The Epidemic That Revolutionized Medicine and American Politics
Simon & Schuster
On Sale: March 8, 2016
Hardcover / e-Book
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More than fifty years before the American Revolution, Boston
was in revolt against the tyrannies of the Crown, Puritan
Authority, and Superstition. This is the story of a fateful
year that prefigured the events of 1776.
In The Fever of 1721, Stephen Coss brings to life an
amazing cast of characters in a year that changed the course
of medical history, American journalism, and colonial
revolution, including Cotton Mather, the great Puritan
preacher, son of the president of Harvard College; Zabdiel
Boylston, a doctor whose name is on one of Boston’s grand
avenues; James and his younger brother Benjamin Franklin;
and Elisha Cooke and his protégé Samuel Adams.
During the worst smallpox epidemic in Boston history Mather
convinced Doctor Boylston to try a procedure that he
believed would prevent death—by making an incision in the
arm of a healthy person and implanting it with smallpox.
“Inoculation” led to vaccination, one of the most profound
medical discoveries in history. Public outrage forced
Boylston into hiding, and Mather’s house was firebombed.
A political fever also raged. Elisha Cooke was challenging
the Crown for control of the colony and finally forced Royal
Governor Samuel Shute to flee Massachusetts. Samuel Adams
and the Patriots would build on this to resist the British
in the run-up to the American Revolution. And a bold young
printer James Franklin (who was on the wrong side of the
controversy on inoculation), launched America’s first
independent newspaper and landed in jail. His teenage
brother and apprentice, Benjamin Franklin, however, learned
his trade in James’s shop and became a father of the
One by one, the atmosphere in Boston in 1721 simmered and
ultimately boiled over, leading to the full drama of the
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