Read Pox Americana: The Great Smallpox Epidemic of 1775-82 by Elizabeth A. Fenn Online


The astonishing, hitherto unknown truths about a disease that transformed the United States at its birthA horrifying epidemic of smallpox was sweeping across the Americas when the American Revolution began, and yet we know almost nothing about it. Elizabeth A. Fenn is the first historian to reveal how deeply variola affected the outcome of the war in every colony and the lThe astonishing, hitherto unknown truths about a disease that transformed the United States at its birthA horrifying epidemic of smallpox was sweeping across the Americas when the American Revolution began, and yet we know almost nothing about it. Elizabeth A. Fenn is the first historian to reveal how deeply variola affected the outcome of the war in every colony and the lives of everyone in North America.By 1776, when military action and political ferment increased the movement of people and microbes, the epidemic worsened. Fenn's remarkable research shows us how smallpox devastated the American troops at Québec and kept them at bay during the British occupation of Boston. Soon the disease affected the war in Virginia, where it ravaged slaves who had escaped to join the British forces. During the terrible winter at Valley Forge, General Washington had to decide if and when to attempt the risky inoculation of his troops. In 1779, while Creeks and Cherokees were dying in Georgia, smallpox broke out in Mexico City, whence it followed travelers going north, striking Santa Fe and outlying pueblos in January 1781. Simultaneously it moved up the Pacific coast and east across the plains as far as Hudson's Bay.The destructive, desolating power of smallpox made for a cascade of public-health crises and heartbreaking human drama. Fenn's innovative work shows how this mega-tragedy was met and what its consequences were for America....

Title : Pox Americana: The Great Smallpox Epidemic of 1775-82
Author :
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ISBN : 9780809078219
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 384 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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Pox Americana: The Great Smallpox Epidemic of 1775-82 Reviews

  • Caitlin Marineau
    2018-11-06 18:29

    During the years of the Revolutionary War, while the American colonies attempted to wrest their independence from Britain and King George, a shadow much smaller and more terrifying than British soldiers was spreading across the continent. Smallpox, or Variola major, as the virus itself is called, quickly infected citizens in besieged Boston, cut down the Continental Army in Canada, swept it’s way into the South, to New Spain, and up trading routes through the Great Plains, into Canada, and all the way to the Pacific coast. In it’s path it indiscriminately infected Euroamericans, soldiers, runaway slaves, and Native Americans across the continent. Despite this, the episode has remained largely unknown within the narrative of American Revolutionary history. In Pox Americana, Elizabeth A. Fenn (formerly of Duke University, now teaching at University of Colorado Boulder) brings this forgotten event to the forefront, arguing it’s significance as the first known continental epidemic in North America, as well that “with the exception of the war itself, epidemic smallpox was the greatest upheaval to afflict the continent in these years” (9).In Pox Americana, Fenn does an excellent job of tracing the spread of a continental epidemic through a variety of primary sources, including diaries, letters, and burial records. Her writing style can be dry and drag at times, especially in the sections of the book where she focuses primarily on statistics or on following the narrow thread of transmission throughout the Southwest, Great Plains, Pacific Coast, and Canada. In these sections, the impact of the disease seems to become secondary to how it spread, a fact that becomes especially frustrating when Fenn drops in tantalizing, yet largely unexplored issues, including the possibility of the British using biological warfare against the Americans, the results of significant demographic changes in New Spain, and the cultural impacts of smallpox on Native American tribes. Overall, however, Fenn shows outstanding scholarship in connecting a wide variety of sources into a coherent narrative of a continental epidemic. Decades before the Lewis and Clark Expedition traveled to the Pacific, Fenn shows how interconnected the continent had become. For colonists strained by the stresses of war, smallpox appeared to be an even more formidable foe than the British, and for Native Americans, largely unaffected by the battles that raged far to the east, disease proved to be a devastating event, and a portent of the disease, war, and dislocation which would follow in the years ahead. For everyone touched by the epidemic, “the most fundamental outcome...was massive human suffering and mortality” (276).

