Pox Americana Hardcover – Oct 1 2001
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From Publishers Weekly
In this engaging, creative history, Fenn (Natives and Newcomers) addresses an understudied aspect of the American Revolution: the intimate connection between smallpox and the war. Closed-in soldiers' quarters and jails, as well as the travel demands of fighting, led to the outbreak of smallpox in 1775. George Washington ended an outbreak in the north by inoculating American soldiers (the colonists had a weaker immune system against smallpox than the British). Indeed, Fenn makes a plausible case that without Washington's efforts, the colonists might have lost the war. Despite the future president's success at "outflanking the enemy" of smallpox, however, the disease spread on the Southern front, where there was "chaos, connections, and a steady stream of victims." Even as the war ended, the increased contact between populations spread the disease as far as Mexico and the Pacific Northwest. The outbreak eventually killed an estimated 125,000 North Americans more than five times the number of colonial soldiers who died (to her credit, Fenn admits that these numbers are inexact). Along the way, Fenn, who teaches history at George Washington University, recounts the fate of many blacks freed under a British "emancipation proclamation" of sorts; promised their freedom if they fought for the British, several thousand ex-slaves perished from smallpox. She also traces the disease's effect on the North American balance of power by devastating some Native American tribes in the 1780s. Long after the war, whites kept Native Americans passive with explicit threats of infection. Fenn has placed smallpox on the historical map and shown how intercultural contact can have dire bacterial consequences.38 b&w illus. not seen by PW.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
Many books have been written about smallpox, but few have this volume's scholarly focus. Fenn (history, George Washington Univ.) relies heavily on primary documents to illustrate the disease's devastating impact on the political and military history of North America during the Revolutionary War. Excerpts from diaries, letters, presidential papers, and church and burial records provide first-hand accounts of the spread of this disease. The result is an extensive discussion of the role of smallpox in the Colonial era, but the book's main strength is in the detailed analysis of smallpox among Native Americans, from Mexico to Canada. Fenn's study of the historical horrors of this devastating disease nicely complements Jonathan Tucker's Scourge (LJ 8/15/01), which considers what the future may be like if smallpox returns. Highly recommended for academic and medical libraries. Tina Neville, Univ. of South Florida at St. Petersburg Lib.
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Top Customer Reviews
Although the British had an advantage over the colonial soldiers in that most of them were already immune to smallpox, the King's forces still suffered from the epidemic due to the inroads the disease made among the slaves who flocked to join the British armies, particularly in the Southern colonies. In the African American population the smallpox germ found another previously unexposed host, and the results were once more incredibly deadly. Fenn documents several cases where the British and later the Americans themselves practiced a primitive type of biological war by releasing contagious people into unexposed populations and by allowing items used by sufferers to be distributed to healthy people
In the Native American territories west of the thirteen colonies smallpox also spread like wildfire.Read more ›
This is really two books. The first half covers the trail of Variola (smallpox) transmission throughout the course of the American Revolution and in this first half, Ms. Fenn writes with a prose that captures the reader with graphic details of the harshness of the disease itself, the suffering of those who were unlucky enough to have caught it, and the fear that became a constant in the lives of not only those who fought militarily but those in the civilian ranks as well. She gives us facts about how the smallpox incubates, how long it takes to run its course and how it was so easily transmittable. The reader can almost hear the agony of those inflicted and see the smallpox spread over their bodies. Ms. Fenn points to a tie-in (also in the McCullough book) that it is very likely that the British had tried to use the transmission of smallpox from their more disease-tolerant armies to the weaker American ones as an example of the first "germ warfare" thrust upon our newly independent country. The fact that George Washington had the timely sense (and good fortune) to inoculate his army during the winter of 1777, thus proving it to be a turning point in the war, is a remarkable story in itself....not one I'm sure that most students learn in school!
The narrative in the second half of "Pox Americana" is weaker. Ms.Read more ›
Pox American: The Great Smallpox Epidemic of 1775-82 is a fascinating way to learn about the early years of our nation when cultures collided on this continent. Each chapter starts with a story of one man - a ship's captain exploring the Straits of Juan de Fuca or a New England volunteer in the Continental Army or a missionary riding the dusty Southwest trails. From these individual's stories we can see scope of the virus' reach. With pictographs, maps, charts & photographs, this author brings this contagion close to home!
Sometimes the dread disease was an invisible passenger upon an unsuspecting carrier that would arrive in a tribe of otherwise healthy people & within weeks, the entire community would be dead. Sometimes it was intentionally sent forth by our wily forefathers to do their deadly work.
Smallpox haunted our ancestors from coast to coast; from Russian promyshlenniki (hunters & traders) who first explored & then enslaved the residents of Alaska to America's breadbasket, where entire native communities of farmers & hunter-gatherers were wiped out in weeks to Hudson Bay, New Orleans, The South as well as Mexico City.
Elizabeth Fenn writes: "The pestilence can teach us the ways in which other upheavels - native warfare, missionization, the fur trade, and the acquisition of horses and guns...reshaped human life on the North American continent. The movement of the virus from one human being to another shows us how people actually lived in the late eighteenth century.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
What a fantastic single-vision narrative. This text adds an interesting new dimension to an entire time period. Exceptional research on individual experiences.Published on July 19 2004 by Jen Grover
This is an excellent work. It bogs down a bit in the second half but only for 30 or so pages as the author gets into the detail of some purported statistical analysis, information... Read morePublished on Nov. 4 2003 by Michael E. Fitzgerald
This moment in American history is not the first time that Americans have debated protection from Smallpox. Ms. Read morePublished on Sept. 4 2002
More scholarly than "entertaining" in tone, this book traces smallpox epidemics and their influence upon the progress of war, settlement, and "who wins" in the race for political... Read morePublished on June 1 2002 by K. Nettles
The great smallpox epidemic of 1775-82 is covered in a survey which reveals not only the spread of the disease, but how it made an impact on the Revolutionary War's outcome and how... Read morePublished on April 11 2002 by Midwest Book Review
Lots of people got smallpox, and many of them died. OK, now you do not need to read this dull book.Published on Feb. 28 2002
Germ warfare isn't a new idea to us. This book, while clearly stating the impact of smallpox during American's war for independence, also gives us a deeper understanding of how... Read morePublished on Feb. 2 2002
Smallpox usually isn't near the top of anyone's favorite book subject list, but recent terrorist events have made all of us aware of the need to reacquaint ourselves with diseases... Read morePublished on Jan. 7 2002 by Bill Shepherd
Elizabeth A. Fenn's Pox Americana (The Great Smallpox Epidemic of 1775-82) is an interesting book that traces the course of this horrendous pox as it veers bloodily throughout the... Read morePublished on Dec 2 2001 by Ricky Hunter
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