Get Well Soon: History's Worst Plagues and the Heroes Who Fought Them

Perhaps the only way to make the topic of infectious diseases appeal to a broad readership would be to approach it the same way you'd write about sex and dating: be chatty, opinionated and ebullient. And that's exactly what Jennifer Wright does in Get Well Soon.

Wright (It Ended Badly), a sex and dating writer for the New York Post and New York Observer, chronicles history's best-known diseases, including bubonic plague, smallpox, syphilis, tuberculosis, leprosy, typhoid and polio, delivering facts with a running commentary informed by an enthusiastic, millennial sensibility. To wit: John Snow was the 19th-century physician who first suggested that cholera was transmitted not by "miasma" but by a contaminated water supply. "Like the Game of Thrones character Jon Snow, he was a real square.... He was a fervent teetotaler. Which is fine! The most accomplished people I know never drink and are always getting up early to run marathons."

Wright's asides (and liberal use of exclamation points!) can overshadow her subject matter, but calling this book fluff would be to disregard its thorough research and sobering message. In her epilogue, she praises "strong leaders" such as Marcus Aurelius, who responded swiftly to the Antonine plague, and offers a pointed rebuke of Ronald Reagan, who didn't acknowledge our most recent epidemic (AIDS) until after 20,849 Americans had lost their lives from it. If a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, this one's a ladle! --Zak Nelson, writer and bookseller

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