  • Christie
    2018-11-04 21:40

    The smallpox epidemic that covered the continent from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean and from Canada to Mexico in the late 1700s is something that very few people have covered and this book could have been very very interesting. As it was I learned a lot about not only the smallpox epidemic, but also about what was going on elsewhere on the North American continent at the time of the American Revolution. It was very interesting to learn how the smallpox epidemic affected the Revolution as well as the fur trade in Canada and Spanish expansion in the West. This book was well-researched and included a lot of primary source material. I had several problems with the book. First of all, though this is a very interesting topic it really was not enough to fill a whole book with. It would have been better if it was part of a larger work on the American Revolution or North American colonies. Being in a 300+ page book meant that it got very repetitive. The author kept reiterating the same points over and over again. She also would say something like "there's no way to tell where the Pacific Northwest Native Americans acquired smallpox from" and then spend 30 pages trying to tell just that. The book got very annoying after the first few chapters and I really just skimmed the last 100 pages. I would recommend this book for someone who is very interested in smallpox but not for the casual reader. Reading Scavenger Hunt: North Carolina

  • Charlotte Osborn-bensaada
    2018-10-29 22:39

    I am giving this 4 stars for breadth rather than readability. Pox Americana is worth reading but be prepared for a lot of statistical detail. Thoughts on the book:-Colonial history often rests on the idea of the 13 colonies on the eastern seaboard, this book explores a broad interwoven system of trade and conflict between native tribes that proved to be a powerful highway for the virus. We so often think of globalization as being a modern concept, the spread of small pox in only a few years across the continent belies that it is just a product of the 20th century.-We in the modern world rarely appreciate what it was like to live with these devastating diseases. It makes me appreciate so much more why we need to contain modern contagions such as ebola.-Westward migration may not have been so easy if the native tribes had not lost so many,it reminds of the fundamental social changes you see recorded in Europe after the black death.

  • Heather
    2018-11-16 17:58

    This originated as an opinion essay for class and I have adapted it for a review, but because of this it is a little different in tone than my regular reviews.The experience of reading Pox Americana was a very different one for me as I was not all that sure how this epidemic would relate to American history during the Revolution. I soon found myself thoroughly engrossed in the material and actually interested in learning more. Disease is always a common factor in war, but for me, the association of smallpox with history had always been regarding the indigenous peoples of the Americas and the effect of its arrival on their way of life; I had not previously considered how it might have affected the colonists and almost changed the outcome of history as we know it.I have never read a microhistory on disease, or for that matter any type of book on disease. That has always been my husband’s area of interest and I was happy to leave that study to him; so I was more than a little hesitant about approaching a history on smallpox (remember that this wasn’t originally by choice). One thing that I appreciated early on, rather surprisingly, was the author’s fairly detailed discussion of the effects of smallpox. While disturbing, especially when reading these passages while eating lunch, it gave me a much deeper understanding of just how devastating the disease would have been to those suffering from its effects during any time period. I have never even had the chicken pox and therefore did not even have that terrible comparison to draw upon when considering smallpox previously in the limited experience I have had with the subject. It also is not a disease that exists in nature today, only in a secured laboratory, which means that I have not heard anything about the disease even in passing. While that portion of the book might have been a little bit gruesome, I found it necessary to my understanding of how devastating the disease would have been to an already hard-pressed army.I can understand why a subject like the smallpox epidemic might not be covered in American history survey classes in high school or college. In their grand scheme of imparting the most important information on the American Revolution, it is not absolutely necessary to understand the effects of this disease on the troops. At that stage, the big names and events will serve their purpose and there is usually some general discussion of camp diseases that will vaguely touch on the effects of health on army readiness. However, for a Masters level class or for those who are deeply interested in American history, where we should already have a solid understanding of the basic points of the history, I think that Pox Americana provided another level of valuable analysis to dig deeper into why events transpired how they did and allow us to consider, even tangentially, how history might have been different if not for General Washington’s decision to inoculate the troops at Valley Forge. That decision is just as significant a turning point in the American Revolution as the outcome of the Battle of Saratoga. The rate at which smallpox was devastating the American army was placing it in a dire situation, especially when compared to the relative health of the British regulars; you could almost see the crush of the American troops coming. Knowing this, my opinion of General Washington has thus improved after having considered just how difficult of a decision it was to decide to take the chance with inoculation when so many at the time were against it and his troops so badly needed it. It is a great leader who can justify taking an immense risk as that given all the marks against it. If his great leap of faith had gone wrong, the Americans might have lost the war, but they might have lost even if he did not.We were only required to read a couple of chapters of this book for class, but I was interested enough to pick it back up and finish the book. It explored all areas of the North American continent and it was interesting to see how the disease effected the regions differently; although I will admit that the chapters assigned were the most interesting. Some of the later chapters became much more dry resulting in the lower rating. While this book was a history of a devastating disease in a localized area, it served an even greater purpose: to bring to light a chronically overlooked, but critical element in the history of the Revolutionary War. The author tells us in her introduction to the book that the outbreak of smallpox killed more people during the war years than resulted from combat with the enemy and that just as much as the war, this epidemic was a defining characteristic for many who lived through that time. Phrases like this do not suggest that the effect of smallpox on the history of the United States should be taken lightly. Disease often kills more people during wartime than the battles do, but it is often the result of many different camp diseases, not just one disease, showing just how powerful smallpox was. Additionally, for something to be a defining characteristic in someone’s life, especially during a time when there was so much change happening in the country to begin with, that means it was perceived to be of vital importance. For these reasons I am grateful to have had the opportunity to explore the topic and further my understanding of the myriad of elements that comprised the American Revolution years. For me, the most eye-opening aspect was the discussion on the differences between how smallpox effected the British troops versus the American troops. Not only did it help me to understand to a greater extent the uphill battle that Washington and his men were facing, but it also helped draw another distinction showing how far the Americans had come from the way of life of the Old World. Other texts have illustrated how their manner of speech had changed and customs began to differ, but nothing is as striking as their susceptibility to a common disease in their former motherland. It is even more interesting when you consider that so many of the indigenous peoples of the Americas died after first contact because of the introduction of this disease by explorers who were not affected by it and that not so many years later, the descendants of these settlers were now being attacked by that very same disease, while again the “invaders” were immune. It makes a very interesting point for further consideration.This review was previously posted at my blog, The Maiden's Court

