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Quarantine!: East European Jewish Immigrants and the New York City Epidemics of 1892 [Paperback]

by Howard Markel
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)

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Book Description

April 26, 1999 0801861802 978-0801861802

In Quarantine! Howard Markel traces the course of the typhus and cholera epidemics that swept through New York City in 1892. The story is told from the point of view of those involved—the public health doctors who diagnosed and treated the victims, the newspaper reporters who covered the stories, the government officials who established and enforced policy, and, most importantly, the immigrants themselves. Drawing on rarely cited stories from the Yiddish American press, immigrant diaries and letters, and official accounts, Markel follows the immigrants on their journey from a squalid and precarious existence in Russia's Pale of Settlement, to their passage in steerage, to New York's Lower East Side, to the city's quarantine islands. At a time of renewed anti-immigrant sentiment and newly emerging infectious diseases, Quarantine! provides a historical context for considering some of the significant problems that face American society today.

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

A Ph.D. in the history of science, medicine, and technology, Markel is director of the Historical Center for the Health Sciences at the University of Michigan. Here he skillfully explores the social, cultural, medical, and political issues surrounding the quarantine of East European Jewish immigrants during the typhus and cholera epidemics in 1892 New York City. He cites an impressive array of primary and secondary sources, including Yiddish American newspapers, congressional records, public health records, and the personal correspondence of public health officials and of the immigrants themselves. Using these materials, Markel supports very effectively his assertion that although the epidemics were indeed public health threats, the quarantine of the Jewish immigrants had more to do with prejudice, class distinctions, and political scapegoating than with the consistent employment of the scientific method. Highly recommended for medical history collections, this book would be an excellent companion to Alan M. Kraut's broader Silent Travelers: Germs, Genes, and the Immigrant Menace (LJ 1/94).?Ximena Chrisagis, Wright State Univ., Dayton, Ohio
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From The New England Journal of Medicine

Epidemic diseases have inspired many fine works of historical scholarship, including Charles Rosenberg's The Cholera Years (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962) and Richard Evans's Death in Hamburg (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987). Howard Markel's excellent study of two 1892 epidemics in New York City is a welcome addition to this genre of medical history. Beautifully written and thoroughly researched, Quarantine! will appeal to both general readers and specialists in the field.

Markel tells a compelling story of two epidemics that became tragically linked to one particular immigrant group -- the Eastern European Jews. Fleeing from the starvation and violence of czarist Russia, they encountered a hostile new world in Gilded Age New York. The first part of Markel's book recounts an outbreak of typhus fever in February 1892, which was traced to Jewish immigrants arriving on the SS Massilia. The New York City Department of Public Health ordered a dragnet of the Lower East Side to round up all the ship's passengers, healthy as well as sick, and quarantined them under unsanitary conditions at the city lazaretto on North Brother Island. More than a decade before "Typhoid Mary" Mallon gained infamy as a disease carrier, the Massilia Jews became the symbol of the public health dangers of unregulated immigration. As an 1892 editorial in the Journal commented, "We open our doors to squalor and filth and misery -- which mean typhus fever."

The second part of the book examines the cholera epidemic that hit New York City only a few months later. It was also blamed on the Eastern European Jews. Although public health authorities professed their allegiance to bacteriologic principles, Markel argues that the measures adopted to control cholera amounted to little more than quarantine by ethnicity and class. For example, when steamships arrived in New York Harbor with cholera-stricken passengers aboard, those traveling first or second class were allowed to debark, while those in steerage, healthy as well as ill, were placed in quarantine.

In the last section of the book, Markel looks at how the 1892 epidemics contributed to passage of the National Quarantine Act of 1893, which set up a more rigorous system of medical inspection and isolation of immigrants. Markel finds that physicians were deeply divided over quarantine and immigration policy; their lines of debate followed not their differing allegiances to the germ theory of disease, but rather their views on the desirability of immigration itself.

As a practicing physician, Markel takes seriously the need for disease control based on sound scientific principles. Yet he warns against the dangers of a "quarantine mentality," in which "not only does the infectious disease become the `enemy' but, so, too, do the human beings (and their contacts) who have encountered the microbe in question." When a contagious disease becomes linked to a specific group of people, Markel argues, public health authorities must be doubly vigilant to guard those people's individual rights and to combat their stigmatization. As he concludes, "The burden of illness is wearing enough for those stricken with contagious disease without the added social layers of separation." This is a fine piece of history with a timely and thoughtful message; it deserves a wide readership among both health care professionals and professional historians.

Reviewed by Nancy Tomes, Ph.D.
Copyright © 1998 Massachusetts Medical Society. All rights reserved. The New England Journal of Medicine is a registered trademark of the MMS. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 280 pages
  • Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press (April 26, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801861802
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801861802
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 5.8 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #730,223 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Quarantine is a wonderful book! Dr. Markel has written an excellent history of epidemics in New York City during the 1890s--which was a true-life Hot Zone for cholera and typhus. Richly illustrated and beautifully written!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars THE best book I have read on epidemics! February 9, 2000
By A Customer
I have read a lot of books on epidemics and american history and I must say this is the best I have read. Markel does a superb job of bringing the reader right into the hearts and minds of those involved in the epidemics in New York of 1892. He also manages to tell a hell of a good story. No boring historical monograph--this is a scholarly thriller--well documented and well told. I loved it!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant! A compelling and beautifully told story. October 22, 1999
By A Customer
I just finished reading Quarantine! and found it to be the best book I have read in years. A compelling story of two epidemics imported into the United States by Russian Jewish immigrants, the author recounts day by day the events with a vibrancy that is so often missing from historical books. Markel is to be congratulated on telling his story without the crutches of jargon or bias. Each perspective, those of the immigrants themselves, the physicians treating them, New Yorkers, government officials and so on, is handled with brilliance, sensitivity and meticulous research. One really gets a sense of the horrors of "the quarantine" from Dr. Markel's book and I want to thank him profusely for a wonderful reading experience. Bravo!
Signed, "The Constant Reader"
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I loved this book! June 27, 2001
By A Customer
I was assigned to read this book for a history course I took at the University of California at Los Angeles. Like most students, I thought, great, one more book to read. But unlike all the other texts my professor assigned that term--this one blew my socks off! It was great! Well-written, with a pulsating plot, great historical "characters", neat descriptions of diseases of another time. I am recommending it to all my friends and now to all of you on Amazon. Read "Quarantine!"
Ellen F., Los Angeles
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