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The Barbary Plague: The Black Death in Victorian San Franciscoby Marilyn Chase
Synopses & Reviews
The Australia sailed into, the port of San Francisco on the day after New Year's, 1900. The steamer passed an inspection, but some of her stowaways — infected shipboard rats — escaped detection and made their way into the city's sewer system. Two months later, the first human case of bubonic plague erupted in Chinatown.
Quarantine officer Joseph Kinyoun confirmed the diagnosis and placed the Chinese under strict quarantine. Kinyoun was a gifted bacteriologist, but he lacked the finesse his position demanded — he was branded an alarmist and roundly mocked by the press. So, when a second epidemic erupted five years later, Dr. Rupert Blue was placed in command. He and Colby Rucker, his charming right-hand man, won the trust of San Franciscans and preached sanitation to contain the disease. But it was when he discovered the source of the plague — fleas on the city's rats — that he finally eradicated it.
For almost twenty years, Marilyn Chase has covered medical science for The Wall Street Journal, and she brings a deep understanding of the effects of politics, race, and geography on public health, especially in her hometown of San Francisco. With stunning narrative immediacy, fortified by rich research, The Barbary Plague transports us to the city during the end of the gilded age — a roiling melting pot of different races and cultures, nearly destroyed by an earthquake and then reborn, thanks in no small part to the tireless efforts of Rupert Blue and his motley crew of pied pipers.
"Outbreaks of disease can catalyze either courage or cowardice in individuals and society. In vivid prose and at a pulse-quickening pace, Marilyn Chase brings to life a largely forgotten story of a time when America?s character was tested. There is much to learn about how to confront uncertainty from this remarkable tale." Jerome Groopman, M.D., author of The Measure of Our Days and Second Opinions
"Avoiding pedantry and tediousness, Chase tells a story that highlights the true nature of epidemics — and how employing a combination of acceptance, perseverance and diplomacy are key to solving them. As she notes in her final pages, the parallels with the AIDS crisis are striking..." Publishers Weekly
"If the folks at Homeland Security read one book this year, let it be Marilyn Chase's The Barbary Plague, for the way it captures in precise detail how political and business imperatives can impede the battle against a deadly epidemic, in this case the bubonic plague — the fabled Black Death — in old San Francisco. The city's leaders, even its health department, fought the news of plague's arrival more aggressively than the disease itself, despite the deaths of dozens of victims. But Chase's book is also simply a great story told of a long past time when a few heroic men, armed with only the most basic knowledge of infectious disease, stood up to the powers arrayed against them and, through ingenuity and intuition, at last ran this epidemic to ground." Erik Larson, author of The Devil in the White City
Includes bibliographical references (p. -262) and index.
About the Author
Marilyn Chase, a longtime reporter for The Wall Street Journal, covers medical science and health care, currently focusing on infectious-disease outbreaks and bioterrorism. An honors graduate of Stanford University who also holds a master?s degree from the University of California at Berkeley, Chase lives with her family in San Francisco.
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