Friday, September 18, 2009

Review: Pox Americana

Like Hai-y, I was deeply impressed by Pox Americana. Most of the other texts we read focused on the biological and sociological impacts of smallpox on a very specific population, either as a distinct bioterror threat or as a wide-ranging epidemic. Pox Americana was impressive in its specificity. In choosing to focus solely on the American Revolution, Pox Americana was able to specifically detail the effects of the disease on a population already affected by the war.

Personally, I had never before thought of the American Revolutionary war in terms of a disease epidemic, and this book made me consider the outcome in a more systematic way, The deterioration of the revolutionary army as a result of the epidemic must have surely altered the course of the war, yet the Americans still emerged victorious.

I was deeply impressed by Fenn's research into the way the prevalence of smallpox played into the overall effects of the revolutionary war. George Washington, in particular, emerged from Fenn's novel as a forward-thinking figure determined to avoid a horrible fate, yet committed to the surely fatal battle ahead.

Fenn's use of vivid specific detail was extremely valuable from a historical epidemiological perspective-- the Indians who contracted the disease as a result of a potential genetic predisposition to it have not been forgotten in Fenn's work. The terrible epidemic spreading through the North American indian population is given thoughtful treatment. I personally appreciate the disease-oriented specificity of her research, yet the broad-ranging implications it has into epidemiology as a general field.

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