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Fever Season: The Story of a Terrifying Epidemic and the People Who Saved a City Hardcover – October 2, 2012

ISBN-13: 978-1608192229 ISBN-10: 1608192229 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Press; 1 edition (October 2, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1608192229
  • ISBN-13: 978-1608192229
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.1 x 9.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #585,671 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Journalist-historian Keith’s account of the yellow-fever epidemic that raced through Memphis, Tennessee, in 1879 ably portrays both the honors and the dishonors earned during that terrifying three-month period as the illness hit two-thirds of the Memphis population, killing more than one-fourth (more than 5,000). Using the prisms of time and firsthand accounts, she lays bare many of the systemic problems—politics, racism, greed, and lingering Civil War resentment—that failed to protect the health and safety of all Memphians. A good place to conduct business, the city proved a poor place to live. As in any crisis, there were many unsung and unexpected heroes as well as a number of ignoble cowards who abandoned civic posts, religious congregations, and even their own families to save themselves. Sadly, though it is true that many lessons were learned and ultimately Memphis became a far better place to live, recent global crises elsewhere have demonstrated that some lessons never sink in. --Donna Chavez

Review

“Fascinating—and potentially instructive—to today’s reader … an unqualified success.”—Boston Globe

"Testifies to a fact worth bearing in mind in the future. ‘Epidemics strip away social pretensions,’ Keith writes, ‘and show us for what we are…'"--Laura Miller, Salon
 
“This is rewarding history.”—Jim Landers, The Dallas Morning News

“A highly rewarding and essential telling of a story that captivated late-19th century America and did much to reshape Memphis history.... Keith…warns the reader up front that there is no happy ending to the story she tells.... Good for her, because this story is so important and riveting that it needs no tidy, triumphant, Hollywood-style conclusion.”—Tom Charlier, The Commercial Appeal (Memphis)

“[A] vivid, novelistic account of [Memphis] during its worst hours…. Fever Season reminds us of what it takes for human beings - regardless of politics, class, job description or skin color - to preserve dignity and save lives. Even a brief season of such courage should never be forgotten.”—Gina Webb, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“Using a rich collection of letters, newspapers, and diaries, Keith intertwines the lives of prominent figures and ordinary citizens who faced the chaos … succeeds in creating a vivid image of the Memphis of 1878”—The Lancet
 
"Macabre and fascinating reading…  Keith's fine history is a reminder, though, that we will have other plagues, and they will not be merely city-wide, and we will find them as incomprehensible and frightening as Memphis did, and we will again be surprised at who turns hero and who turns coward.”—Rob Hardy, The Dispatch (Columbus, MS)

“Keith delivers a rewarding must-read for both history and public health buffs.”—Publishers Weekly(starred review)

"Keith does not exaggerate its historical significance but delivers an admirable account of a Southern city doing its best to deal with a frightening, incomprehensible epidemic."—Kirkus Reviews

"Journalist-historian Keith’s account of the yellow-fever epidemic that raced through Memphis, Tennessee, in 1879 ably portrays both the honors and the dishonors earned during that terrifying three-month period as the illness hit two-thirds of the Memphis population, killing more than one-fourth (more than 5,000). Using the prisms of time and firsthand accounts, she lays bare many of the systemic problems—politics, racism, greed, and lingering Civil War resentment—that failed to protect the health and safety of all Memphians. A good place to conduct business, the city proved a poor place to live. As in any crisis, there were many unsung and unexpected heroes as well as a number of ignoble cowards who abandoned civic posts, religious congregations, and even their own families to save themselves. Sadly, though it is true that many lessons were learned and ultimately Memphis became a far better place to live, recent global crises elsewhere have demonstrated that some lessons never sink in."—Donna Chavez, Booklist.com

“Jeanette Keith’s compelling account of one of nineteenth-century America’s worst disasters vividly illustrates how noble, and how ignoble, human beings can be in a crisis. This is a masterful work of narrative history—gracefully written, richly informative, and deeply thoughtful. It should be read by everyone interested in America’s past and everyone who has ever wondered what it is like to experience utter catastrophe.”—Stephen V. Ash, Professor of History, University of Tennessee, author of Firebrand of Liberty

“Bravo! Jeanette Keith is an exceptional writer who takes us on a voyage through the trauma of the 1878 yellow fever epidemic in Memphis. Her insights draw a vivid picture of how important it is to understand that individuals can make a huge difference in the everyday life of a city and its future. The late nineteenth-century was a time of dramatic change in a United States reshaped by war, economic turmoil, complexities of ethnic and racial diversity, as well as high unemployment, and globalization. There is much to learn from this story that could help with today’s similar cornucopia of challenges.”—Kriste Lindemeyer, Dean of the Rutgers-Camden Faculty of Arts and Sciences, author of The Greatest Generation Grows Up

Customer Reviews

This is a riveting book.
Helcura
It was a lifesaver for me because it was so much more challenging and I got to do some really cool things.
Caitlin Martin
This is a study of yellow fever's effects on Memphis for one disastrous season.
R. Hardy

