Books: The Pesth Fool

THE CRY AND THE COVENANT (469 pp.)—Morton Thompson—Doubleday ($3.50).

One hot day in August 1865, a bald, middle-aged man lunged through the streets of Budapest thrusting circulars into the hands of startled pedestrians. "Young men and women! You are in mortal danger!" they read. "The peril of childbed fever menaces your life! Beware of doctors, for they will kill you! Remember! When you enter labor unless everything that touches you is washed with soap and water and then chlorine solution, you will die and your child with you! . . . Your friend, Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis."

Forty-seven-year-old Dr. Semmelweis, professor of obstetrics at...

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