Anthony Bourdain became an author-celebrity of sorts when when Kitchen
Confidential, his tell-all memoir of life behind the kitchen doors
in the ritziest of restaurants, was released in 2000. His writing is fast,
fun, and chatty, so it is intriguing to see him turn his hand to a piece
of historical nonfiction. And indeed, in Typhoid Mary, Bourdain
profiles the legendary figure of Mary Mallon with his customary finesse
and charm. Mallon worked as a cook in several wealthy homes before being
discovered as the cause of several outbreaks of typhoid fever. After being
tracked down (no small feat, the authorities soon discovered) and incarcerated
for three years she was released, and almost immediately resumed working
with food, continuing to spread the fatal disease she carried. Her reputation
as a grim reaper scything her way through New York derived from her high
profile in the media, where she was portrayed as malevolently continuing
to infect people while evading the authorities and working under false
names. Her Irish immigrant status and feisty temper didn't help matters,
offending the genteel sensibilities of the time. Yet there is more to
her story than her nickname suggests. Bourdain paints a vivid and sympathetic
portrait of life lived by both wealthy and poor at the turn of the century,
as well as wittily exposing the hypocrisies of the society within which
unfortunate Mary Mallon found herself. Georgie Lewis, Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
From the best-selling author of Kitchen Confidential comes this true, thrilling tale of pursuit through the kitchens of New York City at the turn of the century.
By the late nineteenth century, it seemed that New York City had put an end to the outbreaks of typhoid fever that had so frequently decimated the city's population. That is until 1904, when the disease broke out in a household in Oyster Bay, Long Island. Authorities suspected the family cook, Mary Mallon, of being a carrier. But before she could be tested, the woman, soon to be known as Typhoid Mary, had disappeared. Over the course of the next three years, Mary worked at several residences, spreading her pestilence as she went. In 1907, she was traced to a home on Park Avenue, and taken into custody. Institutionalized at Riverside Hospital for three years, she was released only when she promised never to work as a cook again. She promptly disappeared.
For the next five years Mary worked in homes and institutions in and around New York, often under assumed names. In February 1915, a devastating outbreak of typhoid at the Sloane Hospital for Women was traced to her. She was finally apprehended and reinstitutionalized at Riverside Hospital, where she would remain for the rest of her life.
Typhoid Mary is the story of her infamous life. Anthony Bourdain reveals the seedier side of the early 1900s, and writes with his renowned panache about life in the kitchen, uncovering the horrifying conditions that allowed the deadly spread of typhoid over a decade. Typhoid Mary is a true feast for history lovers and Bourdain lovers alike.
"Investing a tragic tale with a new twist, Bourdain plays historical detective, providing an entertaining and suspenseful evocation of turn-of-the-century New York."—Booklist
"[Bourdain] presents Mallon's story as a tale of hot pursuit, with the rude gusto and barbed wit that made Kitchen Confidential such a full-bodied pleasure."—Adam Shatz, The New York Times Book Review
About the Author
is the bestselling author of Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly
, and the author of the novels: Bone in the Throat
and Gone Bamboo
. He is the executive chef at Brasserie Les Halles in New York City.