Typhoid Mary: An Urban Historical

Typhoid Mary: An Urban Historical

3.4 32
by Anthony Bourdain

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ISBN-10: 1582341338

ISBN-13: 9781582341330

Pub. Date: 05/04/2001

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA

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


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.

Product Details

Bloomsbury USA
Publication date:
Urban Historical Series
Edition description:
1st U.S. Edition
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 7.30(h) x 0.70(d)

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Typhoid Mary: An Urban Historical 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 32 reviews.
TexasStarVA More than 1 year ago
Only 112 pages long (11 short chapters), so it's a bit overpriced for what Bourdain admits is not a definitive biography, but rather a chef's take on the legendary food-poisoner. Bourdain explains food preparation and eating habits at the turn of the century, making the case that Typhoid Mary must have been a very fine chef, indeed. He does a great job of telling her story and telling it well. Hey, she only killed three people, OK? As Bourdain points out, things have not changed all that much in a hundred years. A careless kitchen team can wipe out dozens if not hundreds of unsuspecting customers with Salmonella or E. Coli, and it can still be so hard to trace back to the source. Typhoid is a type of Salmonella that is still very difficult to treat, so not much change there, either. Great story, read it in about four hours. Bourdain is an excellent writer, will look for more from this author.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This slender volume is a lot like the sumptuous meals that were popular among the wealthy turn-of-the-last-century New Yorkers: it's rich and overstuffed. 'Typhoid Mary: An Urban Historical' by Anthony Bourdain is loaded with references to that milieu's passion for all things fancy, especially food, and how one woman, without intent or malice, sent a panic throughout it. Mr. Boudain, a very successful chef in his own right, is the perfect chronicler of this saga. His sympathy/empathy for Mary (Typhoid Mary) Mallon is evident throughout the text. (His final gesture of burying a gift at her grave was very moving.) He understands Mary's territorial sprayings in the kitchen, and how she felt that no one had the right to prevent her from working in it. And although he feels for her, he is not callous to the havoc and tragedy she created. There is also a little bit of a detective story here. And I enjoyed the juxtaposition of the first time Mary was tracked down and the last time. The limited range of the book is the only drawback. I felt as though I had read something that was part of a larger work. In gustatory terms, I felt I had eaten a tasty main course with some side dishes, but was denied the appetizer and dessert. Again, Mr. Bourdain's final farewell to Mary at the gravesite was moving, but sort of abruptly ended the story. But I'm nitpicking. 'Typhoid Mary: An Urban Historical' is a wonderful diversion.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book adds much useful and interesting color to the history of Ms. Mary Mallon, the woman who became known as Typhoid Mary. Mr. Bourdain takes his experiences as a chef and extends them into imagining what life was like for Ms. Mallon. He also tries to look at circumstances from her perspective, rather than the authorities who hounded her. If you don't know the story, you should be aware that Ms. Mallon was a cook. She was a poor, single Irish immigrant who had to depend on her own efforts to make her way. Apparently, she was an above average cook, because she had an easier time staying employed than most cooks of the wealthy did at that time. In the early 1900s, typhoid fever was a common disease. About one in ten who contracted it died. There was no treatment for it. You just got very sick. Antiobiotics and vaccines eventually became available, but not until the 1940s. Some people who have the disease never get very sick, but never totally get over it. They continue to carry the bacteria in their intestinal system. The discharge of that system can then cause healthy people to become ill if they ingest the bacteria in their water or food. Cooked food is not usually a source, but ice cream can be. Many of Ms. Mallon's diners fondly remembered her peach ice cream. She was discovered as the possible source when a wealthy family in Oyster Harbor came down in typhoid in 1904. The investigator looked into the fact that the cook had disappeared. Checking her employment history with an agency, he found that every family she had cooked for during the past several years had experienced typhoid. A new scientific theory was developing that some people could be continuous carriers. He wanted to find her and test her blood. He eventually found her cooking on Park Avenue for a family with typhoid in 1907. The book details the unpleasant way that he treated her. Eventually, she was arrested after a tussle with five policement following an afternoon of hiding in a privy. The samples confirmed that she was a carrier. The health department incarcerated her for several years. Due to the efforts of her attorney and favorable press coverage, the health department relented and let her out if she promised not to cook again. That was a mistake. How else could she earn a living? Someone needed to provide her different employment and