Red Madness, by Gail Jarrow (book review) – medical mystery & modern food science

book cover of Red Madness by Gail Jarrow published by Calkins CreekPellagra…
a disease brought on by poverty?
bad sanitation? poor nutrition?

Wait! When was the last time you heard of anyone suffering from its bright red rashes, impaired digestive system, delirious visions, and death?

Thanks to the doctors who wouldn’t quit searching for answers, you probably never will!

Red Madness recounts the medical sleuthing involved and tells why pellagra is listed as an inactive disease in today’s USA.
Thankfully, all the historic photos are in black and white.


Book info: Red Madness: How a Medical Mystery Changed What We Eat / Gail Jarrow. Calkins Creek, 2014.  [author site]  [publisher site]   Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

My book talk: Baffled by a Europe-only disease appearing in the southern USA before World War I, scientists and doctors raced to find the cause of pellagra which led to insanity and death.

Some blamed the disease on moldy corn or sugarcane products, others stated that only poor people in squalor contracted pellagra. When a well-to-do Atlanta woman died of its painful red rashes, weight loss, and delirium under none of these conditions, US doctors and researchers began having conferences to stop this deadly killer. Was it contagious? Was it dietary?

Red Madness shares case histories and photographs of pellagra sufferers in the early 20th century and chronicles the medical detective work of Babcock, Goldberger, and others who devoted countless hours of observation and research to conquering this fatal disease.  (One of 6,000 books recommended on

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