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

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

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by Jim Murphy
     
 

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1793, Philadelphia. The nation's capital and the largest city in North America is devastated by an apparently incurable disease, cause unknown . . .

In a powerful, dramatic narrative, critically acclaimed author 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

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Overview

1793, Philadelphia. The nation's capital and the largest city in North America is devastated by an apparently incurable disease, cause unknown . . .

In a powerful, dramatic narrative, critically acclaimed author 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. Drawing on first-hand accounts, Murphy spotlights the heroic role of Philadelphia's free blacks in combating the disease, and the Constitutional crisis that President Washington faced when he was forced to leave the city--and all his papers--while escaping the deadly contagion. The search for the fever's causes and cure, not found for more than a century afterward, provides a suspenseful counterpoint to this riveting true story of a city under siege.

An American Plague's numerous awards include a Sibert Medal, a Newbery Honor, and designation as a National Book Award Finalist. Thoroughly researched, generously illustrated with fascinating archival prints, and unflinching in its discussion of medical details, this book offers a glimpse into the conditions of American cities at the time of our nation's birth while drawing timely parallels to modern-day epidemics. Bibliography, map, index.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"A mesmerizing, macabre account...powerful evocative prose... compelling subject matter...fascinating discussion...valuable lesson in reading and writing history. Stellar." KIRKUS REVIEWS, STARRED REVIEW Kirkus Reviews, Starred

"Leisurely, lyrical tone...Murphy injects the events with immediacy...archival photographs...bring the story to life...comprehensive history." PUBLISHER'S WEEKLY Publishers Weekly

"laudable insight...Readers view the panic from several vantage points...allows his audience to share the contemporary complexity...truly absorbing" THE BULLETIN OF THE CENTER FOR CHILDREN'S BOOKS, STARRED REVIEW The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, Starred

"solid research and a flair for weaving facts into fascinating stories...extensive and interesting...you'll have students hooked on history." SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL, STARRED REVIEW School Library Journal, Starred

"History, science, politics and public health come together in this dramatic account...brings the 'unshakeable unease' chillingly close." BOOKLIST Booklist, ALA

"diverse voices...representative images...Everywhere, Murphy is attentive to telling detail...Thoroughly documented...the work is both rigorous and inviting." THE HORN BOOK MAGAZINE Horn Book

"Nobody does juvenile nonfiction better than Murphy...transparently clear and well-paced prose...grueseome medical details...also plenty of serious history" THE WASHINTON POST BOOK WORLD The Washington Post

"superbly written...represents nonfiction at its best...extremely accessible and readable...captivating...an outstanding annotated bibliography...an excellent choice" VOICE OF YOUTH ADVOCATES (VOYA) VOYA (Voice of Youth Advocates)

"Lavishly illustrated . . . Murphy unflinchingly presents the horrors. . . . he has produced another book that can make history come alive. . . ."--NY TIMES BOOK REVIEW The New York Times Book Review

"Murphy's dramatic history book...brings to life the determination and perseverance of a people whose future was uncertain." CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR Christian Science Monitor

