Entomology 102 Book Review Essay

Submitted By ewsu041
Words: 1284
Pages: 6

Erin Stirling Book Review
February 20, 2012
Entomology 102

An American Plague:
The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793
By Jim Murphy In An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793, author Jim Murphy tells the story of the yellow fever epidemic which broke out in Philadelphia in 1793. Although I have heard of yellow fever, I have never taken the time to research the disease or read about common symptoms that patients endure. And for someone who doesn’t necessarily understand science very well, I believe that Murphy did a wonderful job at making his book interesting for his target readers (the suggested age for this book is 12 years old or older) while still ensuring the quality of information presented in the text. There were only two concerns that I had with the book, at times transitions between different characters seemed to be lacking and there was abundance of characters that didn’t play a large role. As Murphy jumped from person to person in the book, it felt as though he was trying to compile newspaper articles in chronological order and create a book. Although not a crucial role in the success of the book, I could see how it would confuse a younger reader. I believe the fact that Murphy used specific dates and names made the book much more interesting. At the beginning I enjoyed the “journal entry” feel of the book. I wish that he had written the entire book from one character’s point of view. Although difficult, I believe that it would have paid off and it would feel less like a compilation of newspaper articles. However, it is through his use of characters that Murphy makes yellow fever come alive for his audience. Prior to describing someone’s experience with the disease, Murphy would give a brief, yet personal description of the person’s life (mother, father, wife, etc.). After reading those descriptions, yellow fever was more than just chills, headaches, constipation, and a high fever; suddenly it was a traumatic experience that Catherine LeMaigre (and countless others) had to endure while their loved ones could only watch and pray for them. Although it is possible that Murphy had to create facts about certain people in his book, they make the audience care; they make the audience connect with the characters and the situations they were put through. That was the most impressive part of the whole book, Murphy being able to grab your attention by pulling at your heartstrings. Murphy also did an excellent job when describing the setting of the book. Giving the readers a map of Philadelphia in the introduction was an amazing idea. It gave me as a reader the opportunity to really understand how the disease was moving around the city. It also allowed me to imagine what the streets of Philadelphia were like prior to the breakout; the summer’s heat, the smell of rotting fish along the riverbanks, the stench of decaying cats and the open sewer, while the docks were busy with ships unloading and reloading cargo. The map also helped me visualize what the city looked like during the breakout; shops closed down, people leaving their homes as quickly as possible to get to the country, citizens ignoring each other on the streets in fear of catching the deadly disease. The map with it’s corresponding key also provided visual understanding of where all of the different locations such as the hospital, Bush Hill, and Rickett’s Circus. I understood why doctors and people in the government would want to get the infected out of the city. However until looking over the map again, I didn’t realize how far away Bush Hill was compared to the High Street Market and the rest of the population. Although I’m sure including the map in the introduction was not difficult, the effect it has on the reader’s experience is monumental. One of the most interesting topics discussed in the book for me was reading about how seriously citizens took the