May 18, 2016

Deadly disease

Dr. Jenner and the Speckled Monster: The Discovery of the Smallpox Vaccine
by Albert Marrin

If the slightly gruesome cover doesn’t draw readers in, the photograph next to the title page certainly will. It shows a person’s arms and legs totally covered with big pustules. The caption ominously states that this person probably died.

The sufferer had smallpox, a hideous disease that killed one out of every three of its victims. An immensely readable book, Dr. Jenner and the Speckled Monster traces the history of the disease from its earliest beginnings approximately 8000 years ago to the frozen strains currently existing in world laboratories. It is a story replete with suspense, horror, and unethical practices. It is also a fascinating look at scientific study and experimentation and one doctor’s unflagging dedication.

Author Albert Marrin seamlessly weaves the biography of Dr. Edward Jenner into his narrative, along with explanations of cell division, immune systems, and vaccine development. There were anti-vaxers even then (in 1798), despite the smallpox vaccine’s effectiveness. If current objectors read this book today, their views would hopefully change.

With black-and-white photos and drawings, a list of further books to read, internet sources and an index, this is a good book for science and history fans.

Highly recommended.

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