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The Barbary Plague: The Black Death in Victorian San Francisco Hardcover – March 18, 2003


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1 edition (March 18, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375504966
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375504969
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.6 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,081,176 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

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.
Francisca Goldsmith, Berkeley Public Library, CA
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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Ms. Chase does a great job of making it clear and easy to read and learn about.
Dennis Bianchi
My copy of the book is rife with folded corners on nearly half the pages where my family's history is highlighted by a tidbit of history.
monica
The well researched study of plague in early 20th century San Francisco exposes the ignorance and evils of man during times of crisis.
W. Powell

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 20, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Plague is a fascinating subject because it is so utterly awful and so feared. Marilyn Chase's book not only explains this ancient (and current) disease, it is also a social history of San Francisco at the turn of the century. The disease first struck working-poor Chinese, and the rich white establishment wrongly figured they could stamp it out by being wretched to this minority population. When that didn't work, they denied that plague existed and impugned the public health doctor who kept insisting that it did.
Chase shows the official conspiracy--including the city's press--that not only kept information from the public but actively lied to San Franciscans. Ultimately, she shows that the battle to rid San Francisco of plague was won by persistence, diplomacy and sharing the nitty-gritty facts with the public.
Those who think the plague is a disease of the past, or at least of the Third World, might be interested to read the epilogue. It shows that plague is carried by rodents of the American West, and contains an account of a plague case in New Mexico in 2000.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By R. Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on May 8, 2003
Format: Hardcover
If you know anything about medieval history, you know about the Black Death, the mysterious plague that killed off a third of the population of Europe. It may be surprising to learn that bubonic plague has made its mark on modern America. In 1900 in San Francisco's Chinatown, Wong Chut King died of a precipitous and horrifying illness, starting with a rush of fever and chills, continuing to agonizing back pains, painful lumps in the groin and armpits, bleeding, coma, and ending in death. It seemed to be the plague, and it seemed to city government the worst possible news, not because a resident of Chinatown had died, but because it meant bad economic prospects if the cause of death was found out. The amazing story of the arrival of bubonic plague in America and the difficulties involved in its eventual control is told in _The Barbary Plague: The Black Death in Victorian San Francisco_ (Random House) by Marilyn Chase. It is a surprisingly exciting tale, with lessons for our own century.
The thousands of citizens of Chinatown were worried that discovery of the plague in their midst would only increase the considerable discrimination against them. They were right; the city quarantined Chinatown, eventually with barbed wire, arbitrarily zigzagged to exclude white stores and churches. Joseph Kinyoun, the federal medical officer for the city, tried to impose the quarantine and force vaccines, but Chinese community groups were able to have them struck down as racially discriminatory. Kinyoun was opposed by civic leaders fearing an economic impact if the plague became well known, and was eventually run out of town. His successor, Rupert Blue, had a little more effect, with some control of the plague before 1906, but then came the earthquake.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful By gac1003 on August 11, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is not only a fascinating look into the origins of the bubonic plauge in early San Francisco, tracing the disease's trek from China through Hong Kong to Chinatown in Honolulu and spreading itself in the western frontier of California; it is a view of how racism and politics affected interfered with solution. When plague first appeared in San Francisco, it struck the Chinatown area the hardest, inflaming tensions between the whites and the immigrants. When Dr. Joseph Kinyoun threatened quaratine of the entire area, the businessmen and politicians rose against him, putting the city' s profitability before the public's health. His replacement, Rupert Blue, managed the plague clean-up campaign with much diplomacy and brought about sweeping changes that not only curbed the rise of the plague, but also enhanced the city's image.
This book has it all -- poitical intrigue, racism, a disease out of control, heroes and villains. Sometimes non-fiction can be better than most novels, and in this case, it makes for a great book well worth reading.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By K. L Sadler VINE VOICE on May 12, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I was raised in Contra Costa County to the east of San Francisco. And of course, we went through state history while in grade school. But not once were we told about the Plague, though we heard plenty about the earthquake and the San Andreas faultline. It came as a complete surprise to me that SF had experienced one more trauma during that decade from 1900-1910...they did not just experience the plague once, but rather a series of them. I guess with all the shipping that SF used to be known for, much of it coming from the Orient, it should not have been so unusual. Much of the area that this happened in has changed drastically over the years, including Chinatown, but I still remember going to Chinatown in the 1960s and seeing butcher shops with dead ducks hanging in the windows.
Most cities had problems with rats. If they thought SF was bad, I hate to think what Chicago was like with that city being the major one for slaughterhouses throughout the U.S., and of course, NY with all the shipping from around the world. What made SF unique is that it was relatively smaller to both NY and Chicago, and considered a clean city. I guess even after 60 years, the area was still embarrassed by their run-in with the plague and that's why we didn't get that information in school.
I love medical history, and we have several very good authors out there, with the late Roy Porter and Laurie Garret being a couple of favorites. Chase's book was alright, but did not have the writing ability of the above authors, and the book seemed dry, and very repititious at times. She obviously did her research, to the point of having the names of so many of the Chinese who died in the first wave of plague. The book just lack the feeling of urgency conveyed by other authors when dealing with epidemics.
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