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Jennifer Lee Carrell takes readers back to the early 18th century in this dramatic history of two epidemics -- one in London, one in Boston -- and of the people who changed the way in which doctors were to tackle and eventually conquer the most feared disease of the age: smallpox. As far back as the early 1700s, important aspects of the disease were already understood: Those who contracted smallpox and survived would not become reinfected; but among those who had not yet been exposed, it was extraordinarily contagious.
The Speckled Monster weaves a remarkable tale of two heroic individuals in the war against smallpox: Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, the maverick wife of one of Britain's wealthiest men; and Zabdiel Boylston, a Boston practitioner without formal training or a medical degree. These brave and iconoclastic figures would bring scorn and danger upon themselves, their families, and their associates by shunning the elitist views of Western physicians and embracing a "folk remedy" long employed in Asian and African countries: innoculation. Thanks to them, modern-day vaccinations remain humanity's best weapon against the smallpox, should it ever surface again. They are also the lasting legacy of two people who were willing to eschew social mores and snobbery in favor of accepting knowledge from any source -- and to defy considerable adversaries in order to use it. (Summer 2003 Selection)