Fever Season: The Story of a Terrifying Epidemic and the People Who Saved a City

Jeanette Keith. Bloomsbury Press, $30 (288p) ISBN 978-1-60819-222-9
Yellow Jack traveled from New Orleans to Illinois in the summer and early fall of 1878, killing 18,000 people and gripping national attention. Historian Keith (Rich Man’s War, Poor Man’s Fight) writes of the mostly forgotten three-month siege of Memphis by a virulent hemorrhagic fever whose origin was shrouded in mystery and myth. Spread by mosquitoes buzzing about Memphis’s cisterns, the yellow fever’s toll was horrific—but the response of the city’s journalists, nurses, and citizens is what catches Keith’s attention, providing riveting portraits of those who helped mitigate the fever’s wrath. Among them were Kezia DePelchin, a dour and selfless Texas nurse who rose above the mass of health-care workers making what one man called “a carnival” of fever season; John McLeod Keating, who never left his post as editor of the Daily Appeal; tireless Dr. William Armstrong, who offered his skill, and his life, to treat his patients; and Annie Cook, a soulful madam who turned her house of ill-repute into a hospital, illustrating Keith’s point that “you cannot tell in advance who will be the hero, who the coward, in a crisis like the epidemic.” Keith delivers a rewarding must-read for both history and public health buffs. Illus. Agent: David Miller, Garamond Agency. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 07/09/2012
Release date: 10/02/2012
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