Get Well Soon

History's Worst Plagues and the Heroes Who Fought Them
Narrated by: Gabra Zackman
Length: 7 hrs and 44 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (8,215 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

A witty, irreverent tour of history's worst plagues - from the Antonine Plague, to leprosy, to polio - and a celebration of the heroes who fought them.

In 1518, in a small town in Alsace, Frau Troffea began dancing and didn't stop. She danced until she was carried away six days later, and soon 34 more villagers joined her. Then more. In a month more than 400 people had been stricken by the mysterious dancing plague. In late-19th-century England an eccentric gentleman founded the No Nose Club in his gracious townhome - a social club for those who had lost their noses, and other body parts, to the plague of syphilis for which there was then no cure. And in turn-of-the-century New York, an Irish cook caused two lethal outbreaks of typhoid fever, a case that transformed her into the notorious Typhoid Mary.

Throughout time, humans have been terrified and fascinated by the diseases history and circumstance have dropped on them. Some of their responses to those outbreaks are almost too strange to believe in hindsight. Get Well Soon delivers the gruesome, morbid details of some of the worst plagues we've suffered as a species, as well as stories of the heroic figures who selflessly fought to ease the suffering of their fellow man. With her signature mix of in-depth research and storytelling, and not a little dark humor, Jennifer Wright explores history's most gripping and deadly outbreaks, and ultimately looks at the surprising ways they've shaped history and humanity for almost as long as anyone can remember.

©2017 Jennifer Wright (P)2017 Blackstone Audio, Inc.

Editor's Pick

"Get Well Soon was, pardon the pun, downright contagious among our staff after it released in 2017. Wright presents an otherwise grim and morbid topic—the backstories behind several major plagues throughout history—with humor, reverence, and style, and Gabra Zackman expertly channels the author's wit."
Sam D., Audible Editor

What listeners say about Get Well Soon

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    2 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

Just listen to the podcast Sawbones for free

I had high expectations for this book. But I found it profoundly disappointing. The research for this book is mediocre at best. Only 7.5 hours of discussing all the major pandemics of human history? Did Wright research this in a week using Wikipedia? This is the level of research I expect from free podcasts. In fact, many educational podcasts have more and more interesting information. If you liked this book, try the Sawbones podcast. Not only are the hosts far more endearing and entertaining, but one of them is an actual medical doctor -- an element sorely missed in this book. More than once Wright professes that the science it too hard for her to explain. So... maybe write a book on a different topic? Wright makes the bizarre choice to break from informative narration to first-person asides occasionally, and asking rhetorical questions. She is constantly referencing pop culture, which is not necessarily bad, but also feels pandering to keep a less-than-intelligent audience interested in what she herself seems to find dry material. Shockingly, I did not download this book to get her opinion. I wanted juicy, gross details of horrific death. Or, if I did have to suffer her forcibly inserting herself into the narration, I wish she was funnier. She's not very funny. I don't really care how she personally feels about John Snow, and I didn't download the book for her to digress into criticism of Woodrow Wilson's racism. Wright spends a lot of time talking about heroes and cowards surrounding the pandemics -- doctors, missionaries, and villains. While these people are integral to the story, her arbitrary and sometimes poorly supported opinions are meaningless. She editorializes far too much, and in a way that doesn't add to the content of the book. It feels like wasted time and unnecessary fluff surrounding a topic that has more than enough information and disgusting details to entertain for a mere 7.5 hours. This book is not academic. It's somewhat informative. If you have a curious mind, you will likely treat this book as a series of cinematic trailers for better researched and written books on the individual diseases. Wright seems to have skimmed the most interesting facts out of these books and compiled them along with her own unsolicited opinions. But in the end, it's almost interesting. Almost. I learned some interesting facts that dangled alluringly, but were left frustratingly unexplored by the author. Wright's personal narrative voice is annoying. Either she is incapable of more powerfully researched writing, or she intentionally made this book simplistic in order to serve a very basic audience. If the latter is true, consider it a Young Adult book that just so happens to cover a gruesome topic.

