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

3.86 of 5 stars 3.86  ·  rating details  ·  2,807 ratings  ·  256 reviews
In this account, a journalist traces the course of yellow fever, stopping in 1878 Memphis to "vividly [evoke] the Faulkner-meets-'Dawn of the Dead' horrors,"*-and moving on to today's strain of the killer virus.

Over the course of history, yellow fever has paralyzed governments, halted commerce, quarantined cities, moved the U.S. capital, and altered the outcome of wars.
Kindle Edition, 384 pages
Published (first published January 1st 2006)
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Oct 16, 2007 Bridget rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Shelves: socialscience
I'm always surprised by how much we collectively forget about our past. This book sucked me right in, and made me very, very glad that I wasn't born 100 years ago. It chronicles the history of Yellow Fever in the United States, and the effort led by Dr. Walter Reed to understand, and eradicate, the disease. Learned a lot reading this one.
This book was interesting from an historical perspective, though it's descriptions were often needlessly hyperbolic, a flaw shared by many books that tackle infection--as if the authors are always a bit worried that if they don't remind us that "the victim became a palate of hideous color," for example, or that "the family mansion had now become a tomb," we will get bored with the science and history and go away. I don't regret reading this book, but I gave it a very low rating because of the ex ...more
My interest in this book was piqued by a series that appeared our local newspaper.

The summers of the 1870s in the south was a scary time to be alive. Just think about how bad mosquitoes are today and all the bites you get. Imagine not knowing that these little insects were the cause of whole families being wiped out. The horrible symptoms, the fear...the sadness!
One of my book discussion groups is discussing this book this month. I thought the topic was too depressing, and someone in the group mentioned that it contained a lot of boring detail, so I had decided not to read it. The subtitle is "The Untold Story of Yellow Fever, The Epidemic That Shaped Our History." However, one of my friends in the group lent me her copy so I felt obligated to look at it.

When I finally began reading it, I could barely put it down! Parts One and Two, which describe the y
This book had so much potential. I picked it up as a lender from my mom on a lark after reading the introductory chapter and thought it would be really interesting.

And in some ways it was! However, Ms. Crosby's "storyline" jumped around too much, seemingly without any rhyme or reason. Also, I felt that she should have either stuck to the science bits or the history bits, or made the book twice as long.

In some instances, I felt that there should have been more written about Dr. Reed. In others,
As a life-long Memphian, I have heard many stories of devastating effect on the city the 1878 Yellow Fever Epidemic had. More than 2,500 victims are buried in Memphis’ historic Elmwood Cemetery (founded 1852). I attended a reading at Elmwood Cemetery in early 2007 by first-time author Molly Caldwell Crosby from her then new book: The American Plague  The Untold Story of Yellow Fever, the Epidemic that Shaped Our History by Molly Caldwell Crosby. She did a great job of describing the terrible effect of this horrible disease both in Memphis and elsewhere.
This is a fascinating story, but very poorly written. And also poorly edited. There are confusing syntactical errors, idioms the author (weirdly) doesn't get quite right, as if she isn't a native English speaker, and the overall tone is maudlin, overwrought, and florid. The story is quite compelling enough without all the self-conscious literary flourishes. If this had been a novel, I would have quit after the first 20 pages. But the history is good, and the information new to me, so I stuck wit ...more
Kristen Bauer
This book was an amazing combination of medical facts and narratiev prose. I really got into the story that was basically pulled together from death logs and medical journals. It was amazing to learn about this period of my history that I didn't know existed. Couldn't put it down - fantastic NF writing.
A great read that placed me in the shoes of the investigators, researchers and patients. This is the kind of book that all histories should be made of. It includes the successes and failures with detailed descriptions of some gruesome events that we should all be learning from.

If this is, in fact, Molly Crosby's first attempt and she has chosen medical/disease history to chronicle, then I say her future will be compared with Stephen Ambrose and David McCullough of different venues.

