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Further Reading: Balmis Expedition

Saving the World

a novel
by Julia Alvarez

Lots of good books have been published in commemoration of the Royal Smallpox Expedition's bicentennial, 1803-2003. The problem is that most of them are in Spanish! (Most of these Spanish studies of the expedition are listed in the Acknowledgments at the end of Saving the World.)

Saving the World by Julia Alvarez
see this book on
audio cd
en español: paperback

There are two excellent studies in English. One is a long article by Michael Smith, "The 'Real Expedición Marítima de la Vacuna' in New Spain and Guatemala," which appeared in Transactions of the American Philosophical Society (Volume 64, Part I, 1974). I was able to obtain a copy through my college's interlibrary loan department. (If everyone writes in to the APS, they might reprint that article.) The second study I recommend is Catherine Mark's English translation of Gonzalo Díaz de Yraola's The Spanish Royal Philanthropic Expedition: The Round-the-World Voyage of the Smallpox Vaccine, 1803-1810 (La vuelta al mundo de la expedición de la vacuna, 1803-1810), a facsimile of the 1948 edition (Madrid: Instituto de Historia, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, 2003, ISBN 84-00-08172-2). It can be purchased from:

Dept. de Publicaciones
Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas,
Vitruvio 8, E-28006
Madrid, Spain
Tel (+34) 91 562-9633
Fax (+34) 91 562-9634

Other books on smallpox that I found interesting and helpful include Elizabeth A. Fenn's Pox Americana: The Great Smallpox Epidemic of 1775-82 (New York: Hill and Wang, 2002); Jonathan Tucker's Scourge: The Once and Future Threat of Smallpox (New York: Grove Press, 2002); Donald Hopkins's Princes and Peasants: Smallpox in History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983); William McNeill's Plagues and Peoples (New York: Anchor, 1998); Peter Razzell's The Conquest of Smallpox (UK: Caliban Books, 1977); and Joel Shurkin's The Invisible Fire: The Story of Mankind's Victory Over the Ancient Scourge of Smallpox (Authors Guild, Editions, 2001). All of these books make brief mention of the smallpox expedition.

By the way, though not about smallpox but about another epidemic, Jim Murphy's An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793 (New York: Clarion Books, 2003) is a wonderfully written little book for young readers. It was a Newberry Honor book for good reason. It's readable and informative and gives a great sense of what epidemics were like in the eighteenth century. A fictionalized version of this same story is Fever 1793 (New York: Simon and Schuster Children's Publishing, 2000), a novel for young readers by Laurie Halse Anderson. I've often found that books for young readers tend to give vivid and visceral and seminal information, very useful for a fiction writer who doesn't want to plough through tomes of useless information.

While I'm putting in plugs for great books that helped me, I have to mention Joan Druett's engaging and informative book about women on sailing ships, Hen Frigates (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1998). Another equally intriguing book is Sian Rees's The Floating Brothel (New York: Theia, 2002), about women convicts transported from England to the Australian colony in the late 1790s. Amazing what happened on-board! What my Isabel was spared!

Anyone wanting to learn more about the global AIDS epidemic and to feel inspired by what can be done by a man with a dream should read Tracy Kidder's Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2003). An astonishing and inspiring portrait of an astonishing, inspiring human(e) being.


More Books by Julia Alvarez

The Best Gift of All: The Legend of La Vieja Belén/El mejor regalo del mundo: la leyenda de La Vieja Belén
The Best Gift of All:
The Legend of
La Vieja Belén/
El mejor regalo del mundo:
la leyenda de
La Vieja Belén
Once Upon A Quinceañera: Coming of Age in the USA by Julia Alvarez
Once Upon A Quinceañera
How the García Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez
How the García Girls Lost Their Accents

Autographed Books by Julia Alvarez

Would you like a signed -- or personalized -- copy of one of Julia's books? Simply call or email one of her two local bookstores -- or stop in for a visit.

Vermont Book Shop
38 Main Street, Middlebury, Vermont

Middlebury College Store
58 Hepburn Road, Middlebury, Vermont
Contact Georgia Best

And, of course, Julia would love to see you at one of her upcoming appearances. To see if she will be in your town, check her calendar.


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