19 people found this helpful

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Human Reactions to Historical Disasters

I loved this audiobook, far more than I had expected to. I feared that it might be another collection of awful diseases which pander to our desire for the macabre. But this was a Daily Deal from Audible and the ratings there and on Good Reads were excellent, so I took a chance. I’m glad that I did because this book was so much more than I had imagined.

To be sure the author, Jennifer Wright, does describe ghastly details of some pretty dreadful diseases, some of the worst plagues in the history of mankind. However, she does so in the context of history and discusses the significant effects that each of these had on individual people and their society as a whole. The course of our history was altered by some of these epidemics, but even more so by the leadership of those societies and the reactions of the populace. She explains that when faced with catastrophe, each of us can choose how we will react, and we can learn much from examining those who have come before us. We can be thoughtful, rational, and kind, or we can panic and, in our fear, do great harm to the afflicted, a reaction that will help no one but will harm many.

This book describes real heroes and villains, and Wright strongly suggests that we choose to model our behavior on the former. There is humor sprinkled throughout the tragedy of illness and death, but she never resorts to cheap jokes or self-serving asides; rather the author is able to leaven the horror of these truly awful diseases with irony and valuable lessons to be learned. Her book is well-researched and fact-based, but Wright isn’t shy about clearly expressing her opinions, always clearly identifying her editorial comments, owning them completely.

I was aware of most of these diseases and knew generally how they had impacted history, but this book provided better context for understanding and thinking more deeply about them. The chronology of the past 2000 years was clear in this book, and the reactions of various societies to terror from these mysterious, uncontrollable disasters, have given me much to consider. It isn’t a question of IF another plague will occur; it is a question of WHEN, and HOW we will behave, individually and collectively, when that happens.

I highly recommend this book.

33 people found this helpful

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Didn't know syphilis could be so fascinating.

This book was definitely worth the credit.
I learned a lot of interesting facts that I hadn't been aware of before listening to this book.
I had a pretty good grasp and was fairly well informed about some of these topics in this book but still managed to learn new things even from those.
I like the way she managed to talk about these things in a somewhat lighthearted yet not irreverent way.
Of course with the book being less than eight hours in length you were not going to get an in-depth study of any of the topics covered by the author.
For most people though, I think this book would be very informative and quite adequate for someone who would just like to broaden their knowledge of these historical events.
I actually did find the section about syphilis quite fascinating.
Of course not the disease itself but some of the attempts at helping those individuals to try and live a more normal life.
It is odd how some of these epidemics brought out the best in people and others, not so much.
I think the narrator was perfect for this book as well.
I have not listen to any of her narration before but thought that she was very good.

103 people found this helpful

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Snark level a little too high, research a bit low

I've got nothing against leavening a serious subject with humor (I love Mary Roach for example), but in this book the snark is way over the top, and the humorous(?) asides tend to overwhelm the serious stories. Otherwise, the material is pretty lightweight, and almost all of the topics are better covered in other books, such as "The Great Influenza".

22 people found this helpful

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Such A Great Surprise

I never thought I would be so absorbed by a book about this subject matter. I rarely ever read non fiction. So this was a risky purchase for me. Boy did I have nothing to worry about! I sat in the car in my driveway just to keep listening. Ran late leaving for work because I was lost in it. It's also quite funny at many moments. Just such a great surprise.

79 people found this helpful

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Fascinating read for anyone interested in the history of human behavior in response to fear

This book is 100% entertaining, especially in audio format. I work in public health and laughed out loud many times at the author's dark sense of humor so clearly emitted from a place of compassion and empathy for all those courageous, cowering, brilliant and simple souls that have gone before us.

55 people found this helpful

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Highly informative with a humorous twist

Any additional comments?

As a physician, I found the book informative and fascinating. The book was medically accurate, although a little simplistic in places. The background story of the individuals involved added to the medical data presented. Wright's very dry sense of humor was genuinely funny and entertaining. The only problem was the narration. The reader had frequent bursts of too rapid reading, with a nasal tone. It was actually difficult to understand during some of the hurried segments. Overall though I would still highly recommend the volume to medical and non-medical persons alike.

91 people found this helpful

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Too Many Jokes...

