Blood and Germs: The Civil War Battle Against Wounds and Disease – by Gail Jarrow

    Blood and Germs: The Civil War Battle Against Wounds and Disease – by Gail Jarrow, Boyds Mills & Kane/Calkins Creek, 9781684371761, 2020 

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 5

Format: Hardcover

What did you like about the book?  More books have been written about the Civil War than any other event in U.S. history, by an absolutely ridiculous order of magnitude. But, this is one more you just have to read and add to your collection. By combining two high interest topics, Jarrow has made a really fascinating and beautiful book that also manages to put the conflict into its place in medical history. Opening with a note that explains the limitations of research in this area and defines critical vocabulary, she launches into setting: what was happening in the U.S., how the war started, where the soldiers came from. She then dedicates chapters to disease, support systems, surgery, the development of the ambulance core, amputation and hospitalization. Amazing (and often disturbing) photographs, engravings, and paintings illustrate her lively and accessible text. The amount of work that went into telling individual stories of medical conditions and then following up on a soldier’s story will engage readers and keep them going through the cavalcade of statistics and events. Jarrow has also done her best to include information on the disparate treatment of Black soldiers and the important role that women played in supporting the troops and serving as medical personnel.

The book deserves high marks for its design and readability. Tremendous care has been taken with the spacing of the highly readable font, with sidebars and boxed information. The pictures are large, sharp and many were totally new to me. Especially poignant are the many daguerreotypes, often from the Library of Congress collections, showing soldiers before or after their service. The book’s back matter includes a timeline, glossary, author’s note, extensive bibliography and credits, and an index.

Anything you didn’t like about it? I realize that many young readers will be fascinated by the dramatic stories and may have less patience for historical context, but I did think more information about the causes of the Civil War and the state of medicine before 1860 would have been helpful. As I read, I did learn a lot about innovations and discoveries that took place during the war, but students should know at the outset that hospitals, nurses and to a large extent, medical schools did not exist, and that germ theory was still in the future.

To whom would you recommend this book?  Anyone interested in either the Civil War or the history of medicine will find this book mesmerizing. The images are very intense and frightening, so I would think it would be most appropriate for students ages 12 and up. The book corrals a tremendous amount of interesting information, making it invaluable for research or for students interested in the topic.

Who should buy this book? Middle school, high school and public libraries.

Where would you shelve it? 973.775 

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? For me, with my interest in history and medicine, it was a must read! 

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA

Date of review: January 11, 2021

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