Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Red Madness - Gail Jarrow

Summary:  One hundred years ago, a mysterious and alarming illness spread across America's South, striking millions of victims.  No one knew what caused it or how to treat it.  People were left weak, disfigured, insane, and in some cases, dead.  Many were left to worry--would they be pellagra's next victim?

In this compelling book, award-winning science and history writer Gail Jarrow tracks this disease and highlights how doctors, scientists, and public health officials struggled to stop the epidemic, sometimes risking their own lives in the process.  Illustrated with 100 archival photographs, Red Madness also includes a glossary, timeline, further resources, author's note, bibliography, and index.  (Summary from back of the book and image from

My Review:  There is much controversy over the Common Core State Standards, and while I'll probably always mourn the loss of teaching fiction freely, there has been a boom of fantastic nonfiction because of it.  This is one of those books--it's fascinating!

Imagine every year you get a horrible diarrhea, drop weight, get weak, develop an embarrassing rash on your hands, feet, face and chest, and on top of it all know that if you start feeling crazy that you're probably close to death.  This is real.  This did happen.  And it took years for the U.S. to get a handle on it.  This book takes you through the process of finding answers, allowing you to feel the frustration, and slow unveiling process of discovering the truth. 

My criticism of this book is my fear that this will lose students in the drawn-out process to getting the answer.  There are lots of mixed messages, which the author intended because she wanted the reader to experience the frustration and process of finding the answers to the disease.  While I understand the process and why the author chose to do this, I don't know if middle school students will keep with it.  The ages recommended for this book are 10-14. 

All that said, I thoroughly enjoyed the book and would recommend it to plenty of people. 
Rating: 3.5 Stars

Sum it up:  A fascinating throw-back to a time when nutrition and disease were still rather unknowns to us.

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