  • James
    2018-10-29 23:29

    Pox American follows the smallpox epidemic that spread through North America from 1775-1782, tracing its impact on the Revolutionary War and Native American and Colonial society. Historian Elizabeth Fenn is meticulous in chronicling the devastation, using firsthand accounts and surviving records to sketch out the death and fear that followed the disease.The impact of smallpox on the Revolutionary War occupies much of the book. Epidemiologically, the Americans were at a disadvantage. Smallpox was endemic in Europe, and British soldiers were much more likely to have been exposed to the disease, gaining immunity. This vulnerability led to serious losses during the revolutionary army’s invasion of Canada, as smallpox weakened and killed susceptible soldiers.George Washington struggled with the decision of whether to inoculate his soldiers. Under the imperfect technique of the time, inoculation was a draining affair, confining inoculees to sickbeds. The process also potentially increased the risks of transmission, as inoculees were contagious during the dormant period that followed inoculation. Fenn skillfully uses this dilemma to build tension in a historic account.In the post-Revolutionary period, Fenn focuses on the impact of smallpox on Native American populations throughout the continent, offering repeated accounts of decimated villages and devastated cultures. Native peoples were more vulnerable to the disease, and the successive accounts of loss are heart-rending.The book is thorough and engaging but can be technical in its presentation of history. The larger themes of the Revolutionary War aren’t fleshed out. The author, it seems, is confident that readers will remember battles and developments they may not have encountered since elementary school. But the book is compelling in advancing its central theme: the outsized impact of this continent-wide epidemic.

  • Jenna
    2018-11-09 00:50

    Enjoyed learning about the smallpox epidemic of the 1700s and liked how the author divided the book into three sections through the chapters; the Colonies, then Mexico and finally the Indian natives on the Pacific coast / Alaska. Sprinkled through out the book are some individual stories, and (in my copy at least) there are a few photographs of paintings, pictures and other smallpox plague items. She has added some maps along with the pictures, but while they are fine being included with the other photos, I think it would have been better to place those maps with the corresponding chapters / sections as it would make it easier to see the patterns. It's a little hard to read as at times it seems that the author took her information and simply placed it on a time line. There were a few parts where I needed to stop reading so that my brain wouldn't overload on pure facts. On the other hand, this is a nicely put together book and I think that she did a wonderful job researching the topic. I would read any other books she has / will publish.

