The Secret of the Yellow Death: A True Story of Medical Sleuthing

Written by Suzanne Jurmain
Review by Kathryn Johnson

Although nonfiction and written for children, this book can easily be appreciated by adult readers. Written in the style of an illustrated medical mystery, Jurmain brings to the reader the terrifying story of how yellow fever crippled armies and civilian populations until the secret of how the disease spread was uncovered. In thrilling, and sometimes horrifying detail, the story rapidly unspools, revealing the efforts of scientists who struggled against immense odds to find a way to stop its spread. Most remarkable are the personal sacrifices made by American doctors including Walter Reed, James Carroll (Reed’s assistant), Jesse Lazear, and Cuban-born physician Aristides Agramonte. The team moves between the U.S. and Cuba, where they study a particularly deadly outbreak of the disease. Often they risk their own lives by moving among stricken patients and using their own bodies to test their theories of infection, cures, and inoculation. The book is given visual impact by virtue of vintage photographs and colorful sketches, making scientific data easy to understand and connecting readers with the people who played major roles in discovering the secret behind the disease’s spread – a deadly mosquito. This true story is as fast-paced as any thriller, guaranteed to hold readers spellbound as they witness a race against the clock to thwart death.