Her research
this was a really good book. i enjoy a good disease/plague book (the last one was The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History). this one detailed yellow fever, how it came over from africa via the slave trade, how there was a HUGE epidemic in memphis, how that lead to the creation of the us government health commission (or whatever the official name was), and how that lead to walter reed and others doing experiments in cuba.
DUDE. i had no idea about any of this.
we kn
A solid entry in one of my favorite genres, the popularized history. The strength of this book is the historical research that the author has done into the lives of the principals and the fascinating topic of yellow fever. Molly Crosby does a fair job of weaving the history into a engrossing narrative, but isn't quite up to the quality of the masters of the genre. There are moments when the flow falters, places where points are repeated, and the characters never quite come to life, despite the d ...more
Florence Millo
The American Plague by Molly Crosby

What an interesting book! I learned so much from this well written book!

Yellow fever meant little to me--just a tropical disease that one never hears of these days. But what a story that is behind the fact that we seldom hear of yellow fever today!

The book begins with how Yellow fever was brought into the Americas from Africa by the slave trade. The Africans had some immunity to the disease having lived where it is endemic for centuries but when it hit the Am
Crosby has written a solid history of 3 events in yellow fever history, one leading to the other.

1) the Mississippi Valley yellow fever epidemic of 1878 (she focuses primarily on Memphis, the hardest hit area) and the forensics that studied how the disease was carried to Memphis via a steamer that eluded quarantine in New Orleans. Also successive cases that plagued the southern US (and even northern areas in warm summer months) and the need for research into what was causing this disease.

2) the
The fever attacked each person in the Angevine family, one after the other, until none were well enough to help the others. It hit suddenly in the form of a piercing headache and painful sensitivity to light, like looking into a white sun. At that point, the patient could still hope that it was not yellow fever, maybe just a headache from the heat. But the pain worsened, crippling movement and burning the skin. The fever rose to 104, maybe 105 degrees, and bones felt as though they had been crac ...more
Delway Burton
A most interesting book which begins with the Yellow Fever epidemic in Memphis in 1878 which killed 5000 people and destroyed the city. Citizens today see the virus of yellow fever as a historic problem but don't be fooled. The virus and the mosquitoes that carry it are still close at hand. Originating in West Africa the vectors came to the Americas with the slave trade and over the next few years claimed hundreds of thousands of victims. The story then follows the time line of the search for it ...more
Dena Norman
It was interesting, though scattered in its storylines (there were more than necessary). The introduction to the yellow fever plague in Memphis was fascinating as was the middle section in which the Yellow Fever Commission in Cuba crept closer and closer to finding answers. The conclusion, however, seemed a hurried compilation of everything I just read (with added bits of history that I wish the author would have shared more about) and it was truly a waste of words and paper. Repetitive at times ...more
So I read this one on accident. I meant to read the American Plague: Story of the 1793 epidemic that hit Philli (I was confused how the one I was reading could be a Newberry Honor, because it was a little higher level reading than most Newberrys, now I know). This one, however, was a well written, researched and documented book on the 1878 epidemic in Memphis, TN and the research that was done in Cuba that helped to lead to control of the disease. Being married to an epidemiologist, I really app ...more
This book is split into three main parts. In the first part, it takes us through the yellow fever epidemic that hit Memphis, Tennessee in 1878. In the second part, it looks at the doctors who tried to figure out where yellow fever came from and how it spread, including the human volunteer experiments that they performed. In the third part, in current day, what is being done now about yellow fever?

I thought this was very interesting. The first part, in particular, really drew me in, but even the
Fascinating topic, I really wanted to like this, as I love in-depth histories of illness, plagues, and the fight against them. Unfortunately, I couldn't get past Crosby's florid style. My own preference is for more straight-forward, less hyperbolic writing, and this irked me enough that I couldn't even finish. Judging from the other glowing reviews, I wish had been able to overlook this one flaw.
Had no idea this had even happened! Interesting to see that people's reactions in the face of fear are still the same: there are some who get out quick, some who take advantage of the situation and some who inspire with acts of bravery that blow my mind. The ending is a little...sensational but overall, an educational book.
This book probably is one of the scariest I've ever read. Because I know these places.I know the wolf river and where there are so many Mosquitos that most kayakers/canoers refuse to go in the summer. I know what it's like to go outside and be swarmed by mosquitos.And now I know just how deadly they are.
Bits about the disease are interesting; the other bits, not so much.
Christina Dudley
A sometimes gruesome, sometimes fascinating, sometimes dull history of yellow fever in Memphis and Cuba. I found especially interesting the origins of the disease in Africa and its voyage to America on slave ships.

