RovingFiddlehead KidLit

Secret of the Yellow Death

June 6, 2011

secrets of the yellow death

Is that not one of the creepiest pictures of an eye you’ve ever seen? It could be on the cover of a science fiction novel. Unfortunately, it belongs to a victim of yellow fever. I find the history of medicine fascinating, throw in information about Cuba and I was hooked by Suzanne Jurmain’s The Secret of the Yellow Death: A True Story of Medical Sleuthing.

The Spanish-American War and the subsequent increased contact between Cuba and the United States resulted in a commitment on the part of the American government to discover the cause of yellow fever. Dr. Walter Reed was placed at the head of a group of 4 American scientists. Jurmain clearly outlines Reed’s practical and thorough approach to the research despite the urgency of a cure and conflicting opinions (and personalities) among the scientists. The bravery of medical researchers and test subjects in the early nineteenth-century is something that is easy to forget. It is interesting to learn Walter Reed’s role in developing standards for scientific experimentation. Jurmain follows in his footsteps by honoring the volunteers by providing detailed information about their live. While short on details about the research of the Cuban doctor, Carlos Finlay, full credit is given for his role in establishing the connection between mosquitoes and yellow fever. In just 104 pages, Jurmain has written a compelling piece of medical history that places it firmly in the context of other world events.

Today’s Nonfiction Monday round-up is hosted by Practically Paradise.

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