Beginning with a background on the history of Memphis, centering mostly on the days leading up to; and including the Civil War; the author paints a picture of the town, and its inhabitants on the Mississippi River. What little was known about the disease is discussed, and a history of prior epidemics; including the 1873 Smallpox/Yellow Fever outbreak; give the reader a sense of being “in the moment”, armed with limited knowledge about the disease and how it spreads. This part of the book has definite applications today, when some segments of society refuse inoculations for diseases which have been under control for decades; or more; in obedience to a religious or tribal doctrine. They are unwittingly turning back the clock to a time when annual outbreaks of various epidemics killed thousands at a time.
There were many and varied reactions to the outbreak, with both heroes and villains enough to fill several books. The author has chosen the finest examples of both, with an emphasis on what we can all do to help one another in times of crisis. This was a time when Protestant and Catholic were bitterly divided, but the outbreak of the fever called upon all of the different religious sects to act as one to defeat a common enemy. In the Jewish community there had been 3,000 people at the onset of the disease. On Rosh Hashanah in 1878, there were only 18 people at services held jointly by the Orthodox and Reform Congregations.