Book Report: House on Fire

I am a part of a global health bookclub and we just finished reading House On Fire by William Foege (a global health guru!) which is about the eradication of smallpox.

Book cover of House on Fire by William Foege.

The book is compelling, well written, and captivating. It is largely set in India during a several-month-long effort in the 1970’s to find and treat smallpox cases, vaccinate those close to the patients, and convince authorities that the novel plan would work.


We talked a lot about one quote in the book….

People with wealth and education in a country like the United States can read about a new idea in the New York Times in the morning and be applying it in the afternoon. Those without education or money, whether in the United States or in Africa, cannot. Lacking the resources to change their future, they fall prey to a certain fatalism. Through the years I have come to see fatalism, the assumption that you can’t really change your future, as one of the great challenges in global public health.

Discussion Questions about House on Fire

We talked a lot about how fatalism isn’t a challenge just to public health but to all advancement, development, and positive growth and change. What do you think? IS fatalism the great challenge?

Is the antidote to fatalism optimism? If so, how do we grow and share our optimism? How can optimism overtake the fatalism to allow for a growth mindset? What has worked for you?

More Reading on Smallpox

Interested in learning more about the eradication of smallpox? Want to read more about the author of House on Fire from from his colleague? Check out my review of Mary Guinan’s book “Adventures of a Female Medical Detective”

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