  • Shea Mastison
    2018-11-12 19:28

    Technically, this is a good book. Ms. Fenn researched her topic thoroughly and offered up interesting observations of the Revolutionary period and how the spread of small pox influenced the course of American history.However, it is an extraordinarily dry read and should probably be pursued only by those serious history buffs.

  • kathleen
    2018-11-01 23:28

    The first part of the book, which describes the impact smallpox had on the American Revolution, was extremely interesting and added another dimension to my understanding of the war. Unfortunately the story went downhill from there and seemed to merely relate one outbreak after another without making a larger point.

  • Emily Graves
    2018-10-20 17:54

    Subject matter: fascinating. Writing: awful. Pages upon pages of speculation about how the smallpox didn't get to native Americans in Washington State. Lots of similar details that make it, honestly, read more like a thesis than a book.

  • jordan gallader
    2018-11-11 20:58

    Amazing historical tragedy and eventual critical decision on thw newborn matter of Smallpox innoculation, and how this trned the tide of the Revolutionary War.A book to read more than once and; this should be taught in every pre-med class.

  • John
    2018-10-25 23:31

    I have been seeing this in used bookstores for years, and I always kind of wanted to read it. Though I notice of late that my reading choices have been horrendously depressing. I was simultaneously reading this book about epidemic smallpox, Drew Faust's book on death and the Civil War, and "The Killing Zone" which is about Cold War murder in Latin America. I need some light comic novels or something.So I finally bought this at one of the bookstores, and having read it, I can't decide if it is important in any way. I don't mean to dismiss Fenn's accomplishment of identifying this epidemic as a thing that historians had heretofore ignored. It certainly is interesting. During the American Revolution, a massive smallpox epidemic spread all over North America, from Quebec to Boston to the Carolinas to New Orleans, and Mexico City, Santa Fe, then out into the plains and up into the Rockies and over to the Pacific and up into the heart of what is today Canada. Killed thousands of people.It is definitely good to know this, and I appreciate this as a cross-border, macro kind of history. That's why I picked it up. It is important to look at North America is a whole, to see all the networks and trade connections that could accidentally spread disease, and I liked the way Fenn consistently reminded the reader of the timeline - here's what was going on in New Mexico, or Hudson's Bay, here's what was happening in Boston and Virginia. But is this epidemic actually important? Does this really change any interpretations of history? I mean, we already knew that smallpox spread everywhere, even if we didn't really know much about THIS epidemic in particular. Fenn points out that Washington's decision to inoculate his army was important to the war, so there's that. But I don't know...beyond that, what does this really tell us?I guess maybe just examining the continent as a whole at the time of the Revolution is important. But I wouldn't assign this book in a course because it would take too long to read for something I would only discuss in one lecture. Maybe I could assign the introduction and one chapter, or Fenn's article, which apparently covers most of this in a shorter package.

  • Michael
    2018-11-11 21:38

    This excellent work shows readers how the American colonists had to overcome more than just Loyalists, escalating war debt, often poor logistics, and the might of the British Regulars and their Hessian mercenaries and Indian allies in order to procure independence. Indeed, Smallpox ravaged the colonies during the struggle for independence and at times placed the outcome of the war in highly unfavorable terms for the revolutionaries. Smallpox was the deadliest of Old World pathogens transmitted across the Atlantic during the Columbian Exchange. The deadly pathogen was a non-discriminatory killer, to be sure. From New Spain to Virginia to Massachusetts to Canada, the disease proved deadly, even in areas of New Spain where immunities had built up over the years. One cannot help but see Fenn's debt to the seminal works of Alfred Crosby ("The Columbian Exchange") and William McNeill ("Plagues and Peoples") while reading her analysis.The real strength of Fenn's work is her placing of the event within its global contexts (see especially chapter one). Indeed, as it has become the fashion in modern American Revolution historiography to place events within the contours of Atlantic history - within those trade networks and interactions of peoples and cultures that comprised the Atlantic world - Fenn's work fills a void by showing how disease, spread mainly through trade networks, played a crucial role in the conduct of the war.The work is not without problems, however. As Fenn acknowledges, statistics for mortality rates are often scant in the colonial records, which makes impossible a complete analysis of the pox's impact.In the main, I wholeheartedly recommend this study; a study which will continue to make an impact on studies of America's colonial and revolutionary periods and their place within the broader structures of the Atlantic World paradigm.Michael H. Auterson

