Reading Update: Intro, Chapters 3 to 6 and Cholera

Get Well Soon: History's Worst Plagues and the Heroes Who Fought Them - Jennifer   Wright

Any movement toward sanitization is usually also a step forward in combatting disease. London during the mid-nineteenth century was wildly overcrowded. Its population of 2.5 million made it the largest city in the world at that time. (That’s roughly the size of Chicago today.) One census described a single room where five families were living, each in their own area. They claimed they were doing well with four families (and four corners) until someone took in a lodger in the middle. And then there was the livestock that people kept inside their houses. We’re not talking about livestock in the sense of “a few people had some chickens.” We’re talking cows in the attics. They’d be levered up by pulley and kept in the attic as long as they had milk to give. (If I had such a cow, I would name her Bertha Mason.) It wasn’t always even one or two cows; there might be as many as thirty cows in what were known as “cow houses.”

 

"Bertha Mason". Hahahaha. 

 

Ok, so this is not the most brilliant of books to learn anything from about diseases or history, but it does still make me smile. Even if the author's asides are quite partisan and I would wish for a lot more discussion of many of the points she mentions or tries to make, there are enough quirky bits in this book to engage my interest.

 

I can see, tho, that some of the author's points, which are driven by own convictions, rather than by factual discussion can come across quite flippant - even if I do agree with the ultimate point, I would not seek advice from this book on how to support any  particular argument for or against something.  

 

I meant to write updates on the previous chapters but didn't really find anything to say other than: 

 

1. The Dancing Plague should not have been listed as a "plague".

 

2. Syphilis - that chapter was interesting. I had never considered that the topic of Syphilis was silenced by convention, nor what effect this had on the spread of the disease. 

Wright's mention of Salvarsan reminded me of Karen Blixen's / Isak Dinesen's mention of her own treatments with it in Out of Africa (a horrible book overall, but worth it for the historical and social snippets).

 

3. Tuberculosis - I liked her run-down of how the disease has been portrayed in art and literature. I, too, remember thinking, when watching La Traviata for the first time, that Violetta would no doubt not be able to sing a quarter of the notes she does in that final scene.

Also, TB is still tangible enough, still recent enough, to get a sense of connection with the sufferers (my grandad had at one point), which is part of Wright's point about wanting people to realise that all of these illnesses she mentions are real and affected - and still do affect - real people. 

 

Now, back to Cholera...