Pox Americana

By Elizabeth A. Fenn,

Book cover of Pox Americana: The Great Smallpox Epidemic of 1775-82

Book description

The astonishing, hitherto unknown truths about a disease that transformed the United States at its birth

A horrifying epidemic of smallpox was sweeping across the Americas when the American Revolution began, and yet we know almost nothing about it. Elizabeth A. Fenn is the first historian to reveal how deeply…


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Why read it?

2 authors picked Pox Americana as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

I am a historian of early America, including the American Revolution, though I'm not a huge reader (or writer) of conventional military history. Published in 2001, Elizabeth Fenn's book was in many ways ahead of its time in emphasizing how military outcomes—and strategies—were often contingent on other seemingly unrelated factors. In this case, she argues that smallpox was a decisive force in the American War for Independence. The continental scope of her study, moreover, provides a link between that war and the ultimately successful military offensives that the independent United States inflicted on disease-weakened Native American peoples in the post-revolutionary…

From Cynthia's list on American disasters.

This is another book on disease and war and shows how smallpox was a lethal actor in the American Revolution. Smallpox gave the largely immune British forces an advantage over Americans, (white, Black, and Indian), who had never been exposed to the virus, which prompted General George Washington to order the inoculation of his troops. This was the first government immunization effort in American history. The book then follows the virus across the continent as it traveled with foreign traders and native peoples, devastating tribal populations from East to West.

From Carol's list on how diseases shape society.

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