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Typhoid Mary: An Urban Historical Hardcover – May 4, 2001

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Bloomsbury launches its "Urban Historicals" series with a pair of books on both New York's most infamous cook and what (if true) would have been the city's greatest hoax. Bourdain, the chef and author of last year's cheeky Kitchen Confidential, attempts to retell the story of Mary Mallon from a cook's perspective. Early in the last century, the Irish immigrant Mallon became notorious as "Typhoid Mary" and was imprisoned by health authorities on an island in the East River after (unwittingly or not) spreading typhoid to 33 victims, with three confirmed deaths. Like Lizzie Borden, Mallon has received various writers' interpretations, the last in a 1996 biography by Judith Leavitt of the same title (LJ 5/15/96) that told the tale with more health science and a less cranky style. Bourdain chooses to light the story's shadows by relating to her as a once-proud, broken-down cook, interpreting Mallon's infecting spree with a kitchen-hardened aplomb and New York attitude. Chapter titles tend toward the snarky and hip ("There's Something About Mary," "Typhoid sucks"), and only a New York guy would describe bacteria settling into a gall bladder "like rent-controlled pensioners." Yet when, at the work's end, Bourdain makes a cook-to-cook offering at Mary's grave, it somehow feels more moving than stagey. Rose, a novelist and founder of the 1980s literary magazine Between C&D, has created "an entertainment, a reimagining of a piece of the past that may well have been imagined in the first place." His light-handed telling concerns a possible hoax from about 1824, when a butcher and a carpenter in New York's old Centre Market purportedly discussed their plan to solve overbuilt Manhattan's dangerous bottom-heaviness by sawing it in half, turning the top part of the island around, and reattaching it at the Battery. Word spread, and the enormous project seized the imaginations of Manhattan's poor, who showed up by the hundreds with saws and shovels, while merchants set aside enormous stores of food for the expected work crews. So, at least, claimed one of the hoaxers years later in a conversation with his amateur-historian nephew. Instead of being the "Crop Circles" phenomenon of its day, however, there seems no reason to believe the sawing scam was put over on anyone beyond the credulous nephew who first recorded it; Rose is quite aware of this and puts this re-embroidered lore into entertaining context, along the way creating a charming, atmospheric portrait of old New York. He also notes some classic period cons (the 161-year-old slave who nursed George Washington; the embalmed mermaid) perpetrated by the era's proven master humbuggers. Nathan Ward, "Library Journal"
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

In Typhoid Mary , Bourdain, renowned chef and author of Kitchen Confidential (2000), reexamines the legend of Mary Maflon, otherwise known as the infamous Typhoid Mary. Unwittingly responsible for an outbreak of typhoid fever in Oyster Bay, Long Island, in 1904, Mary, a cook, fled when authorities began to suspect that she was a carrier. Resurfacing in New York City, she continued to infect victims with the typhoid bacillus until she was caught and incarcerated by the authorities. 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. Margaret Flanagan
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA; First Edition edition (May 4, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1582341338
  • ISBN-13: 978-1582341330
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 7.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (167 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #263,987 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Chef, author, and raconteur Anthony Bourdain is best known for traveling the globe on his stomach, daringly consuming some of the world's most exotic dishes on his hit TV shows Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations and The Layover. Somewhat notoriously, he has established himself as a professional gadfly, bête noir, advocate, social critic, and pork enthusiast, recognized for his caustic sense of humor worldwide. He is as unsparing of those things he hates, as he is evangelical about his passions.

The "chef-at-large" at New York's famed Brasserie Les Halles, Bourdain is the author of the bestselling Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, a candid, hysterical, and sometimes shocking portrait of life in restaurant kitchens that has been translated into more than 28 languages - as well as the travel journal, A Cook's Tour, 3 crime novels, a cookbook, a biography of Typhoid Mary, the bestselling graphic novel Get JIRO!, and others.

His work has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Times of London, Bon Appetit, Gourmet and many other publications. He has shared his insights about team building and crisis management with the Harvard Business Review. He has been profiled by CBS Sunday Morning and Nightline, and has been a guest on The Late Show with David Letterman, Morning Joe, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, The Daily Show, Charlie Rose, The Colbert Report, and Real Time with Bill Maher.

Bourdain joined the writing staff of HBO's Treme in 2011, contributing to the popular drama's restaurant storylines. He recently launched his own publishing line with Ecco, Anthony Bourdain Books, an imprint of HarperCollins. His first titles will be released in early 2013.

No Reservations, widely popular all over the world, has won two Emmy Awards, with several other nominations. 2013 will see the premiere of two new television shows hosted by Bourdain: The Taste, a cooking competition series for ABC with Nigella Lawson, and a travel docu-series for CNN.

Customer Reviews

It seemed to me like he was trying to pad his book.
Amazon Customer
Anthony Bourdain's cynical, insightful style works well in the unfolding of Mary Mallon's appalling story.
Mary D
This book is worth the short time it takes to read it.
K. L Sadler

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

110 of 111 people found the following review helpful By K. L Sadler VINE VOICE on March 18, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Short, sweet, and somewhat hilarious rendition for one of our better known epidemiological chapters in american history. I was taken aback by the negative comments of the other readers of this book and I am afraid I do not agree. Having a deep and abiding interest in epidemiology and public health as far as the deaf and disability communities are concerned, there is more than one way to approach a story like this. Probably the first time anyone has taken Mary's point of view on this whole fiasco.
Bourdain didn't mean for this to be a textbook on public health. It is a story about a cook, somewhat along the lines of a modern Chaucer (which is high praise from me, since I love Chaucer's viginettes about characters during the Middle Ages). I realized this going into this book, but perhaps others were disappointed thinking they were going to receive something delving into more of the history and less of an individual biography.
This book is worth the short time it takes to read it. It's one of those books that makes you snort with laughter, and then feel guilty about it since many people got sick and a few died from Mary's little forays into the hot and dirty kitchens of New York at the turn of the century. Bourdain explains how Mary must have seen this invasion of her privacy from what little information provided by her and those who knew her. It should not be surprising that she had a bit of a 'persecution complex'. With all of our emphasis on individual rights and protection from Big Brother, you would think more readers would understand Mary's feelings about her situation?
Bourdain certainly has a unique view for what happened. I think he shows immense talent and compassion, for presenting this story in a different way.
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101 of 109 people found the following review helpful By Donald Mitchell HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 2, 2001
Format: Hardcover
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.
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38 of 40 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 29, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
While I've utterly enjoyed Bourdain's offhand, conversational style in his earlier books (particularly Kitchen Confidential and Bone in the Throat), here it sounds too casual. For all his assertions in KC that he just wakes up and writes a bit, writing is a craft and this time out the author does not pay enough attention to it. Too bad -- the story (which was probably largely researched by others, according to the acknowledgments) is interesting, and Bourdain's take on it is fresh. But sloppy writing -- repeated words and phrases, cliches, etc. -- really slow down this short tome. If this were a dish, I doubt Bourdain would have let it out of his kitchen, and someone at Bloomsbury should have pointed this out.
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Rocco Dormarunno on January 29, 2005
Format: Hardcover
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.
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