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Fever Season: The Epidemic of 1878 That Almost Destroyed Memphis, and the People who Saved It

3.60  ·  Rating Details  ·  126 Ratings  ·  29 Reviews

While the American South had grown to expect a yellow fever breakout almost annually, the 1878 epidemic was without question the worst ever. Moving up the Mississippi River in the late summer, in the span of just a few months the fever killed more than eighteen thousand people. The city of Memphis, Tennessee, was particularly hard hit: Of the approximately twenty thousand
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Hardcover, 320 pages
Published October 2nd 2012 by Bloomsbury USA
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 368)
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Becky
Wait…

What just happened?

So, funny thing happened as I was reading a story about Yellow Fever- it suddenly turned into a three chapter ending about Robert Church founding the Blues-based Memphis we all know and love today. The problem was that, he was totally absent from the part of the book about Yellow Fever. He was introduced in the beginning along with the other “cast” of characters that would lead us through their personal experiences during the Yellow Fever outbreak of 1878. … And then the
...more
Wealhtheow
Mosquitoes transmit a virus that causes Yellow Fever. The virus originates in tropical climes, and is believed to have come to America from ships carrying slaves from Africa. After a few mild days, the disease can cause headache, nausea, and fever. Some victims recover and have lifelong immunity, but in ~15% of cases the fever returns, the heart, liver, and kidneys fail, and delirium sets in. The skin of victims turns dark yellow (hence Yellow Fever, also called "Bronze John"), they start hemorr ...more
Becky
Wait…

What just happened?

So, funny thing happened as I was reading a story about Yellow Fever- it suddenly turned into a three chapter ending about Robert Church founding the Blues-based Memphis we all know and love today. The problem was that, he was totally absent from the part of the book about Yellow Fever. He was introduced in the beginning along with the other “cast” of characters that would lead us through their personal experiences during the Yellow Fever outbreak of 1878. … And then the
...more
Caitlin
Jan 02, 2013 Caitlin rated it it was amazing
I was born in Memphis and lived there until I was midway through middle school. It's changed a lot since then, but I still consider it home and hold it close in my memories. I've gone back when I could - to eat barbecue and look at the river. The Mississippi River is at its widest point at Memphis and if you grew up with it you'll be spoiled forever for any other river - it's just that breathtaking, insinuating itself into your veins.

When I was in elementary school I was fortunate to be admitted
...more
Cornmaven
Nov 18, 2012 Cornmaven rated it liked it
Shelves: adult, non-fiction
An interesting but tedious account of the 1878 yellow fever epidemic in Memphis. I enjoyed the cast of characters, and the element of race relations that ebbed and flowed before during and after the epidemic. Keith's contrast of Memphis before and after regarding the economic opportunities for black Americans was intriguing.

But, I never felt like I was there during the epidemic. There was something missing in the delivery to create the tension necessary to transport the reader to the time and pl
...more
Bonnie
Aug 09, 2013 Bonnie rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction, 2013
I wanted to love this. In fact, I should have loved this. It's a fascinating topic with interesting stories and characters. But the plot was so disjointed, the characters and timeline so hard to follow, that I felt like I had yellow fever. But without the black vomit, thankfully. The author clearly did her research, but it just wasn't presented well.
April Helms
Dec 30, 2013 April Helms rated it really liked it
Keith recounts the 1878 Yellow Fever epidemic, which devastated Memphis. Indeed, it was almost the last straw for the beleaguered city, which was already mired in debt and disorganization before the outbreak. She goes into a bit of the history of the time, the impact of the Civil war, the reverberations of which were still being felt, the lack of knowledge about the disease, and the people who kept the city going. Keith does a commendable job not only with the history and facts, but with the peo ...more
Alison
Sep 27, 2012 Alison rated it really liked it
"When those who lived through the epidemic tried to describe it, they talked about the sudden, eerie quiet . . . Half the population had fled upon the outbreak of the fever, but an estimated twenty thousand remained. You would think that that many people would produce noise sufficient to demonstrate their presence, but the voices we have from Memphis in the summer of 1878- mostly doctors, nurses, and journalists- agree that the city felt abandoned."

"From August to October 1878, the people of Mem
...more
Kristi Thielen
May 11, 2013 Kristi Thielen rated it it was amazing
Very good book that retells the dramatic story of this epidemic, but also provides something more: a thoughtful detail about the social attitude of 1878 Memphis residents concerning women and African-Americans and how it overlayed the story of the city's experience and aftermath.