  • David Bates
    2018-11-07 20:58

    In this work Elizabeth Fenn patiently assembles a previously unknown picture of an epidemic that rolled across North America during the years of the Revolutionary War. Beginning with New England's rebellion against the crown, she charts its passage into the Southern colonies, the urban centers of New Spain, through the west by way of Shoshone horsemen and finally north into the remote villages of the Pacific Northwest and the Hudson Bay fur trading networks below the sub-arctic. Information about quirky medical practices during this time is always fun. From John Adam's lead poisoning to the class tensions over inoculation, Fenn's exposition of contemporary practices in early chapters is one of the perks of reading this book. Better still is her point that epidemics spread by connection. By following the course of the continent wide epidemic Fenn has found a like of radioactive dye that makes clear the pattern of returning veterans and otherwise unknown Indian trade routes throughout the interior plains. In her summation, Fenn chalks up the losses across North America at roughly six times the total American deaths in the Revolutionary War, and implicates it in the shift toward foreign soldiers in the Continental Army, the failure of the British to successfully militarily mobilize the slaves who fled to their lines in droves, the weakened resistance of southwestern Indians to Spanish colonization and the domination of the Great Plains by the nomadic Souix rather than the riverine villages of the Mandan.All in all, pretty good.

  • Malcolm
    2018-11-14 22:35

    It's a PhD dissertation that's been published for wider consumption but desperately needed another round of editing. The first half of the book is the most interesting, the most on-topic, and the best edited. This focuses tightly on the period and geography of the American Revolution, as the title would suggest the whole book was about. The author clearly lays out how smallpox was transmission and the impact it had on both sides during the conflict.The second half of the book branches away geographically and in terms of quality. It is marred by frequent spelling errors that slipped through the gaps as well as numerous pointless digressions that either exist to fill pages or show off the breadth of research. The topic sways over to central and south america, to the middle america, and finally up to the northwest. While the stories of explorers finding piles of bones and empty villages are haunting and well-worth discovering, the writer also includes such pointless dalliances as trying to narrow down which expeditions could have brought small pox to the northwest. She does this by covering two or three expeditions in tedious detail before concluding they couldn't have brought the small pox. Had I been the editor, these sections would have been excised with extreme prejudice. If one's topic is the transmission and impact of small pox in north and south america in the late 18th century, don't waste page-space with stories that aren't going anywhere.

  • Chuck
    2018-11-04 18:47

    Elizabeth Fenn's "Pox Americana" covers the widespread North American outbreaks of Smallpox during the time frame of the American Revolutionary War. These outbreaks ranged from Mexico to Canada, and from the Eastern seaboard to Puget Sound. And what threads she weaves! Tracing the death and destruction of the epidemic as it affects Native Americans and Europeans in Canada. As it destroys major English military initiatives along the Atlantic Seaboard. As it depopulates remote Mexican villages. As it moves along Plains and Rocky Mountain trade routes, devastating Native American villages along rivers and the Pacific Coastline.Dr Fenn's research is even more impressive when one realizes that for the time period and peoples affected there are often few to no written records. She is completely transparent with respect to what is conjecture and what is known. And she is completely open as to the data she found and how she used it.All this and a well story besides! I would highly recommend this book for anyone interested in the Revolutionary War period anywhere in the North American continent, in history, in epidemics, and in the scourge of smallpox. Time spent reading this book will not be wasted.

