Red Madness: How a Medical Mystery Changed What We Eat

192p. bibliog. chron. further reading. glossary. index. notes. photos. reprods. websites. Boyds Mills Press/Calkins Creek. Apr. 2014. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781590787328. LC 2013953464.
RedReviewStarGr 6 Up—This haunting insight into a little known epidemic from the early 20th century provides statistics, firsthand accounts, pictures, and an easy-to-follow narrative of the pellagra outbreak in the United States. The book details the baffling uprise of pellagra, a life-threatening disease characterized by weakness, rash, and insanity; the medical investigation that ensued; and the eventual changes that were made in America's diet to combat both this sickness and other maladies caused by nutritional deficiencies. This title is descriptive and well researched, with a striking bold-red color scheme. Though the images are graphic and potentially disturbing, they are not sensationalized, and enhance the narrative. This is an excellent addition to nonfiction collections in school and public libraries. [Ed note: See author Q&A, p. 16.]—Tammy Turner, Centennial High School, Frisco, TX
In 1902, a young man in Georgia displayed symptoms of a disease believed to be nonexistent in the U.S.: pellagra, a deficiency disease. Jarrow unfolds the suspenseful search for a cause of the South's epidemic, as corn fungus, insect- and bird-born parasites, and more were all blamed and rejected. Plentiful archival photos, many of victims, add emotional heft. Reading list, timeline, websites. Bib., glos., ind.
Though barely remembered today, only one hundred years ago pellagra was a fast-growing epidemic, especially in the impoverished American South. This immersive account explains how pellagra became what Surgeon General Rupert Blue called in 1912, “a national calamity.” Numerous anecdotes about pellagra victims, interspersed throughout the broader narrative, provide a sense of immediacy and show how desperate sufferers were for a cure. Period photographs appear on nearly every spread, including many remarkable and sometimes haunting pictures of patients with the disease’s tell-tale rash. The contrast between Dr. Joseph Goldberger’s scientific process and the more popular practices of early-twentieth-century medicine is fascinating. Goldberger’s style of rigorous testing was not yet common, and many doctors experimented on their pellagra patients with potentially harmful treatments, such as injecting arsenic-based drugs. Gail Jarrow connects history with modern day by describing how the results of Goldberger’s research still influence foods made today.

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