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An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793

Review

An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793

"All was not right" in the summer of 1793 in the city of Philadelphia. It was hot, and the city stank more than usual. At that time hygiene was in its infancy, as were many aspects of medicine. So when yellow fever struck the city and began to kill more and more people with each passing day, panic ensued. Those who could afford to do so fled the city, including the first president of the young republic, George Washington. There were many who could not flee, and for them the next few months were a living hell.

Jim Murphy has once again created a masterful, impeccably researched book that both enthralls and horrifies the reader. It is hard to imagine disinfecting a house by burning gunpowder and bathing everything in vinegar. Even worse is being doused with mercury if one was unfortunate enough to get sick.

One of the truly wonderful things about this book, as well as Murphy's other books, is that he strives to tell the whole story. We read about the selflessness of members of the black community who courageously tended the sick and buried the dead when no one else would. Their story is told in its entirety, as is that of the remarkable mayor of Philadelphia, Matthew Clarkson, who would not allow his city to die. The people who were present in Philadelphia and its environs at that awful time are brought to life once more through Murphy's skill as a writer.

Included in the book are illustrations, portraits of key players in the events described, and pages out of newspapers that were printed during the months when the plague held Philadelphia at its mercy. They provide us with a wonderful opportunity to read the very words of those who experienced the plague firsthand. The reader will find tips on how to avoid getting the plague and suggestions on what to do if you are unfortunate enough to have it. All in all, this is a wonderful book for anyone interested in history and in the ways of people.

Readers may also enjoy some of Murphy's other books, including THE GREAT FIRE, ACROSS AMERICA ON AN EMIGRANT TRAIN, and BLIZZARD.

Reviewed by Marya Jansen-Gruber on June 23, 2003

An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793
by Jim Murphy

  • Publication Date: June 23, 2003
  • Hardcover: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Clarion Books
  • ISBN-10: 0395776082
  • ISBN-13: 9780395776087