  • Steven
    2018-11-17 17:46

    If nothing else, Pox Americana strengthened my resolve never to catch smallpox. Elizabeth Fenn's descriptions of the deadly, agonizing havoc wrought by the disease are the stuff of nightmares. But the book has a lot more to offer than scares. Fenn's dogged, painstaking research shows that the disease was an equal opportunity scourge throughout North America during the Revolutionary War era. Smallpox devastated a force of Virginia slaves the British hoped to deploy against the upstart Americans; it also ravaged American troops while the British occupied Boston. Before vaccination became commonplace, the only defense against smallpox was an expensive, highly dangerous procedure called variolation that could start mini-epidemics if anything went wrong. The procedure added to the suffering of Washington's troops at Valley Forge. Fenn covers the disease's effects elsewhere on the continent, paying close attention to the horrifying toll it took on Indians, sometimes wiping out whole villages at a time. Fenn's prose is never more than serviceable, and her accumulation of evidence can be slow going at times. But this is good, solid history studied from the ground up.

  • Mike
    2018-10-27 22:50

    Viruses make history. Smallpox is discussed in any decent history of the American Revolution, but here the virus takes center stage. Fenn expertly pieces together primary accounts to show how every aspect of the seven-year conflict was shaped by infection, suffering, inoculation, and fear of contracting smallpox. (I had recently read some harsh stuff about Benjamin Lincoln's surrender at Charleston, this account essentially vindicates him.) The second half of the book details the spread of smallpox in the western regions of North America, affecting the imperial designs of Spain and the ultimate fate of Native American tribes. Interesting, yes- but Fenn's brisk narrative bogs down here as the book reads at times like a list of mortality figures among various groups. I would have preferred a narrower focus on the Revolution and events in the east… but of course, the virus knew no political boundaries. Overall, a decent read that drags a bit toward the end.

  • Matt
    2018-10-31 23:34

    More a collection of incidents than a narrative, and little to tie to a greater picture than death, the book is interesting, but not compelling. Having read Octavian and histories of the American Revolution earlier this year, the book helped tie those together, but as a stand alone, it's just death.* - Reserved for nonfiction. Worth a read if you're interested in the subject. Check out from library.** - Good. May be inconsistent and flawed, but overall worth a read if you're in the mood for that genre. Check out from library.*** - Very good. Recommended as a book that is either wonderfully written, informative, challenging, beautiful... but not all of the above. Check out from library or buy on Kindle.**** - Great. Go out and read.***** - Classic. MUST READ and should be on your bookshelf

  • Galicius
    2018-10-29 23:40

    I learned that smallpox was a major danger to the Continental army forces by the time the Declaration of Independence was signed 7-4-1776. I was far greater killer than the British forces and a large problem for George Washington who himself was immune because he already had smallpox on a trip to Barbados in his young life in 1751. I wondered why there was so little on this in high school and college history. The British practiced germ warfare against native Americans and colonists even during earlier French and Indian War of 1763.The author’s conservative and careful estimates indicate that some 130,000 North Americans died of smallpox from 1775 to 1782 while 25,000 soldiers in the Continental army--included that figure--died of smallpox. This was assigned reading for Yale course History 234: Epidemics in Western Society Since 1600 by Professor Frank Snowden.

  • Caroline
    2018-10-25 00:36

    Pox Americana is about a massive smallpox epidemic that ravaged North America coast-to-coast around the year 1780.The research presented is both exhaustive and exhausting. The author not only presents her conclusions, she goes into great detail as to how she arrived at said conclusions. She also presents alternate theories, explains why people support them, and then explains why they are probably wrong. The same points are hit over and over.While I found it very interesting, I also found it hard to finish. I've been working on this book for a very long time. Still, the impact this epidemic, especially among the native tribes, is something that deserves rather more attention than it gets.

  • Mary
    2018-11-13 23:42

    I didn't know that smallpox was a significant factor in the Revolutionary war, mentioned just once in another serious book about the War. Yet it could have changed everything and certainly did for the native Americans where high mortality changed the balance of power.This author has clearly done prodigious research and, although the density of statistics can sometimes seem overwhelming, the overarching story is a powerful one. If smallpox could have such an impact in a time when horses made a dramatic increase in the speed of transportation, what might some new and deadly disease -- or even the reintroduction of smallpox from the few preserved samples -- do in our age of air travel?

