Murphy, Jim. 2003. AN AMERICAN PLAGUE: THE TRUE AND TERRIFYING STORY OF THE YELLOW FEVER EPIDEMIC OF 1793. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company. ISBN 0-395-77608-2
(2) Plot Summary
This text chronicles the yellow fever outbreak of 1793 in Philadelphia. The emergence of the disease was not noticed in the beginning. It was not until people began to fall ill and die that the city started to become aware of issue. Doctors debated about type of illness it was and speculated about what caused it. Wealthy and well-to-do citizens (as many as 20,000) fled the city leaving behind those who could not afford to escape. The yellow fever epidemic decimated about 2,000 people and brought the United States Government to halt.
(3) Critical Analysis
Murphy draws on a multitude of sources included numerous firsthand medical and non-medical accounts, several of which he quotes.
“Death, mounted on his pale horse, seemed to ride
triumphant: there was but a step between the people
in the city and the tomb.”
The text is chronologically organized and flows very well. Several illustrations and newspaper clippings are peppered throughout the book. On page 78 and page 90 appear a list of victims from the 1794 epidemic from Matthew Carey’s history. These experts and others aid in showing the reader how real and dire the situation was. Those that witnessed the detestation of the plague never learned the cause of it. Murphy goes beyond and provides that information to the reader in chapter 8. Without this information the story would have appeared incomplete.
(4) Review Excerpt(s)
Voice of Youth Advocates: “The story is captivating, and the writing is straightforward. Readers come away with a sense of the era as a whole and a keen picture of the overall devastation brought by yellow fever.”
Booklist: “Drawing on firsthand accounts, medical and non-medical, Murphy re-creates the fear and panic in the infected city, the social conditions that caused the disease to spread, and the arguments about causes and cures.”
* Assign other books about plagues:
Karner, Julie. Plague and Pandemic Alert! ISBN 0-7787-1580-9
Lynette, Rachel. Bubonic Plague. ISBN 0-7377-2639-3
Robson, Pam. The Great Plague. ISBN 0-7500-1934-4
* Cross-curriculum and teach a health unit on disease prevention. Discuss how germs are spread and stress the important of hand washing.