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By R. Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on October 2, 2012
Format: Hardcover
It used to be that southern communities would expect attacks of yellow fever every summer; it was as natural as the rise in the temperatures. The fever would come, linger through the hot months, and go. Some people would die from it, and then it would be over. The attack of yellow fever that hit Memphis in 1878 was extreme in its numbers, killing around a tenth of the 50,000 citizens, with the number that low because most of the others had fled the city. We have new plagues, and we don't worry much in this country anymore about yellow fever, but the story of the Memphis attack makes for macabre and fascinating reading in _Fever Season: The Story of a Terrifying Epidemic and the People Who Saved a City_ (Bloomsbury Press) by historian Jeanette Keith. This is a classic plague tale, with participants unpredictably turning into heroes or cowards. The devastation fascinated newspaper readers across the nation at the time, but Keith might also be writing about readers of this very book: "The people who read of the plague summer in the daily papers were as fascinated by the vagaries of character as the firsthand observers in Memphis. It is almost comical how surprised they were - how surprised we all are - when the same things happened in Thucydides's Athens, Boccaccio's Florence, Defoe's London, and in every major epidemic, over and over again."

This is a study of yellow fever's effects on Memphis for one disastrous season. People in 1878 might have blamed filth or miasma for illnesses, but no one knew that yellow fever was spread by mosquitoes, and Memphis, with limited water supply, had thousands of household cisterns where the mosquitoes liked to lay eggs. When Memphis citizens knew the fever was coming, those who could fled, leaving a small minority in the grim city.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Nancy Michaelis on April 1, 2013
Format: Hardcover
I have just read Jeanette Keith's Fever Season. After the first 50 pages, I could not put it down, transported to 1878 Memphis. I am walking away with a deeper understanding of the depth of suffering and sacrifice for those who stayed to ride out the epidemic from August to late October. I am in awe of those who organized and managed hospitals, camps, burials, and relief efforts in a city quarantined and under siege. The pictures included helped make them real people in my mind as I read. But Keith also brings home the issue of historical inequality: how the heroic efforts of women, negroes, and Jews have gone unrecognized and often undermined; how the positive start of reconstruction became twisted and ugly by the turn of the century. This book has left me thinking of so many issues.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Thelma C. Johnson on March 11, 2013
Format: Hardcover
When the yellow fever epidemic hit Memphis in 1878 no one knew the cause of the disease or how to treat it. Most people who suffered from it died. This is a well-written and researched insight into the events that led to the survival nd regeneration of a city, due to the dedication, courage, and persistence of a group of town leaders who would not give up. Many caregivers who had had the disease and become immune worked to care for the stricken patients, working without rest or proper food and little hope of success as the disease decimated the town. Looters came in from outside and many contracted the fever and died to be found later in the very act of stealing in the empty houses. It was only when the epidemic had run its course and the survivors struggled to decide whether or not to revive the remainder of what was once a prosperous hub of commerce that the life-saving procedures of improved sanitation and clean water brought the city of Memphis back to life and into a new era. Only years later did the source of the fever become known--a mosquito that laid its eggs in water and carried the deadly virus in its sting. This book is not only a story of a piece of history, but also a saga of human courage, sacrifice, and determination in those who stayed to fight a battle they were never sure that they could win.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Dingfelder on October 4, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Fever Season is a story of how an epidemic's destruction helped create a city while destroying its people.

In the summer and fall of 1879, whole Memphis families were wiped out by yellow fever virtually all at once as if hit by cannon-fire, as were countless doctors and unnamed nurses, nuns, priests, volunteer militia, and ex-slaves who reached out to help Memphis citizenry and, as they themselves succumbed, each other. People trying to flee the fever took it elsewhere, sometimes to be met and turned back by the fences and shotguns of their neighbors. Some of those who stayed behind selflessly to help those who could not help themselves saw their own children, whom they could have sent away in time, die as a result. Bodies pulled from rooms stained high with bloody vomit were stacked in piles in graveyards, unburied; others were found collapsed in the vacant homes they had come to loot or lay half-covered in mud in roadside ditches and gutters. Yellow fever scythed a wide swath through a terrified city and the consciousness of a nation still recovering from civil war and not sure of its people.

How those people stepped up to the challenge of a disease science had yet to understand, and how those efforts were acknowledged, rewarded, and remembered, form a great deal of the human canvas of Fever Season's story.

African Americans and women play a large part in that story. Unfortunately, history is never the whole story, but the story as reported by those with the power to communicate and make their version find a hold in the public's consciousness.
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More About the Author

Jeanette Keith grew up in rural Tennessee, obtained a PhD from Vanderbilt University, and is currently a history professor at Bloomsburg University in Pennsylvania. Her scholarly work has won awards from the Organization of American Historians and the Southern Association for Women Historians. Her most recent book, Fever Season, is written for a general audience, and reflects her interest in the impact of disease on human history.

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Fever Season: The Story of a Terrifying Epidemic and the People Who Saved a City
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