The Book

The first Americans in the Middle East were teachers, printers, and missionaries, and one was a country doctor from upstate New York. In June 1835 Asahel Grant, M.D., sailed from Boston with his bride Judith to heal the sick and save the world. Their destination: the town of Urmia, in northwest Iran. Their intended flock: the Nestorian Christians who lived there and in the mountains of Hakkari, across the border in Turkish Kurdistan.

Into the next eight years Grant packed ten lifetimes’ worth of danger, traversing deserts and glaciers, tending the sick, breaking bread with thieves and murderers, and narrowly escaping death from drowning, disease, and assassination. By 1840 he had lost Judith and two daughters to disease; yet by the time he died, at age 36, everyone in the mountains knew his name, and thirty years later Muslims, Christians, and Jews still spoke of "Hakim Grant" with reverence.

Grant was a walking contradiction: a saint who neglected his children; a missionary who "converted" only Christians; a doctor who poisoned himself with his own medicine; an apolitical man whose very existence bristled with political import. In 1841, amid this whirlwind life, he became a successful author with his book The Nestorians; or, The Lost Tribes. Grant is buried in Mosul, Iraq, where he died in 1844.

"With Fever and Thirst, Gordon Taylor has wrought a timely miracle. His exhaustive study of the adventures and misadventures of the 19th-century American doctor and missionary Asahel Grant sheds tremendous light on our present-day misadventures in Iraq. Grant, who devoted the last years of his life to bringing spiritual and physical medicine to the people of Kurdistan (a land carved up today into portions of Turkey and Iraq) was, noble intentions and all, ultimately overwhelmed by the combined fortunes of nature, disease, and epic skullduggery of the kind American troops and bureaucrats are confronting in that part of the world today. His story, an inspiring tragedy, is a classic illustration of what happens when American naïveté butts heads with old-world wisdom, cynicism, and intrigue.

"Fever and Thirst is not only a riveting story, however; it is an instructive one as well. Taylor is not content to pass on the superficial and lurid details of Grant’s life—he is intent on bringing 19th-century Kurdistan alive for the contemporary reader. Taylor captures everything—from the forbidding landscape and its exotic germs to its rich human tapestry—with the eye of an expert thoroughly in love with his subject. And the reader who takes all this in will never look the same way at that part of the world again."

--Fred Moody, journalist and editor. Author of Seattle and the Demons of Ambition (St. Martin’s Press: 2003); The Visionary Position (Times Business: 1999); and I Sing the Body Electronic: A Year with Microsoft on the Multimedia Frontier (Viking: 1995).