The Speckled Monster is both a hair-raising tale of courage in the face of the deadliest disease that has ever struck mankind, and a gripping account of the birth of modern immunology. Jennifer Lee Carrell's dramatic story follows two parents who, after barely surviving the agony of smallpox themselves, flouted 18th century European medical tradition by borrowing folk knowledge from African slaves and Eastern women in frantic bids to protect their children. Their heroic struggles gave rise to immunology, as well as the vaccinations that remain our only hope should the disease be unleashed again. Carrell transports readers back to the early 18th century to tell the tales of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and Dr. Zabdiel Boylston: two iconoclastic figures who helped save London and Boston from this scourge.
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Wish it was another 19 hours long!
Yes. The story brings home what a horrible disease smallpox was and the dangers faced by those who wanted to prevent the disease with inoculation. But it reads like a thriller -- you can't wait to find out what happened to this person or how that situation was resolved.
The entire story of Zabdeal Boylston was entrancing. I had never heard of him, although I grew up near Boston. He comes alive in this book, not as a colonist, not as a historical character, but as a family man and conscientious doctor who has to fight on multiple fronts to do what he believes is right.
No one scene sticks out. But I had never realized, as someone who received a routine vaccination as a baby, what a miracle it was that I was safe from what had been a common and devastating scourge. The descriptions of how people actually suffered and died from smallpox changes an abstract idea into a horrible, painful reality for so many generations of people.
Zabdeal Boylston's family's experience with the pox was absolutely wrenching.
I don't remember when I have enjoyed listening to a book so much. And the fact that, after 19 odd hours, I was disappointed to have it end -- well, I'm seriously considering going back to the beginning and listening again!
- Book reader
Heroic story about an absolutely terrible disease
I listened to this book because I was surprised to hear Rand Paul mentioned it in one of the presidential debates. I enjoyed it and found myself drawn in by the author's portrayal of the main historical characters. If it's hard to imagine what a monstrous killer small pox was, just google some photographs of it. The debt we all owe to the pioneers of the practice of inoculation cannot be overstated. Zabdiel Boylston reminded me of George Washington in terms of his courage and modesty. And I am glad the letters of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu still exist and look forward to reading them in current published volumes. What author Carrell does particularly well is to bring to life the hysteria that these first Western forays into vaccination stirred up. It was human nature to fear the unknown then just as it is today.
As with many historical audiobooks, The Speckled Monster can be difficult to follow at times as it jumps from one set of characters to another, from one country to the next, and between different people who share the same first name. I wish the breaks between chapters were made obvious so I could mentally shift without having to play catch-up.
If like me you're fascinated by the 1600s-1700s then you'll enjoy this historical narrative about a hugely important turning point for Western Civilization and the world.