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Ship Fever: Stories

4.05  ·  Rating details ·  3,599 ratings  ·  364 reviews
1996 National Book Award Winner for Fiction.

The elegant short fictions gathered hereabout the love of science and the science of love are often set against the backdrop of the nineteenth century. Interweaving historical and fictional characters, they encompass both past and present as they negotiate the complex territory of ambition, failure, achievement, and shattered dre
Paperback, 256 pages
Published November 17th 1996 by W. W. Norton Company (first published 1996)
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Average rating 4.05  · 
Rating details
 ·  3,599 ratings  ·  364 reviews

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Jun 04, 2009 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Chrissie by: Joanna
Thank you Joanna for really pushing and pushing for me to read this - you see I do not like short stories! Joanna didn't give up on me b/c she knew what I like in books and she knew this book just could not be missed, despite that it was short stories. If you like short stories, you would probably give it 5 stars. The last story Ship Fever was longer and that clinched it for me.

Science and history come alive in the fictional story Barrett weaves around the true facts! Here one sees the advantage
Three of my fellow physicians have fallen sick; also two Catholic priests and the same Anglican clergymen who chided me early on. At least six of the attendants are also sick. The remainder so fear contagion that we have caught them standing outside the tents or in the open doorways of the sheds, hurling the patients’ bread rations at their beds rather than approach them. Gray bread flying through the gray air.

From Ship Fever, a story about a doctor’s struggles amidst the typhoid outbreak brou
Jennifer (Insert Lit Pun)
I think really highly of the short stories in here, but it's the novella (the final section) that's fantastic, and that ties everything together thematically. I can absolutely see why this won the National Book Award.
May 10, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Beautifully written short stories.
Effortlessly Andrea Barrett ties together natural science and fiction, the Old World and the New World, historical fictional accounts and actual events as well as failures and successes.
She connects science and poetry in a way that shows a world at once small and personal as well as foreign and mysterious. There's the second-generation immigrant who guards her grandfather's story about Mendel like a treasure, or the 19th century specimen collector who comes to t
Nov 21, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: people with an appreciation of science
I put this on my "to read" list after reading The Air We Breathe as some of the same characters are in both books. This is a book of short stories. The title story takes place in 1847 and is based on a real event. The potato famine in Ireland has forced many of its starving citizens to emigrate to the U.S. and Canada. Many of the immigrants are suffering from "ship fever" or typhus, and a hospital is set up for them on Grosse Isle in Canada. But the number of people afflicted with the disease is ...more
Patricia Costa Viglucci
Jul 17, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Science has never particularly intrigued me and I certainly never saw the romance of the subject. That changed when I began reading Andrea Barrett who weaves fictional stories with natural history. A fellow Rochesterian at one time, Barrett and my husband Carmen were in a critique group together and he related with pleasure her comments about his memoir--then in its early stages.

Reading reviews of her latest work, "Archangel," the above memory took hold. I read several stories from the new book
Intelligent and compelling stories. Some left me feeling empty. I’m glad I read it, though.
Jan 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Why oh why did I not come to Andrea Barrett's Ship Fever earlier? The familiarity of the first story in the collection, "The Behavior of the Hawkweeds," leads me to believe that a thoughtful instructor introduced Barrett to me some time ago, but for whatever reason it's taken me this long to get around to reading the whole collection.

Glad I did though, however late. So few authors write historical/scientific fiction as well as Barrett, and her command over setting and character is nothing short
The common thread through all of these stories is science, hard science often involving what were at one point in time true scientific mysteries or an individual who played a significant role in a scientific discovery or endeavor. The title story, which was closer to a novella, describes the efforts by Canadians to quarantine and provide medical attention to Irish emigrants arriving on coffin ships in an effort to escape the Irish potato famine. The conditions described on the ships are horrific ...more
Nov 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
Solid collection of short stories, most featuring a connection to the natural or biological sciences and a familial or other close relationship.
Jun 18, 2007 rated it liked it
Once I got started, I found it hard to put down this collection of short stories. I especially liked Barrett's weaving together of actual/factual scientific situations with fictionalized stories. My personal favorite in the collection is "The Marburg Sisters." This story doesn't combine reality and fiction in the same way as the others. In fact there was something about the story that put me in mind of "Divisidero." Perhaps it is my recent reading of the novel that made this feel almost like an ...more
Jul 05, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: sci-anth
The writing is lovely, nearly perfect. The construction of the individual vignettes are solid as can be. She has a wonderful sense of narrative and dialog. However.

