Invincible Microbe: Tuberculosis and the Never-Ending Search for a Cure



Murphy, Jim, and Alison Blank. Invincible Microbe: Tuberculosis and the Never-Ending Search for a Cure. Clarion, 2012. 160pp. Lexile 1200

Murphy and Blank make tuberculosis fascinating through a compelling narrative laced with well-chosen anecdotes and grim details.  They open with discussion and photographs of 500,000-year-old skulls and ancient mummies from around the world that show signs of TB.  The chapters then move through history, chronicling the statistics about TB over the years and the sometimes horrible attempts to cure it.  It was linked in the nineteenth century with creativity; Keats, Shelley, Poe, Robert Louis Stevenson, the Brontes and Chopin all suffered from it.  Several rich chapters describe sanatoriums in Europe and the U.S., small worlds unto themselves.  Moving into the twentieth century, the narrative shows progress in public health and science that helped reduce TB's spread but the book wraps up with appalling information about TB's role in the world today.  Historic black-and-white etchings, photographs and memorabilia appear every page or two.  Back matter includes a bibliography, source notes, and an index.

Fiction Tie-in:  Pair this with Queen of Hearts,  Martha Brook's excellent 2011 novel about a teenage girl at a Canadian TB sanatorium in the early 1940s.