From Publishers Weekly
In 1900, a ship called the Australia docked in San Francisco, carrying infected rats that launched a plague epidemic in the city, which raged sporadically for five years before it was subdued. Chase, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, argues in this engaging narrative that social, cultural and psychological issues prevented public health officials from curtailing the outbreak. Relying on published sources, diaries and letters, Chase shows how the disease first hit Chinatown and explains that most San Franciscans denied the outbreak, while others blamed the city's Chinese population (city officials hid behind worries about tourism and the city's reputation). But Chase goes beyond sociological analysis in this lively work and focuses on the players. While the first public health official assigned to stem the epidemic, Joseph Kinyoun, was an innovative scientist, Chase shows how he lacked the strategy and tact necessary for the task-his plan to quarantine Chinatown caused as many problems as it solved. Only when Rupert Blue, a new official, was assigned to the case after a second outbreak five years later, was the epidemic quashed. 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, and the lessons worth salting away for any future epidemics.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From School Library Journal
Adult/High School-Chase's knowledge of the city and skill for making scientific concepts accessible to educated lay readers make this snapshot of a relatively unknown event vivid and thought provoking. Bubonic plague entered the port of San Francisco with the 20th century. For the next decade, it defied both medical and political efforts to eradicate it from an urban landscape fraught with ethnic distrust, new money, and old customs. The author offers a clear and telling portrait of the roles played by Chinese merchant societies, the white press, and Sacramento officials that initially enabled the disease to gain a foothold. She then turns most of her attention to detailing the scientific and personal strengths and weaknesses of the national public health officials who worked to determine efficient ways to diagnose, treat, and eventually halt the spread of the disease. In addition to finding readers among students already interested in modern medicine, Chase's book is a fine selection for ethnic studies and political science classes. Although the few photos do little to expand the narrative, the thumbnail descriptions of the disparate lives altered, ended, or detoured by San Francisco's experience with rats, fleas, and disease provide concrete images for readers with any imagination.
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Francisca Goldsmith, Berkeley Public Library, CA
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.