Book Review: The Pox and the Covenant by Tony Williams


Author: Tony Williams
Title: The Pox and the Covenant
Publication Info: Sourcebooks (2010)
ISBN:  9781402236051
Summary/Review: Another bit of research for my Boston By Foot Dark Side tour, this one discussing the history of the smallpox pandemic of 1721.  Cotton Mather, a religious conservative but also a man of science (and member of the Royal Society), responded by encouraging people to take inoculation with the only doctor willing to help him, Zabdiel Boylston.  Mather partially credited the practice to his African slave Onesimus once again showing himself a man ahead of his time as he both thought African medicine valid and gave credit where credit was due.  Mather faced much opposition both on superstitious and scientific grounds.  His most surprising opponent was the New England Courant published by Benjamin Franklin’s elder brother James whom one would assume would be on the side of reason and science.  Williams holds that the smallpox pandemic and the inoculation controversy was the death knell of the Puritan covenant and forever changed the culture of Boston.  He brings in lots of interesting details and facts of early 18th century Boston although at times it feels like he’s padding an already thin book.  Maybe this would hold together better as a long article rather than a book but I found it interesting and informative.

Recommended books: The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume I: The Pox Party by M. T. Anderson, Plagues and Peoples by William H. McNeill, and Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus That Caused It by Gina Kolata
Rating: ***

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