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

3.83  ·  Rating details ·  4,004 ratings  ·  610 reviews
1793, Philadelphia. The nation's capital and the largest city in North America is devastated by an apparently incurable disease, cause unknown . . .

Jim Murphy describes the illness known as yellow fever and the toll it took on the city's residents, relating the epidemic to the major social and political events of the day and to 18th-century medical beliefs and practices. D
Hardcover, 165 pages
Published June 23rd 2003 by Clarion Books
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Spook Sulek There are so many inserts and pictures you won't find the written content difficult.…moreThere are so many inserts and pictures you won't find the written content difficult.(less)

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Jul 06, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: mark-harmon
it is inconceivable to me that this is a book intended for children. the beginning part is fine, but the last chapter or so is paralyzingly terrifying. if i had read this as a child, it would have given me night terrors for years and even now i would think of it with chills, as i do with The Tailypo: A Ghost Story. brrr... this book chronicles an outbreak of yellow fever that killed 5000 people. and by chronicling, i mean it goes into details of black-bile-vomiting, and women giving birth to bab ...more
Jun 17, 2009 rated it liked it
I have to admit that I learned some things from this book. I had no idea that for about 3 months the Federal government got shut down because of yellow fever. Imagine that? For three months nothing happened in the government, no laws were passed, no meetings, nothing and yet the world still went on, and this at a time much more critical than normal, when part of the population wanted another revolution to go along with the French Revolution, and the entire country was only a few years old. So be ...more
Mar 26, 2008 rated it it was amazing
A fascinating review of an event not so long ago that could be repeated in our heavily populated cities and poorly prepared hospitals. An interesting aspect is the courageous role that African Americans played which was largely ignored by history. Also, the aspect of scentists battling an unknown disease with some unfortunate consequences. The man who should be credited with figuring it out watched the mosquito bite him that ended up killing him.
This was a significant event in the history of the U.S., yet I don't remember hearing it mentioned in school. Not only did it directly impact thousands of people, it also closed down the Federal gov't, resulting in a revision of some laws. It also sparked heated medical debate among the physicians (who knew very little about the disease).

Chapter 5 focuses on the Free African Society which had been founded in 1787, as the first organization in American created by blacks for blacks.. Amazingly, a
Sydney Dietert
May 29, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When I purchased this book, it was through Scholastic a few years ago back when I had a bunch of points to use on my class.

Fast forward three years ahead to last week, when I had to do some tidying up in my classroom, I found this in a stack of books I haven’t read yet. Of course it became next on my list to read because of how much it seemed to mirror our current situation.

When I opened the book, I recognized the first name I saw - Dr. Benjamin Rush. This name triggered a memory I had of a bi
Cynthia Egbert
Feb 12, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: library
There are themes to this one that seem a wee bit strong for a work written for youth but it should certainly garner discussion. I learned a fair number of new historical facts in this one and truly appreciated the research and concise presentation of the events surrounding the 1793 yellow fever epidemic as well as so many other epidemics of this disease which hit different cities in the States. This is not a happy book, but you will learn a thing or two. I especially appreciated the fair and bal ...more
Good book about the plague, with an accessible level and a small length that avoids to become bored.

The book explained well the spread of the disease and gave a good insight on the cures that were tried, the number of deaths and the life conditions at this time. As a foreigner, I knew nothing about the illness and the events, so it was interesting to discover it. For an apocalyptic books lover, it was also a fun read, mostly because it depicted with no surprises how people reacted to it (the one
Ok, so I'm on a roll here reading about disease and epidemics! This one sparked my curiosity because in "The Great Influenza", Philadelphia is hit badly by the 1918 influenza epidemic. It looks like in this book Philadelphia was also badly hit in 1793 by the yellow fever epidemic. Gotta read it to find out more!

This book is a Newberry Honor book for children. As such it is not difficult reading at all, but still was worthwhile to read.

In the summer of 1793 yellow fever hit Philadelphia and
Jul 08, 2008 rated it really liked it
Interesting history of Philadelphia at the time. Very readable history. The author made the book interesting while presenting a good historical narrative of the events.
Jul 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
I had no idea that our nation was so shaped by this disease. Murphy paints a vivid picture of the yellow fever’s terror and hopelessness that crippled our nation’s capital and precipitated a Constitutional crisis. Through the writings of doctors, authors, politicians, and clergymen he gives us first-hand glimpses of the times.
I really appreciated the author’s open discussion of the biblical motivation several of the most prominent volunteers had. It was really very inspiring. He was equally o
Sep 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
It's horrifying how many people have been killed because of mosquitoes. Malaria still rates, and so many others. As this book points out, yellow fever is at bay, but could be a disaster waiting to happen. Most of this book discusses the yellow fever epidemic of 1793 in Philadelphia, which was the national capital at the time. The outbreak effectively shut down the federal government, the state government, and most local business. The book describes the effects of the disease itself, and on the c ...more
May 21, 2020 rated it really liked it
Reading this I felt SO lucky to be in today's pandemic instead of the late 1700s with none of the modern conveniences , plus blood letting and other crazy stuff. But people are people- there are some who react badly and there are the heroes who step up. I have to agree with other reviewers who say this is not for kids, even though it seems to have won some children book awards. I didn't even notice that until now. weird. I just wonder how today's events will be viewed 300 years from now ...more
Dec 25, 2009 rated it liked it
"Sometimes...I lose myself in looking back upon the ocean which I have passed, and now and then find myself surprised by a tear in reflecting upon the friends I have lost, and the scenes of distress that I have witnessed, and which I was unable to relieve."

