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House on Fire: The Fight to Eradicate Smallpox
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House on Fire: The Fight to Eradicate Smallpox

4.0 of 5 stars 4.00  ·  rating details  ·  121 ratings  ·  19 reviews
A story of courage and risk-taking, House on Fire tells how smallpox, a disease that killed, blinded, and scarred millions over centuries of human history, was completely eradicated in a spectacular triumph of medicine and public health. Part autobiography, part mystery, the story is told by a man who was one of the architects of a radical vaccination scheme that became a ...more
Hardcover, 240 pages
Published June 6th 2011 by University of California Press (first published January 1st 2011)
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This is a tricky book for me to review, as I'm unashamedly biased, but I'm going to try anyway.

When you think about the vast volume of literature written about any major war, it's somewhat remarkable that smallpox eradication - a campaign to end an illness that killed half a billion people in the last century - hasn't received more attention. The other day I was on a bus with some med students and one actually asked, "what was that disease we eradicated? Was it polio?" (Fail, future doctor! Fai
after reading schlosser's book about the atomic bomb i needed something uplifting. a book about smallpox.

read the subtitle "the fight to eradicate smallpox". the goodguys, author william h. foege among them, WIN the fight. going into this book we know smallpox lost, that's a good book to read.

the postscript;

"Over the years, on every return to India, I have searched the faces of people on the street, looking for pockmarks. Soon I could find no pockmarked face under the age ten, then twenty, and
This is part documentary, part autobiography of the amazingly successful worldwide work to eradicate smallpox. Call me a geek, but I found the statistics climactic and the developing world experiences funny or sobering, depending on the story. It reinforces my belief that we peeps can accomplish almost ANYTHING if we have the political will.
Piper Hale
Dr. Foege looms large in my life (and not in the literal sense, as his unusual height would suggest) as the founder of the organization I work for, so, disclaimer, that may have influenced my experience reading House on Fire. It is, however, an extraordinary book documenting the years of grueling work that finally led to the worldwide eradication of smallpox. In relating the details of the smallpox effort's challenges and successes, Dr. Foege highlights the importance in disease elimination effo ...more
Since the eradication of smallpox ranks as one of the most successful efforts in public health, or human endeavor in general, the story of how it happened already draws interest. House on Fire: the fight to eradicate smallpox is William Foege's attempt to tell this tale, through his experience in Africa and India. I found the beginning, as he described how eradication was first accepted as a feasible goal, to be more interesting than the foregone conclusion. The story was told in a very linear f ...more
Read this for a paper I was writing for a vaccines development class. I have bad memories of that class which may color my review, so take this review with a grain of salt lol. Gives some interesting insight into the logistics needed to solve the biggest public health campaign ever conducted (eradicating a disease from the earth). Unfortunately, while the issue itself is fascinating, Foege's writing is neither compelling nor emotionally engaging. One chapter is just an extended acknowledgments l ...more
Hannah Notess
There used to be smallpox and there isn't anymore. That is not an accident and the tremendous amount of coordination and planning required to make this happen was awe inspiring to read about. We could do this with measles too, you guys.
I found this interesting, if not fast paced. It is indeed a book about a war, fought viciously by both sides, with numerous problems and pitfalls. While Foege is obviously passionate about smallpox and his experience (and rightly so), the book is so heavily scientifically based and loaded with facts and numbers, that the people behind the scenes got lost for me. That's a minor complaint - I was reading this to learn about the methods and successes, not so much for personalities, but it may put o ...more
Caroline P
This was a fascinating read! I knew nothing about the eradication process, and found the process they went through so interesting. A great read, and a book I would read again!
Amazing and inspirational story, well told.
Anand Sinha
An easy to read book that captures the personal story of the people who worked so hard to eradicate Smallpox. In hindsight Smallpox eradication seems simple and inevitable, but Bill Foege helps the reader understand the many challenges and near misses that may have lead to us still hiding from Smallpox. The book is inspirational for anyone working on Public Health. The message about the need to be Optimistic is an important one for weary development professionals.
This book explains when and how smallpox was eradicated in Nigeria and in India, which are the 2 countries in which the author worked on the program. It is an interesting story of remarkably dedicated people that explains the science and the politics behind the campaign to eliminate smallpox. While it tells how horrible it is to have smallpox, the book’s emotional depth does not go beyond eliciting moderate engagement.
Marianne McGrath
This is a well written chronicle of the process by which smallpox was eradicated told by the epidemiologist who was at the center of the fight. His descriptions of the seemingly insurmountable challenges of defeating this ancient scourge in India makes for riveting reading. Even a reader unfamiliar with medicine or global health initiatives will find this fascinating and understandable.
I really liked Foege's earnest and sincere account of his role in the global effort to eradicate polio, one of the most ambitious medical accomplishments ever.
Anita Williams
Great book, however it assumes a lot of prior knowledge so if you don't know much about infectious disease epidemiology, have google open and ready.
Aug 18, 2011 Elizabeth marked it as to-read
As seen in the New York Times . ...more
Great read. Smallpox eradication was not inevitable. Best global health success story I know of.
David Meyers
For anyone interested in public health, a must read.
Ania marked it as to-read
Jun 21, 2015
Carla Doyle
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