In 1902, something deadly was happening to Americans living in the South. A strange malady began affecting them, causing a horrible rash on the face, chest, hands and feet. For most, it was cyclical, beginning in the spring and going away in the summer but for others, it killed. This illness affected young and old, sick and healthy, rich and poor. No one understood where it came from or how to get rid of it, but it had a name...pellagra...
Was it a disease or an infection? No one knew and pellagra became a mystery illness that would kill thousands of Americans. Of course, there were several theories. Scientists and doctors blamed it on moldy corn, while other believed it was contagious. Medicines of all types were sold by quacks and doctors alike to no avail. Soon, sanitariums across the South began to fill up with those diagnosed with pellagra.
The symptoms were noticeable and recognizable. Pellagra was defined as the 4-D Disease: dermatitis, diarrhea, dementia, death. It affected those that had it physically and mentally, and if the dementia stage became apparent, death was not far along.
It took a maverick who wouldn't give up to find a cure. Starting in these sanitariums, Joseph Golderberger was able to identify the main cause of pellagra. Those on the 3-M Diet (meal (cornmeal); meat (usually fatback) and molasses) were most prevalent of having pellagra. In a time when money was tight, these three foods were cheap, easily available, and delicious. Golderberger began his research and ultimately found the cure that would change the face of food and nutrition that continues to impact us today.
I always tell students that non-fiction books are the most interesting stories not told in a history textbook, and this is one of them. For 200 years, no one understood or could explain how pellagra came to be. This is a fascinating non-fiction book that will open the eyes of readers from caused pellagra to how it hasn't been seen since 1955. Intriguing and fascinating, Jarrow seams together stories, facts and images to create a book that goes to the heart of the matter and leaves readers more informed and very aware of cause and effect in the history of the United States. HIGHLY recommended for JH/HS.
Fiction book pair:
Streams of Babel and sequel Fire Will Fall by Carol Plum-Ucci: Six teens face a bioterrorist attack on American soil as four are infected with a mysterious disease affecting their small New Jersey neighborhood and two others, both brilliant computer hackers, assist the United States Intelligence Coalition in tracking the perpetrators.