I wanted so much for the vignettes to be connected by something more than the myriad ways in which good people fail as scientists. The themes seemed to be inappropriate love, gender discrimination, hubris, lack of inspiration, demanding families, etc, ad nauseam. For me, it was immensely depressing. She may have meant to humanize scie
Feb 19, 2009 rated it really liked it
Barrett's fascination with science and scientists--the real and imagined, the great and obscure--is the common link in this book of exceptional stories. Fresh insights into Linneaus, Mendel, and Darwin will haunt the reader as deeply as the struggles of Barrett's fictional Laughlin Grant and Nora Kynd in the title novella--in which doctors, patients, and social crusaders battle ignorance and prejudice along with the "black fever" brought by Irish immigrants to 1840's Canada.
Feb 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: novels
The novela that gives this collection its name is especially compelling—I read it while the Corona virus was making news and was amazed at how so much of our public health issues are still the same. I liked the way the author integrated women in to the history of science. The stories come from the eighteenth, nineteenth and 20th centuries. Lots of emphasis on the costs of science and the toll it took on the men and women that worked to extend knowledge.
Lynn Weber
Sep 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: novels
The best tribute I can give is that I loved this book and I generally dislike short stories. It has the quality that I love best in art, of evoking that old-fashioned term, if not concept, of our "humanity." Which is everything, really.
Mindy McAdams
May 22, 2017 rated it liked it
Unusual stories, many centered on female characters, with a touch of science. That might mean Gregor Mendel and his experiments on peas and their connection to a modern-day marriage ("The Behavior of the Hawkweeds") or the travels and efforts of a young man contemporary with Alfred Russel Wallace but not nearly as successful ("Birds with No Feet"). "The Littoral Zone" is a sad but very well told story of an event, a meeting, that changes everything — and it happens on a biologists' research trip ...more
Aug 30, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: fiction lovers
Another great set of short stories from Barrett. Here she establishes the characters who appear in her next volume, Servant of Maps. The best story is the title one- Ship Fever, which follows a doctor who handles immigrants from Ireland into Canada's St. Lawrence river. The immigrants are fleeing starvation, and the Ship Fever epidemic refers to typhus. The doctor also has an unrequited love for a young woman married to his best friend. Very historical stories, others focus on gathering wild ani ...more
Dec 06, 2007 rated it liked it
I picked this up at the library booksale because I enjoyed Voyage of the Narwhal and the author's approach to historical fiction. I didn't like Ship Fever quite as much, but it's very well-written. I found some of the stories very distressing---mostly in the extremes some of the characters go to in the name of science. But the stories were interesting in the way they incorporate themes of biology and/or natural sciences.

Karen Floyd
May 17, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
Particularly liked the story "Rare Bird," about a woman trying to educate herself as a naturalist while struggling against the social rules imposed on Victorian women. The title story is about a young doctor who goes to work at Canada's quarantine island where thousands upon thousands emigrants fleeing the Irish Potato Famine arrived bringing a typhus epidemic with them. Grim and inspiring.
Chitra Divakaruni
Mar 26, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: influences
Barrett is an extremely original writer. These stories & the novella, set mostly in earlier times, deal with the intersection of women and science. The characters come vibrantly alive in their longing for a life larger than what society allows them. Lovely images. Brilliant structure. I teach this collection quite often in my Creative Writing classes. ...more
Carol Douglas
Aug 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I don't usually read compilations of short stories, but I'm glad I made an exception for Ship Fever. Andrea Bartlett's work is highly intelligent, informed by an understanding of and interest in the natural world as well as the scientists who study it. The book includes a novella, Ship Fever, the story of a seldom-recounted aspect of Ireland's terrible potato famine: Canadians took in tens of thousands of sick people who never would have been allowed in the United States.