  • Pancha
    2018-10-29 19:32

    While the book starts out with how smallpox effected the Continental Army, subsequent chapters go into how it spread through Mexico, Canada, the plains, and the Pacific Northwest and Eastern Russia. Each chapter beings with a contemporary scene, such as a recount of American soldiers captured by the British, Catholic missionaries among the Southwestern tribes, and in the final chapter a berdache who claimed to have to power to inflict smallpox. The author also focuses on inoculation or variolation, and how the controversy over whether or not to use it was largely a question of class (could you take time off work to wait out the eruption?)

  • Matthew
    2018-10-22 01:37

    One of those big picture histories that takes a whole bunch of different threads and ties them together. This one tracks a smallpox epidemic that changed the course of the American Revolution, crippled the U.S. invasion of Canada, doomed Lord Dunmore's Ethiopian Regiment of freed slaves, devastated everything along New Spain's royal highways, raced through Native American trade routes and allowed the Sioux to create their imperium of the plains, and more. On top of the excellent history its a pretty riveting story, often written like a detective novel as the author sleuths down the elusive virus that changed the face of an entire continent.

  • Komadori
    2018-11-11 20:34

    Could not put this down. The book itself is lovingly written, with searing indictments of people careless with contagion, and tragic accounts - both personal and sweeping - of the effects of the virus, and how it effected people by accident, or how it was intentionally wielded as a weapon in the Revolutionary War. However, Fenn's search for the invisible narrative of Smallpox in the Americas over the course of colonization at large was more troubling to me, from a research point of view, but ultimately, had to be forgiven because it is so likely anyway, and there is such a lack of material, and because the sources which do exist are so far-ranging.

  • Todd Van Meter
    2018-10-28 00:42

    This book while interesting, was somewhat difficult to read due to the author's staid writing style. Nevertheless I kept returning to the book and found its revelatory nature regarding smallpox and its horrendous effects on native Americans and their culture very interesting. In fact, the book was very informative regarding smallpox and its effects upon the entire North American continent, the development of the continent's interior, the Revolutionary War, modern medical practice, and our resultant modern day culture.

  • Lynne
    2018-10-31 20:35

    This exceedingly interesting book provides an object lesson about the importance of modern vaccines - history changed by disease. Fenn links a great deal of information together & explains how it affected all of North America during the Revolutionary era, from Mexico northwards to Canada. She also discusses accusations of germ warfare by each side towards the other, and assesses their validity as much as possible based on the sources she cites. Her extensive notes for each chapter are an excellent resource for those seeking more information. This is a really good book.

  • Hannah
    2018-10-22 18:42

    Man, I tried so hard to finish this book, I truly did - but I read it right after The Ghost Map, whose combination of medical history and erudition and nailbiting suspense and ghoulish disaster porn and ripping gothic yarn is pretty hard to follow. It's like reading any other colonial history book after King Leopold's Ghost - you want to, because you're all fired up to learn more, but you're going to have a tough time finding something to live up to your impossibly elevated standards. So I mean no disrespect to Pox Americana, which is a fine book - or at least the first 150 pages are....

  • Kena
    2018-10-25 18:42

    If you love alternative views of history this is a book that will completely change how you think of the American Revolutionary War. Did you know that the Patriots almost lost due to their fear of inoculation; that Quebec would have been the 14th state but for the American army being decimated by the Pox as they laid siege to Montreal, that the reason that more slaves didn't escape to join the British is that over 80% of those who did died of the Pox and they felt staying enslaved was a better fate? Well now ya do. To learn more...

  • Samuel Brown
    2018-11-07 20:40

    A great and important book, though it still bears some of the stigmata of the PhD dissertation format. Glad to have the whole range of American experience represented in this book, an impressive reminder of the global interconnections exposed by epidemic disease that has been part of human experience long before the "globalization" of the latter twentieth century. Generally readable prose, though it sometimes bogs down on the lack of sources and desire to replicate each analysis in each population group.

  • Ken Angle
    2018-10-18 18:35

    Elizabeth A. Fenn should be given great credit for developing a brillant premise and illustrating her conclusion with historic fact. She discusses the unknown or unconsidered effects of small pox epidemic during 1775-1782. In our past infectious disease and specifically small pox has had more effect on the course of this nation than any other vector of catastrophe. How will the biology of immunology shape our future? Will we learn from the past? Are your vaccinations current? .