by Gay Salisbury & Laney Salisbury
*** About the Book ***
This is a non-fiction account of the 1925 Serum Run. The ice bound town of Nome, Alaska was stuck with an outbreak of diphtheria, "the strangling disease", which mainly affects children and is often fatal. The vital anti-serum had to be shipping from Seattle by train approximately 2,000 miles into Alaska; from there it was transported over 600 miles via dogsled in a blizzard in just over 5 days - a feat that was practically a miracle.
The book describes the development of dog-sledding in Alaska, other outbreaks of diphtheria, and of course the Serum Run itself. Attention is given to the men who participated in the dog-sled relay and to their experiences afterward.
*** Why I Read It ***
Back in January '09 I wrote about some books I wanted to read and mentioned that I love books about disease and about the polar regions. In her comment on my post Dreamybee suggested two books that I might enjoy, THE CRUELEST MILES being one of them. Based on that comment I got a copy from Paperbackswap.com and have had it on my bookshelf since July. As part of the TBR 2010 Challenge I'm working on reading books I already own so this was the perfect choice.
*** My Thoughts ***
I'd heard of the Serum Run and seen the cartoon based on it (see the trailer below) but that was all I really knew about this event in history. I definitely learned a lot from reading this book and I enjoyed it as well. It is exactly the type of non-fiction I enjoy: well-written, engaging, and about a topic I find interesting.
The book's format worked well for me. Chapters alternated between the developing outbreak of diphtheria and the history of Nome and dog-sledding. The historical chapters were helpful to me because they provided background that made the outbreak, it's repercussions, and the delivery of the serum easy to understand. Another important storyline was the conflict between technology and tradition, with opposing factions pushing for the serum to either be delivered by plane (air deliveries were then being introduced in Alaska) or by dog-sled.
The parts I enjoyed the most were the sections that focused on the dog-sled drivers themselves. Not much is known about many of the men who participated in the Serum Run. Although some were quite famous, most of them lived quiet lives and got very little media attention after the fact. The famous ones were VERY famous though; it was interesting (and at times sad) to read how their lives changed in the following years. But it was the fate of some of the dogs that really got to me. There definitely were not happy endings all around, although there were some good things that happened.
It's strange how the circumstances in which you're reading can sometimes make or break a book. The events of the Serum Run took place in late January/early February 1925; I was reading the book in late January during very cold weather, so that enhanced my enjoyment quite a bit. At the same time, I had strep throat so bad that it was almost impossible to swallow, so reading about children with diphtheria who were slowly strangling to death as their throats became covered in a mucus membrane was even more chilling to me.
*** Movies ***
The story of the Serum Run was made into a cartoon called Balto in 1995. Although it is a cute story it is only very loosely based on fact. Still, it gets the point across and it is fun to watch. Here's a trailer in case you've never seen it.
*** Your Thoughts ***
The only post I could find about this book was a list of recommendations from Dreamybee. In it she mentions that her memory of the doctor could be off, and I have to say that it is. The doctor had actually ordered a new case of serum several months before the outbreak but it never came in on the delivery ships.
Are you familiar with the history of the Serum Run? Have you read this book? Seen the cartoon? Is there a time or place in history that you seem to read about all the time, like me with my fixation on the polar regions?