—Dr. Benjamin Rush, An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793, P. 101

An American Plague has to be one of the finest juvenile non-fiction books to be published in a very long time.

Jim Murphy has
May 10, 2016 rated it really liked it
I was required to read An American Plague for one of my MLIS classes. This nonfiction book, written by Jim Murphy, was a quick and fascinating read. I had never learned about Philadelphia's 1793 yellow fever epidemic in school. Murphy supplies a vast amount of information about this interesting topic. The reader learns the symptoms of yellow fever and the various treatments doctors recommended to rid patients of the disease. Dr. Benjamin Rush's "ten-and-fifteen" purge was the most extreme and he ...more
NSAndrew Liebergen
Students in grades 7-12 take a tour of the dramatic events that happened in 1793 when the Yellow Fever Epidemic broke out. The book is wonderfully written with historical facts everywhere. Murphy describes the horror of both the people involved in the plague and the disease itself. Murphy also describes the interplay between Philadelphia and neighboring areas, and the conflict between the ordinary person and those who held power/made decisions.
Murphy chronologically follows the beginning of th
April Helms
Dec 21, 2007 rated it really liked it
A narration of the Yellow Fever outbreak in Philadelphia in 1793, which claimed the lives of between 4,000 and 5,000 men, women and children. It relates the medical practices of the day, such as blood-letting, the use of mercury and other remedies considered of questionable (at best) value today. It contains pictures and illustrations, including pages from a list compiled of the dead.

This is a very sobering read, especially after Hurricane Katrina. Teens won’t miss parallels between then, with t
Dee Dee G
Dec 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This was packed with so much information I never heard of before. I’ve read one book about the plague in another city. Both books are similar in information however this one gives a lot more interesting info. Highly recommend this.
May 21, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, summer-2016
quick and informative read. ditch the last chapter tho. its not *ABOUT* the yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia in 1793.
Jul 12, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Christy Dickerson
Apr 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: elm-572-books
An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793 by Jim Murphy is an informational text that brings the epidemic alive in such detail that you can feel the sorrow and fear on every page. The story begins by explaining how the public sewer and water system in Philadelphia in the late 1700s could lead to such an outbreak. They had an open sewer system and the dead animals, spoiled food and waste ran down channels right beside the roads where citizens lived and ...more
Feb 26, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, non-fiction
This interesting book is a short but thorough and entertaining recounting of the yellow fever epidemic that took place in Philadelphia in 1793, when the U.S. was still in its infancy. Philadelphia was the new country's capital at the time and President George Washington was in residence. To go along with the epidemic, there was also a constitutional crisis, as the city was abandoned by the not-poor including the President. Can Congress be convened anywhere but at the capital? was the question of ...more
Angie Thompson
After listening to this on audiobook, I have a hard time believing it was written for children. Even as an adult who's interested in history, I found it very dry and sometimes hard to follow. It's also not for the faint at heart or easily disturbed, as it's full of semi-graphic descriptions of the disease, unsanitary conditions, dead bodies, etc.

Also, after spending the entire book concentrating on this one outbreak in 1793 Philadelphia, the last chapter traces the progress that's been made in u
Tim Brown
Nov 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: informational
Imagine living through a plague that's wiping out huge parts of the population around you, with nothing to stop it and no end in sight. An American Plague does just this. You live the yellow fever epidemic of 1793 through the eyes of a character who could quite possibly have lived through it. This is an amazing informational read because although the character is fictional, there are tons of facts about the time period and plague that lead you to believe that this person could have possibly live ...more
Short, focused, highly opinionated account of a yellow fever epidemic that killed thousands of Philadelphians and temporarily shut down the U.S. government. People thought it came from a pile of rotting coffee beans--back then people thought bad smells spread disease. Most interesting person Murphy discusses: the resplendently named Israel Israel, who risked his life helping others but then was cheated out of an election because he dared to suggest that Philadelphia should do more to help its po ...more
Apr 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
YA nonfiction about the yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia in 1793. Filled with photographs. Reads more like fiction than a textbook. We learn about the doctors and their different approaches to the disease (bloodletting and purging versus more gentle approaches) as well as the work the Free African Society did caring for the victims (and the backlash they faced).
Jody Ruff
Feb 08, 2018 rated it did not like it
An Award Winner of three awards; The Newberry Award, The Rober Siebert Honor, and The National Book Award Finalist. Jim Murphy wrote a very descriptive story about the Plague in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The book has photographs and newspapers clippings from the time the plague happened in Philadelphia.
Jay DeMoir
Jan 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
Currently reading this with my 7th grade students. They've been super engaged in this story and soaking up the facts. Very informative. ...more
Feb 20, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Really interesting and a bit alarming.
Aug 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
I honestly don’t know why I read this book, but it was interesting to say the least 😂😅
Jun 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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An American author of more than 35 nonfiction and fiction books for children, young adults, and general audiences, including more than 30 about American history. He won the Margaret Edwards Award from the American Library Association in 2010 for his contribution in writing for teens. Jim lives in Maplewood, New Jersey, in a hundred-year-old house with his wife Alison Blank, a children’s TV produce ...more

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“Sometimes...I lose myself in looking back upon the ocean which I have passed, and now and then find myself surprised by a tear in reflecting upon the friends I have lost, and the scenes of distress that I have witnessed, and which I was unable to relieve.

—Dr. Benjamin Rush”
“His concern focused on a series of illnesses that had struck his patients throughout the year—the mumps in January, jaw and mouth infections in February, scarlet fever in March, followed by influenza in July. “There was something in the heat and drought,” the good doctor speculated, “which was uncommon, in their influence upon the human body.” 0 likes
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