This is a book that does a lot of good things only to drown itself in a flood of attempted humor and needless editorializing. I think it's important to start with the strengths of this book: a series of well-told anecdotes highlighting times in human history where humanity has wrestled with disease. It's not a deep dive into history but it doesn't present itself as such so I actually quite enjoyed the casual approach to the story telling. The section on the Roman plagues of the 2nd century AD was a particular highlight for this reviewer - superbly written and well-told.

So why the low rating? Where this books really fails is that these stories are saturated with constant sarcastic asides and high school level editorializing. I'm not saying the author is completely without a sense of humor but there's just FAR too many attempts at it and it's almost entirely sarcasm-based so even if the jokes landed, say, 75% of the time (they don't for me but humor is subjective and I'm trying to be as objective as possible) those 25% that don't land mean that there are still multiple jokes per page that don't land! And even when they do, the humor is all done in this sarcastic pithy observational style that really grated on me; 'exhausting' is the term I'd use. Likewise, while I'm accepting of an author injecting their opinion into a book like this, the author's stances here are typically a simple 'this was good/bad' type of statement. I am not exaggerating for effect here; there are multiple opinion paragraphs that begin with the sentence 'this was very very bad.' The disservice to the reader here is twofold. First it underestimates their intelligence (let me make that decision huh?) and second, it doesn't allow for any sort of nuance. A particularly glaring example was the story of how the US government suppressed the medical threat of Spanish Influenza during WWI. 'This was bad' our astute author tells us and sure, I'm inclined to agree but there are all sort of degrees of morality here that would be better served with a true discussion rather than simplified 'THE VERDICT IS X!' writing

On a final note, I think it's important to concur and add a little clarity to other reviews who call out some of the politics of this book. I too roll my eyes at people who see politics everywhere but don't dismiss those reviews out of hand; it's not that the book constantly harps on politics but rather that the occasional political reference within perfectly highlights what doesn't work about this book's tone. Regardless of whether you love or hate Donald Trump, using his unpredictable tweeting habits as a point of comparison in a section about 2nd century Roman History is 1. distracting 2. forced and 3. a cliche. The political equivalent of 'whats the deal with airline food?' material...

36 people found this helpful

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This book made me sick (in a really great way)

What made the experience of listening to Get Well Soon the most enjoyable?

Jennifer Wright is both a brilliant person and a very funny one. Only a great writer could find humor in and bring humor to plagues, epidemics, and some of the people associated with them. She also reserves great admiration for the heroes of modern epidemiology and disease control- people like Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin and thousands of unrecognized men and women who doing fieldwork in hot zones all over the world.She does not reserve her scorn for those who blocked progress in the area of prevention.Her writing is scientific, accurate,approachable, and sometimes snarky and sarcastic.She had me at the first microbe.

Who was your favorite character and why?

President Roosevelt, Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin who together brought the fight against polio to a victory. President Roosevelt and his Warm Springs Foundation created not only a therapeutic respite for polio patients but he supported fundraising efforts to provide the research dollars needed. Dr. Salk, who refused to patent his vaccine saying it belonged to the world and Dr Sabin who developed a lifelong vaccine with an easier administration method-all heroes. At this time through the efforts and funds provided by Rotary International and the WHO polio is close to eradication in the environment.There are many others who get shout-outs from Wright along the way and a few who get condemnation such as the "Lobotomy King" Walter Freeman who stole people's personalities and lives with his icepick lobotomies.

Which character – as performed by Gabra Zackman – was your favorite?

Roosevelt, Salk and Sabin stand tall in my pantheon not only for their brilliance but also for there selflessness.

If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

Either-You'll be glad you weren't alive for most of this stuff or thank a public health officer every day

Any additional comments?

What a wonderful narrator is Gabra Zackman-she handles scientific words and names and really disgusting disease descriptions with aplomb. She also communicates the author's witty, sometimes snarky style so well. Considering the subject manner, a light touch is often a welcomed relief.

25 people found this helpful

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Enjoyable

I purchased this book thinking it would get a bit more into the science but that's not what it does. Still, it was enjoyable hearing about the various maladies and the outcomes. The reader is fantastic.

30 people found this helpful