It is sobering to learn how the tragedy drew the black and white communities together to the point that doctors and nurses of both races worked side by side - and volunteers who labored during the epidemic ate together
...more
Ellen
Jan 22, 2013 Ellen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is a compelling account of the Yellow Fever Epidemic in Memphis, Tennessee in 1878. The fever which had struck several southern cities in the past was difficult to deal with. There were not any successful treatments. People survived it or they did not. All sorts of theories were thought of as to the cause, the dominant one in this book was sanitation although as we now know it was the mosquito and the popular use of cistern not fresh water that was the culprit. This books expands on ra ...more
Don Creamer
Nov 27, 2013 Don Creamer rated it really liked it
I have a familial attachment to this story. My Great Grandfather was one who felt that it was better to protect his family than stay in what appeared to be the dying city of Memphis. Along with his in-laws he took his wife, children and a servant to Iuka, MS to weather out the storm. Unfortunately, when he returned to the city in November of 1878 he was fired from his position at the Post Office for abandoning his post. He was a veteran of the previous War, and was not afraid for himself. This l ...more
Tammy Prater
Jan 04, 2015 Tammy Prater rated it it was ok
There's a difference between storytelling and giving a chronology. This is a meandering, disorganized chronology.
Evelyn Harvill
Aug 20, 2014 Evelyn Harvill rated it liked it
Very interesting analysis of the yellow fever epidemic in Memphis in 1878.
Carolyn
Jan 19, 2013 Carolyn rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An excellent telling of an important part of regional history that affected more than just the region. Jeanette Keith does a very good job of showing how public health, nursing, epidemiological, sociological, and racial issues were all impacted by this one summer from hell in Memphis. It also gives a good luck at the impact of reconstruction and what came after reconstruction was declared "finished". A lot of information in a rather small book, but very well told.
Christy
Mar 16, 2014 Christy rated it liked it
Shelves: book-club
fascinating look into an epidemic. Also interesting from a historical perspective but the strength for me was the certainty that if we were hit like this now we'd probably be in the same kind of place. Not recognizing it when it arrives. generally acting slowly and with missteps. and while some people will act badly for the most part, people will rise to the occasion.
Lynne Premo
May 30, 2014 Lynne Premo rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science, history
The author did a nice job melding the details of the yellow fever epidemic itself with the historical and sociological context of Memphis at the time.
Colleen
Jun 05, 2014 Colleen rated it really liked it
Shelves: science-nature
Enjoyed the use of primary sources.psrticularly good at highlighting the role of women & minorities
Ellenw
Aug 08, 2013 Ellenw rated it liked it
Very human look at the way different people respond to the horrific yellow fever outbreak that killed an incredible number of people in 1878. I was looking for a more scientific perspective but this was perhaps a more important book to read. The major lesson of this book is to not go to the epidemic city assuming you have immunity. Be certain.
Kathryn Knight Harper
When I was little I learned about yellow fever and it scared me half to death. This book, though dry in places, kept my attention through the whole thing. The end of the book gives the account of everyone who survived the epidemic which made me happy because I felt attached to one nurse in particular. Overall I'm happy with it.
gabrielle
Mar 12, 2014 gabrielle rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to gabrielle by: Penny
Shelves: disasters
Worth toting the hardback version along on a trip.

Well-written, engaging, and a pretty fast read considering all the material covered.

Also reminded me of how ignorant I am of much of my country's history.

More reviews at the other entry for this book:
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1...
Rebecca
Jan 12, 2013 Rebecca rated it liked it
Very informative. Although I found it bordering on textbook at times, the author managed to add enough human emotion to make me want to keep reading.....who knew that there was ever such an epidemic on American shores.
Chris
Jan 16, 2013 Chris rated it it was ok
Well written and quite interesting, I just could not get past the halfway mark as it was so depressing. I learned quite a bit about the South, Memphis and epidemics. If you like history, you might really enjoy it.
Ellen Johnson
May 21, 2013 Ellen Johnson rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Brings to life what it must have been like to live through a plague, not in the Middle Ages, but just before the 20th century in a city I lived in for 4 years. Rather tough reading, but I'm glad I did.
Marta
Feb 12, 2013 Marta rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
Fantastic exploration of race, religion, and gender in reconstruction era Memphis. If you were only going to read one book about Southern history and culture, you should read this one.
Lauren
Nov 11, 2012 Lauren rated it it was amazing
Fascinating and well-written. Highly recommended for anyone else who likes history that talks a lot about disease and racial and cultural divisions.
Ginger
May 04, 2013 Ginger rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
This was a great story, badly told. Few things are more frustrating in nonfiction.
Grace-ann Westergren
Aug 19, 2013 Grace-ann Westergren rated it it was ok
Fascinating topic but very choppily written.
David
Mar 04, 2014 David rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very interesting book..
Anna
Dec 22, 2012 Anna rated it liked it
Good history sad subject.
Beth Richards
Beth Richards rated it it was amazing
Feb 08, 2016
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181455
Jeanette Keith grew up in rural Tennessee, obtained a PhD from Vanderbilt University, and is currently a history professor at Bloomsburg University in Pennsylvania. Her scholarly work has won awards from the Organization of American Historians and the Southern Association for Women Historians. Her most recent book, Fever Season, is written for a general audience, and reflects her interest in the i ...more
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“When those who lived through the epidemic tried to describe it, they talked about the sudden eerie quiet.” 1 likes
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