Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Title: Pox
Author: Michael Willrich
Pages: 345
Genre: Non-Fiction
Publisher: The Penguin Press
Pub. Date: March 31, 2011

I think I've been spoiled by narrative non-fiction. Many of you know that for the most part, non-fiction has been a fairly new genre of book enjoyment for me. I've been reading more of it lately but am finding that what I really like is the inclusion of the personal stories throughout and the feeling of learning extraneous topics through the telling of a person's experiences, in some manner.

For that reason, I feel it may be somewhat unfair of me to be reviewing this book. Because truly, this book was fantastic; well put-together, well-written, and thoroughly researched. I imagine that non-fiction enthusiasts, those who consistently read non-fiction of all kinds, will relish this book. While I appreciated much of it, I wasn't constantly drawn to read more like I am with most of my reading. But that could also be a reflection of my workload at the time of this reading and how much extra my brain was able to then process.

However, while some parts of the book lost my interest over the course of the pages, I found other parts fascinating. In some ways, the topic was very relevant to today. I never realized the controversy over vaccinations went back to the 1800's! Currently, I'm a proponent of vaccinations. But the thought of, back then, being forced to have immunizations was scary. (Especially since it was adults, too, that they were forcing the immunizations on). Pox provided a lot of food for thought on the line between civil rights and government imposed health sanctions, even when they're imposed for the benefit of the community at large. Pox also brought up things I never thought of before. You know those indented scars that many people have on their arms as a result of vaccinations? Well, at one point this proof of vaccination was even used as that specific categorical identification.
"Watching with dismay as smallpox spread across the American heartland in 1901, Dr. James Hyde of Chicago's Rush Medical School urged state and local governments to use their full police powers to eradicate this affront to modern civilization. Like many of his professional peers, Hyde found the metaphor of the vaccine scar as passport irresistible. He urged that American governments require this medical mark for entry into the country's civic spaces.... In one respect, vaccination seemed superior to a printed identity document; this government-certified ticket of immunity was stamped indelibly upon the body. Seasoned health officials did not trust the paper vaccination certificates issued by private physicians; they always asked to see the scar." (pg. 227-228)
Surprisingly, this chapter goes on to describe how people did, in fact, try to "forge" vaccination scars by creating fake ones onto their bodies.

So in summary, I imagine those in the medical or legal fields will thoroughly enjoy Pox. More casual readers of non-fiction, like me, may find that Pox is a book to be read in small increments when the interest hits and will find varying pieces of the book better than others. There's definitely a lot of fascinating information to learn but may be overwhelming at the same time.

Follow the rest of the tour:

Thursday, March 31st: Man of La Book
Monday, April 4th: Aetiology
Wednesday, April 6th: Book Club Classics!
Thursday, April 7th: Raging Bibliomania
Wednesday, April 13th: Superbug
Thursday, April 14th: Sophisticated Dorkiness
Monday, April 18th: Bookworm’s Dinner
Tuesday, April 19th: In the Next Room
Wednesday, April 20th: Rhapsody In Books
Thursday, April 21st: Take Me Away
Monday, April 25th: Mommypotamus
Tuesday, April 26th: Eclectic/Eccentric
Wednesday, April 27th: Life Is A Patchwork Quilt
Thursday, April 28th: PhD in Parenting
Monday, May 2nd: Amy Reads
Date TBD: Ruby Slippers


Jenna (Literature and a Lens) said...

Wow, I never knew that people tried to forge vaccination scars! Even though you didn't enjoy this book as much as you thought you would, your review definitely makes it sound interesting, but I can see where it could become overwhelming.

Zibilee said...

Jenny, you are not the only one. I had the very same reaction to this book. Although I thought parts and pieces were really interesting, there were some long sections in the middle that really dragged for me. I hadn't thought that it was because I am more used to narrative non--fiction, but now that I am considering it, that is probably the case for me as well. Some of this book was fascinating, but other parts of it just seemed to get too bogged down in the research.

Audra said...

I'm reading a very relational non-fiction book, The Paper Garden, which is like a biography and memoir in one -- very delicious. It's about a woman who, in 1772, essentially invented collage.

The reason I mention it is, at one point, the author gives us some context for what else is happening in the world at that moment (in the book) and mentions specifically that Gen. Washington is inoculating his troops by having pox (via an animal?) inserted in cuts. I'm not normally a medical history/thriller person but sometimes, I find it fascinating. I might give Pox a try!

Man of la Book said...

Excellent review, I also enjoyed this book very much (my thoughts: http://manoflabook.com/wp/?p=1237). It really surprised me how readable it was.

bermudaonion said...

This probably isn't the book for me.

Trish said...

Wonder if this one might be better listened to? I recently listened to The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks which had a lot lot lot of information about cancer cells (sorry if you've read it...can't remember who has and hasn't) and while it was fascinating I definitely don't think I would have loved the book so much if I read it instead.

Narrative non-fiction works best for me as well.

heathertlc said...

There is definitely a difference between narrative non-fiction and traditional non-fiction, so I can understand why this book didn't always work for you. Still, it sounds like a fascinating read for fans of disease books (of which I an one ... strange but true!).

Thanks for being on the tour.

Liz @ Cleverly Inked said...

They are currently trying to bring back the pox vaccine. I am not one to read NOn-fiction. However this has peak my interest. I have a great interest in this specific topic, that is vaccines. Interesting thanks!

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