Cover courtesy of Penguin Random House

“I just finished reading ‘The American Plague: The Untold Story of Yellow Fever, the Epidemic that Shaped Our History’ by Molly Caldwell Crosby. Its 285 pages-plus begins with an author’s note that ends with a chilling quotation from John Edgar Wideman’s book ‘Fever’: ‘Nothing is an accident. Fever grows in the secret places of our hearts, planted there when one of us decided to sell one of us to another.’ Yellow fever came from western Africa, brought to the New World by traders in African slaves. There were no corresponding yellow fever epidemics in Asia, a region that did not trade in African slaves.

“Yellow fever ruined Napoleon’s plans for an empire in the Louisiana area of the New World when 23,000 of his troops were felled by the disease in Haiti. He returned to Europe, selling his land to then president Thomas Jefferson, an event we call the Louisiana Purchase, for the bargain rate of 40 cents an acre, and giving us 15 new states.

“Much of the book describes how Dr. Walter Reed, an army major, and his group of fellow doctors arrived in Cuba in 1898 and proved that mosquitoes transmitted the disease. They also proved that yellow fever was caused by viruses, not bacteria or bad air.

“‘The American Plague’ was published in 2006. In it, Crosby predicted that any new virus could travel around the world, killing many people before a vaccine could be created and then produced in mass amounts, an effort she predicted would take time.

“We are now living through her prediction.” — JANET KEARIN, Windham


Mainers, please email to tell us about the book on your bedside table right now. In a paragraph or two, describe the book and be sure to tell us what drew you to it. As the pandemic lingers, we want to hear what you are reading in these unsettled times and why. Send your selection to [email protected], and we may use it as a future Bedside Table.


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