Skip to main content

History's Worst Plagues and the Heroes Who Fought Them

March 9, 2020

If you need some optimism in face of rising coronavirus fears, read this darkly humorous account of the heroes who successfully fought other plagues in history.


Included here are the bubonic plague, smallpox, tuberculosis, cholera, typhoid, and polio.  In the chapter (ominously called Censorship Kills) about the 1918 flu pandemic that is estimated to have killed at least 40 million people, Wright details the massive cover-up by the government, health officials, and journalists:

Hushing up the epidemic took more and more work by the press…headlines in the El Paso Herald proclaimed “Vicious Rumors of Influenza Epidemic Will Be Combatted,” while sailors were told to write home and tell their relatives not to worry about the stories spreading about the disease.

And chillingly:

In Chicago, where the health commissioner claimed he’d “do nothing to interfere with the morale of the community” as “fear kills more than disease,” the death rate climbed from 15 percent of the afflicted to 40 percent that same month.

Jennifer Wright is like the Mary Roach of history.  Her incredibly informative but also hopeful history of pandemics might be just what you need right now.

beth winter


Beth works in the Collection Development department.  She loves short stories, memoirs, documentary films, and cookbooks.  Her favorite things about working at the library are knowing in advance about all the new releases and the easy access to her library holds.


Age Groups