American Murderer: The Parasite that Haunted the South

Calkins Creek. (Medical Fiascoes). Sept. 2022. 160p. Tr $24.99. ISBN 9781684378159.
Gr 5-9–Jarrow continues her “Medical Fiascoes” series with this concise yet fascinating history of hookworm disease in the American South. By the early 20th century, large populations in the South were suffering from an unknown illness that left them emaciated, anemic, and unable to work. This was primarily occurring in rural poor communities. At the time, hookworm disease was largely unknown and rarely diagnosed by American doctors, despite it occurring for several decades in the South as well as in other countries. One doctor, Charles Stiles, a renowned parasitologist who worked for the USDA and later the Public Health Service, found that it was easy to diagnose, treat, and prevent. He dedicated much of his career to educating people about this debilitating illness. He faced obstacles on multiple fronts, including cultural resistance to outsiders, economic obstacles to updating sanitary conditions, and his less than charming personality that did not win him many supporters. For the first half of the book, with her usual flair, Jarrow highlights the science of hookworms, which has plenty of gross appeal to keep readers engaged. The second half is equally intriguing as she focuses on Stiles’s tireless efforts along with the cultural and historical aspects of the period.
VERDICT An excellent addition for middle and high school students.

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