Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Invisible Enemies, by Jeanette Farrell

Invisible Enemies: Stories of Infectious Disease, by Jeanette Farrell

While aimed at young readers, this is an informative discussion for all ages of seven deadly diseases: smallpox, leprosy, plague, tuberculosis, malaria, cholera, and AIDS. The biology, treatments, cures, and social attitudes towards these sicknesses are handled in a casual style that makes for very readable coverage of what I usually find obtuse topics. The chapter on cholera was my favorite; the author covers the same pump handle story (cholera was being spread via contaminated water from the public pump) that Tufte does in Visual Explanations but from a different angle. Coming across this historical episode in a new context was quite rewarding. I also discovered that the gin and tonic was created as a way of making the bitter drug quinine used to fight malaria more palatable to the British tongue. While a sixth grader may not find that interesting, I did! If you are looking to cure your ignorance of the history of infectious disease without a heavy dose of science or biology then this is your prescription.

First Sentence:
When George Washington first felt the soreness in his throat on that cold December afternoon in 1799, he must have known that even he, master of Mount Vernon, first President of the United States, conqueror of the British Army in the war for American independence, could be up against a foe he might not defeat.

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