Barrett's passion for t
Joslyn Allen
Winner of the National Book Award in 1996, this collection of short stories by Andrea Barrett revolves on a theme of scientific inquiry and a preoccupation with the natural world. Barrett's writing is crisp and precise; her stories are developed with carefully chosen language and controlled emotion. Though far from cold, her writing does give the feeling of a remove from the characters, a scientific objectivity that perhaps is meant to let the reader's own empathies and emotions provide the ambi ...more
Leisha Wharfield
Jun 25, 2015 rated it really liked it
A friend gave me this book and once I started reading the stories, I could not put it down. Took it everywhere with me -- absolutely loved the marriage of high-quality fiction with science history. Who knew scientists once seriously considered that swallows winter over in lake bottoms or on the moon? I learned about these theories in my favorite story, "Rare Birds," where the rare birds are not swallows -- not yet, Rachel -- but women in the late 1700s who wished to explore reality via the scien ...more
Emily Sessa
Barrett is a good writer, but this book made me realize that I am not comfortable with fictional re-imaginings of the lives of real, historical people. I would rather read a biography of Mendel or Linnaeus than a story-teller's take on their personalities and personal relationships, with specific events that are totally made up. A story like the title tale, about fever-ridden emigrants arriving in Canada and generally suffering terrible fates, would be much more interesting to me as a non-fictio ...more
Mar 03, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everyone
Recommended to Jocelyn by: read in Dr. Todd Petersen's class
With these stories, Andrea Barrett stepped onto the pedestal of my heroes. Her attention to craft is simply superb: the way she transfers consciousness from one character to another; her lucid, compact descriptions; the humanity which her characters possess. I want to write like this someday.

Perhaps what I admire most is Barrett's subjects: science stuff, not normally intriguing to the English geek. Yet, Barrett obviously has a deep interest in science and so writes about the people behind the t
Jun 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
I enjoy reading collections of short stories because when I am tired, it is nice to get through a whole story in one evening. This was a unique collection that featured some historical biologists in a fiction setting. The intertwining of botany, natural history, and epidemics with love-lost stories and historical fiction for me was pretty realistic and a nice change of pace from sci-fi/fantasy/supernatural fiction I've been reading lately. I greatly enjoyed "Ship Fever" highlighting the atrociou ...more
Nov 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
A very well written, engaging collection of seven short stories and one novella. Most of the stories are about characters involved in scientific learnings in a historical setting. The novella, ‘Ship Fever’ is an interesting account of the plight of Irish immigrants who left Ireland in 1847 due to the potato famine. Many of the Irish immigrants on the overcrowded, poorly provisioned ships to Canada, came down with typhus and were quarantined near Quebec at the Gross Isle Quarantine station. The s ...more
Nov 13, 2013 rated it really liked it
Apparently I'm a history of science nerd. I loved the historical stories -- particularly the atmospheric story about Carl Linnaeus's final days, and "Ship Fever," a wrenching story about the Irish potato famine emigrants and the quarantine efforts on Grosse Ile, and the brilliant one about the embittered 19th-century specimen collector, who could only dream of Alfred Russel Wallace's success. The contemporary stories did not captivate me nearly as much.

I'll definitely read Andrea Barrett again.
Sandra Novack
Jun 15, 2007 rated it really liked it
This collection is excellent--smooth prose, a clean line of action. Ship Fever is an especially good choice for those who wish to "transdiscourse" and pull in information about science, historical figures, etc. to narratives and have the information work gracefully within the context of character and story.
Aug 05, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: scientists and short-story fans
Hey all you scientists, you should read this. Excellent short stories and one novella, which relate to significant events in natural history. Barrett's characters cross paths with everyone from Mendel to Linnaeus, collect exotic birds in the jungles, and experience a typhus epidemic. It's good for non-scientists too. A worthy winner of the National Book Award.
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Andrea Barrett is the author of The Air We Breathe, Servants of the Map (finalist for the Pulitzer Prize), The Voyage of the Narwhal, Ship Fever (winner of the National Book Award), and other books. She teaches at Williams College and lives in northwestern Massachusetts.

Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name. See this thread for more information.

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