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Get Well Soon by Jennifer Wright

BOTTOM LINE: One of my favorite audiobooks ever.

Genre: Nonfiction
Publication Date: 7 February 2017
Source: Mine. All mine.

Synopsis from the Publisher:

“A witty, irreverent tour of history’s worst plagues―from the Antonine Plague, to leprosy, to polio―and a celebration of the heroes who fought them

In 1518, in a small town in Alsace, Frau Troffea began dancing and didn’t stop. She danced until she was carried away six days later, and soon thirty-four more villagers joined her. Then more. In a month more than 400 people had been stricken by the mysterious dancing plague. In late-nineteenth-century England an eccentric gentleman founded the No Nose Club in his gracious townhome―a social club for those who had lost their noses, and other body parts, to the plague of syphilis for which there was then no cure. And in turn-of-the-century New York, an Irish cook caused two lethal outbreaks of typhoid fever, a case that transformed her into the notorious Typhoid Mary.

Throughout time, humans have been terrified and fascinated by the diseases history and circumstance have dropped on them. Some of their responses to those outbreaks are almost too strange to believe in hindsight. Get Well Soon delivers the gruesome, morbid details of some of the worst plagues we’ve suffered as a species, as well as stories of the heroic figures who selflessly fought to ease the suffering of their fellow man. With her signature mix of in-depth research and storytelling, and not a little dark humor, Jennifer Wright explores history’s most gripping and deadly outbreaks, and ultimately looks at the surprising ways they’ve shaped history and humanity for almost as long as anyone can remember.”

My Thoughts: I cannot remember who recommended Get Well Soon to me, but I am forever in that person’s debt because it will go down as one of my favorite audiobooks of all time. It has everything I love in books. It is informative and entertaining, full of weird facts and scary statistics. Adding to all of that is Gabra Zackman’s narration, which exudes sarcasm and wit as well as the horror and indignation at these plagues and the responses to them.

Laughing while horrified, I marvel at Ms. Wright’s ability to turn these most horrible outbreaks in human history into morality lessons without making them sound like a sermon. Her willingness to speak hard truths – about government responses, about anti-vaccine advocates, etc. – are made all the more compelling by the honesty infused into her words and the don’t-give-a-shit attitude she expresses. Her use of anecdotes humanizes the distant past and reminds everyone that diseases have a tendency to return when we become complacent. The end effect is a book that educates but maintains a level of levity to offset the gruesome and disturbing details.

The details ARE disturbing, and Ms. Wright minces no words when describing anything. From the cesspools of London to the horrifying symptoms of tertiary syphilis to the causes of cholera and polio, the facts are revolting on so many levels. The faint of heart might want to shy away from any book that freely talks about fecal matter in drinking water and pus, but the information the book provides is too important to ignore. The thing about using blunt language to describe something awful though is that you find yourself getting over your disgust rather quickly. Your nausea is nothing in light of the suffering of others, and Ms. Wright uses this to her advantage.

If anything, you walk away from Get Well Soon with a greater appreciation for anyone who survived until the discovery of penicillin and the use of vaccinations. She makes you appreciate the drugs we take for granted because they really have altered the history of man by making it possible to live longer, healthier lives. At the same time, you realize how complacent we continue to be about the threat of a plague and how that complacency could risk your life or those of your loved ones. Get Well Soon is as much a cautionary tale as it is an educational one, and with an anti-vaxxer in the White House, her message is ever more important. Thankfully, Ms. Wright makes the whole thing so damn entertaining that you can’t help but enjoy every second of it.

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