2004 Sibert Medal Winner
A 2004 Newbery Honor Book
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.
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.
Customer ReviewsSee All
The book was amusing, although the author didn't catch my attention throughout most of the book. I did notice a number of mistakes though, for example, "had had," was common mistake I saw. I thought the ending was great though and I loved how he ended it too.