There were MANY people covered in the course of the book, to the point that I started skipping/skimming backstories, but since I knew zip about Walter Reed, it was nice to learn about him.

The author early on had some peculiar word choices and usages I'd never seen before, but mostly
Abram Wagner
The American Plague is divided into three parts: (1) yellow fever's 1878 appearance in Memphis, TN, (2) a short biography of Walter Reed, and (3) other random yellow fever-related vignettes. The book is subtitled "the untold story of yellow fever, the epidemic that shaped our history," but it's unclear why other diseases (smallpox, polio, or even malaria) are not the epidemic that shaped our history. Nor does the author Molly Caldwell Crosby explain why at least a third of the space in her book ...more
i like this book but it focuses in just a couple of cases and talks more about the scientist and other people affected with yellow fever more than it does with the symptoms of yellow fever. That would be the only thing i did not really like about it but other than that it talks about how it affected Memphis, Tennessee and Cuba and other areas of the world but those two locations are were most of the story takes place and it talks about the efforts scientist made at the time and how hard it was t ...more
I love medical histories and who doesn't love a good plague story, so I picked this up expecting a good history of yellow fever in the United States. In that, I was a bit disappointed with this book's scope. It focuses first on the 1878 yellow fever epidemic that more than decimated the population of Memphis, Tennessee. Then it moves to Cuba during the time of the Spanish-American war in 1898 and for the few years after, when Walter Reed and a group of other researchers were trying to discover t ...more
Steven Peterson
Molly Caldwell Crosby has written a nice medical mystery--the causes and cure for the dread Yellow Fever.

Yellow Fever is a nasty disease, featuring high fever, severe headache, undue sensitivity to light, extreme pain, shutdown of kidneys, abdominal cramps, and so on. And, given the disease's name, (page 2) ". . .the skin grew a deep gold, the whites of the eyes turning brilliant yellow."

Yellow fever began its course in Africa, and was transported to the New World through the slave trade. The
So I was extremely disappointed in this book. Now I know they can't all be "The Hot Zone" but I was at least expecting a riveting read, especially since this disease attacked America heavily and has no cure, though they do have a vaccine. Speaking of vaccines I was horrified the other day to read that they discovered a girl who has polio because her idiot parents didn't get her vaccinated. There is a reason that a lot of severe childhood diseases have been wiped out in America and that's because ...more
Susan Ozmore
I debated between a 3 and 4 rating for this book and in all fairness, I must tell you that one of my favorite non-fiction books is The Great Influenza by John Barry. The American Plague doesn't meet that standard, but it is still worth reading. It's quick and an easy read and the history is excellent. The science is where it falls short.

The book is divided into 4 sections. Part 1 is very short and primarily explains how the yellow fever virus gets to the western hemisphere. Part 2 tells the sto
As a scientist I enjoy reading articles and textbooks on infectious diseases which would likely seem dry to the lay reader. However, when I pick up a work of narrative non-fiction on infectious disease, I prefer it to have the flow and gripping narrative of a good novel. Molly Crosby's The American Plague: The Untold Story of Yellow Fever, the Epidemic that Shaped Our History has a promising start with the description of the Memphis yellow fever epidemic of 1878, but devolves into a serviceable ...more
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Summary from Meeting on 12/8/08 3 34 Aug 05, 2013 06:21AM  
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Molly Crosby is a best-selling author and journalist. Her first book The American Plague: The Untold Story of Yellow Fever, the Epidemic That Shaped Our History was published in November 2006 by Berkley Books, an imprint of Penguin, USA. The New York Times hailed it as a “first-rate medical detective drama,” and Newsweek called it “gripping.” The book has been nominated for the Barnes & Noble ...more
More about Molly Caldwell Crosby...
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“Nature had found the perfect place to hide the yellow fever virus. It seeded itself and grew in the blood, blooming yellow and running red.” 1 likes
“In the middle of the cemetery is a grassy plane, strangely vacant. There are no granite tombs or crumbling concrete, just a sun-washed treeless patch of green known as "No Man's Land." Here 1,500 unidentified bodies are buried. At one time, their skin burned with yellow fever; now they lie in a cool, dark place where long ago their arms and legs, hands and feet, were intertwined for eternity.” 1 likes
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