The Washington Post
Nobody does juvenile nonfiction better than Murphy. Here, in his usual transparently clear and well-paced prose, he tells the story of the yellow fever outbreak that paralyzed Philadelphia in 1793, when that city was the nation's capital. There are enough gruesome medical details to satisfy even the most ghoulish tastes, but also plenty of serious history, including a moving account of the largely unappreciated volunteer work of members of the Free African Society (Murphy calls them a "battalion of heroes"). — Elizabeth Ward
Publishers Weekly
In marked contrast to the clipped, suspenseful pace of his Inside the Alamo (reviewed above), Murphy here adopts a leisurely, lyrical tone to chronicle the invisible spread of the deadly disease that not only crippled Philadelphia (then the temporary capital of the U.S.) but also set off a constitutional crisis. The author evokes the stifling August heat as well as the boiling controversy surrounding President Washington's decision not to support the French in the war against Britain. The residents, so distracted by the controversy, did not take note of the rising numbers of dead animals lying in open "sinks," or sewers; swarms of insects festering, and a growing population of ill citizens climbing until the church bells tolled grim news of death almost constantly. Murphy injects the events with immediacy through his profiles of key players, such as local doctors who engaged in fierce debates as to the cause, treatment and nature of the "unmerciful enemy"-among them the famous Benjamin Rush. The text documents many acts of heroism, including the Free African Society's contributions of food, medicine and home care: the Society was rewarded afterwards only with injustice. Archival photographs and facsimiles of documents bring the story to life, and a list of further reading points those interested in learning more in the right direction. This comprehensive history of the outbreak and its aftermath lays out the disputes within the medical community and, as there is still no cure, offers a cautionary note. Ages 10-14. (Apr.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
In late summer of 1793, while George Washington lived and held office in a borrowed house in Philadelphia and worried about the United States' relationship with France, a mysterious disease began to cripple the city. First afflicted were the people who lived along the docks, but as temperatures rose and humidity clogged the air, sickness spread rapidly among the bustling population of 50,000 people. Within weeks, those who could afford it, including President Washington, his cabinet, and other public servants, had fled to the countryside. This left only the poor to cope with the ravages of a disease whose source and cure were much debated but ultimately unknown until the 20th century. As the dead piled up and city services broke down, a heroic few, including members of the black community, two or three doctors, and a handful of civic leaders, emerged to handle the crisis. In prose as gripping and suspenseful as a novel, Jim Murphy recounts the story of a city in chaos saved by the superhuman efforts of a minority concerned more about others than themselves. In today's atmosphere heavy with the threat of bioterrorism, An American Plague will have particular resonance for young readers. 2003, Clarion, 165 pp., Ages young adult.
—Myrna Dee Marler
Children's Literature
Like his many earlier books, Murphy has approached the yellow fever epidemic of 1793 as the story it is. History is story and Murphy knows it well. This is really the story of the mosquitoes that attacked Philadelphia, but the residents never knew or saw their enemy. Murphy looks at the politics, the fears, and the struggles that Philadelphians coped with during this amazing epidemic. Interestingly, their treatment of the ill has parallels in the modern world with AIDS. This book is a well-researched endeavor with innumerable sources that manages to captivate its readers. 2003, Clarion, Ages 10 to 14.
— Joan Kindig, Ph.D.
School Library Journal
This book tells the story of the yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia and its effect on the young nation. Students will become immersed in the dramatic narrative as they read how fear and panic spread throughout the country's capital. The author masterfully weaves facts and fascinating stories in describing the course of the disease and the heroic roles played by a few doctors and the free African-American citizens of the city. Black-and-white reproductions of period paintings, maps, and news articles enhance this absorbing title. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A mesmerizing, macabre account that will make readers happy they live in the 21st century. The yellow fever epidemic of 1793 snuck up on the people of Philadelphia during the hot summer; by the end of the year, some 10 percent of the city’s population lay dead. Drawing heavily on primary sources, Murphy (Inside the Alamo, p. 393, etc.) takes readers through the epidemic, moving methodically from its detection by the medical community; through its symptoms, treatment, and mortality; its effects on the populace, and what Philadelphia did to counter it. Individual chapters recount the efforts of the heroes of the epidemic: the quasi-legal committee of 12 who took over the running of the city government; the country’s preeminent physician, Dr. Benjamin Rush; and the Free African Society, whose members toiled valiantly to ease the victims’ pain and to dispose of the dead. Powerful, evocative prose carries along the compelling subject matter. Even as the narrative places readers in the moment with quotations, the design aids and abets this, beginning each chapter with reproductions from contemporary newspapers and other materials, as well as placing period illustrations appropriately throughout the text. The account of Philadelphia’s recovery wraps up with a fascinating discussion of historiography, detailing the war of words between Matthew Carey, one of the committee of 12, and Absalom Jones and Richard Allen, the leaders of the Free African Society--interesting in itself, it is also a valuable lesson in reading and writing history. Stellar. (bibliography, illustration credits, index) (Nonfiction. 10+)

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780395776087
Publisher:
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
06/23/2003
Edition description:
None
Pages:
176
Sales rank:
61,020
Product dimensions:
7.00(w) x 9.50(h) x 0.74(d)
Lexile:
1130L (what's this?)
Age Range:
10 - 14 Years

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"A mesmerizing, macabre account...powerful evocative prose... compelling subject matter...fascinating discussion...valuable lesson in reading and writing history. Stellar." KIRKUS REVIEWS, STARRED REVIEW Kirkus Reviews, Starred

"Leisurely, lyrical tone...Murphy injects the events with immediacy...archival photographs...bring the story to life...comprehensive history." PUBLISHER'S WEEKLY Publishers Weekly

"laudable insight...Readers view the panic from several vantage points...allows his audience to share the contemporary complexity...truly absorbing" THE BULLETIN OF THE CENTER FOR CHILDREN'S BOOKS, STARRED REVIEW The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, Starred

"solid research and a flair for weaving facts into fascinating stories...extensive and interesting...you'll have students hooked on history." SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL, STARRED REVIEW School Library Journal, Starred

"History, science, politics and public health come together in this dramatic account...brings the 'unshakeable unease' chillingly close." BOOKLIST Booklist, ALA

"diverse voices...representative images...Everywhere, Murphy is attentive to telling detail...Thoroughly documented...the work is both rigorous and inviting." THE HORN BOOK MAGAZINE Horn Book

"Nobody does juvenile nonfiction better than Murphy...transparently clear and well-paced prose...grueseome medical details...also plenty of serious history" THE WASHINTON POST BOOK WORLD The Washington Post

"superbly written...represents nonfiction at its best...extremely accessible and readable...captivating...an outstanding annotated bibliography...an excellent choice" VOICE OF YOUTH ADVOCATES (VOYA) VOYA (Voice of Youth Advocates)

"Lavishly illustrated . . . Murphy unflinchingly presents the horrors. . . . he has produced another book that can make history come alive. . . ."—NY TIMES BOOK REVIEW The New York Times Book Review

"Murphy's dramatic history book...brings to life the determination and perseverance of a people whose future was uncertain." CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR Christian Science Monitor

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