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Books, Journals, New Media
March 3, 2004

Smallpox

Author Affiliations
 

Books, Journals, New Media Section Editor: Harriet S. Meyer, MD, Contributing Editor, JAMA; David H. Morse, MS, University of Southern California, Norris Medical Library, Journal Review Editor.

JAMA. 2004;291(9):1141-1142. doi:10.1001/jama.291.9.1141-b

Jennifer Lee Carrell, doctorate in English and American literature, has produced a delightful fictionalized history of the battles over inoculation for smallpox in the latter 1600s. She aspires "to lift dry, briefly outlined scenes into drama" by improvising dialogue and thoughts to flesh out the official documentation. The vivid descriptions and words of friends and foes of inoculation on both sides of the Atlantic result in a fast-reading historical novel.

The author's heroes are Lady Mary Wortley Montagu in London and Dr Zabdiel Boylston in Boston. Lady Montagu (1689-1762) was the daughter of a British duke and married wealth. Her legendary beauty was marred by smallpox, and she lost family and friends to the disease. While in Turkey as the wife of the ambassador, she learned of the practice of inoculation. On her return to London, she championed the practice and asked that physicians inoculate her family. Dr Boylston (1681-1766) was a surgeon, trained as an apprentice, and apothecary in Boston. He learned of inoculation from an African slave. Having seen the ravages of smallpox, he began to inoculate family and patients.

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