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Book and Media Reviews
February 1, 2012

Pox: An American History

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliation: Harvard Kennedy School of Government, Cambridge, Massachusetts (

JAMA. 2012;307(5):515-516. doi:10.1001/jama.2012.67

Michael Willrich, a historian by profession, offers an accessible and insightful account of the medical, social, political, and cultural history of smallpox in the United States and the challenges of vaccination that arose at the beginning of the 20th century. While focusing on 4 years (1900-1903), a period that saw the beginning of the end of smallpox in the United States, and the last of the major outbreaks in several cities around the world, he manages to embrace a cornucopia of significant issues still influencing the world today, such as debates on compulsory vaccination policies; widespread conflicts between local, state, and federal authorities; and the effects of the government on public health.

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