreme. As was the case in other plague events, this outbreak ran its course until cold weather and simply went down as another mini pandemic experienced by the human race. However, during that time there was little humans could do or even knew what to do.

 One of the saddest aspects of this story was how the black population of Philadelphia reacted to the plague and was treated when it was over. While many if not most of the white caregivers fled the city, the black population largely stayed and did what they could to minimize the suffering. Many of the black caregivers became ill and some died. Yet, when it was over, their blackness had not changed, both in the literal and figurative senses. Discrimination was put on hold out of necessity, only to return post crisis.

 This is a great book about what was really only a historical quirk, for this was only one of several mini pandemics to strike the United States over the first two centuries of the country. Even though it has been almost 2.5 centuries since this plague struck, there are many aspects of it that have reappeared in the modern Corona virus pandemic.

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