supervise her. After five years, there was a tremendous outbreak of typhoid among the doctors, nurses and patients at a hospital for pregnant women and newborns. Yes, Ms. Mallone was the cook. She spent the rest of her life in isolation at a hospital on an island, and worked in a laboratory there. She was allowed day trips away from the hospital, so it wasn't totally awful. She left bequests totally $4650 when she died in 1938 from the money she saved while working in the laboratory. Ironically, her disease may have protected her from the worst of the Depression. The best parts of the book detail what goes on in a busy kitchen, the psychology of how cooks think about patrons, and the role that cleanliness plays (or usually doesn't play) in all of this. I was particularly impressed by the argument that cooks (and chefs, apparently) always work sick. There is also a lot of intersting material on how cleanliness in the kitchens of the rich had become the rage around 1900. You will get a clear sense of Ms. Mallon's frustration. She appears to have genuinely felt that she had done nothing wrong. From a civil liberties point of view, she was kept isolated under health odinances without so much as a court hearing. The book needed to explore the civil liberties issues more in order to make this a five star book. The book also would have benefited from a look at how else her case might have been better handled. I was struck that there were only three confirmed deaths traced to her employment. I'm sorry that there were three, but for her notoriety I would have thought the number would have be
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed the chef's perspective of the plight of a fellow chef. His descriptions of the customs of the times and of the "culture" that chef's have is what makes this book more than a matter of fact presentation of history.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
interesting informative
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
MicheleCN More than 1 year ago
The subject was very interesting, but I bought it because I like history. The author seemed to make up what he THOUGHT someone may be thinking. He also seemed to be very forgiving of a person who killed people even when she knew what she was doing and could have remedied her behavior by simply washing her hands. Excuses for her actions were plentiful from the author. He also seemed to almost despise the man who was trying to stop her. He kept telling us what the man probably was thinking. Since he could not possibly know any of this, he should just stick to the facts. This was not good history in my opinion.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I thought this was going to be a history of Typhoid Mary but it turned out to be the author's idea of what her life was like and how she ''may have'' felt. He seemed to do very little research other than her real name and where she was quarantined. He spent more time describing what life in NY city was like at the time than anything about Mary herself. Waste of time and money.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I had to do this book for school and its reaally long and drawn out I think the auther should have summed up a lot of the pargraphs or just left them out This book is very informative but very boring
Ruthaneric More than 1 year ago
I learned a lot about the spread of typhoid and how the culture and living conditions contributed to the spread of the disease. I learned Mary was not the total cause of the spread but how she was persecuted for the problem - most unfairly. Caused me to wash my hands more thoroughly every day however.
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JOMONV More than 1 year ago
I've read books by Anthony Bourdain before and he is a great writer, but this book (more like a long essay) was written in such a pretentious style. The description of the book does not match the actual book.
anonomas More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Title drew me in. Book was disappointing. Even though the book was short it felt like it could have been shorter.
nightreaderWA More than 1 year ago
Great insite to life in England during the typhoid epidemic. Very bad conditions and cruel treatment.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Maggie59MS More than 1 year ago
This book is not terribly well written but that having been said, it is an interesting story told from a very different perspective. Those working in the food industry have a different take on the world. The cooking/food descriptions were a bit long and tedious to those who have never worked in a kitchen. Overall - I enjoyed it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I felt that this book was written in an amateurish fashion with entirely too much space devoted to material that had little or nothing to do with the actual story. It could easily have been written by a mid-level high school student as a project with some historical fact but allot of filler. Pitiful effort on this one. Don't waste your money. Stephanie Clanahan
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The long food descriptions were hard to get through. Forced myself to finish the book in slow parts.
1954_Stratocaster More than 1 year ago
The author bio is in need of serious updating if it is still stuck in the amber of “No Reservations”.  Bourdain is on his third TV series now, the latest of which is on a different network.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago