Review of American Murderer: The Parasite That Haunted the South

American Murderer: The Parasite That Haunted the South                     [Medical Fiascoes]American Murderer: The Parasite That Haunted the South [Medical Fiascoes]
by Gail Jarrow
Middle School, High School     Calkins/Astra    160 pp.    g
9/22     978-1-68437-815-9     $24.99
e-book ed.  978-1-63592-829-7    $14.99

Zoologist Charles Stiles discovered a new species of hookworm: Necator ­americanus , the titular “American murderer,” which affected a large portion of the population in the American South during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Hookworms pass through the skin into the blood, lungs, and small intestines where they can feast, sometimes by the hundreds, on their unsuspecting hosts, leaving them emaciated, feeble, and dull-witted. Eggs pass out of the body with feces, and since many people defecated in the woods surrounding their homes and went barefoot during that period, it’s no wonder hookworms were widespread. The cure was simple and inexpensive, but local doctors did not recognize the symptoms or treat them properly. Moreover, many people did not trust Stiles, despite his position at the U.S. Public Health Service: he was a scientist, not a doctor, and he wasn’t a Southerner. It would finally take a partnership with the Rockefellers’ philanthropic organization to properly amplify his message. Jarrow (Blood and Germs , rev. 3/21), who has carved out a niche for herself in the history of science and medicine, here adeptly weaves solid research, primary-source quotes, and historical artifacts with elements of mystery for a compelling read. A glossary, an author’s note, source notes (with primary sources indicated), bibliography, and an index are appended.

From the September/October 2022 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Jonathan Hunt
Jonathan Hunt is the coordinator of library media services at the San Diego County Office of Education.

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