- Hardcover: 148 pages
- Publisher: Diane Pub Co (May 2004)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0756779561
- ISBN-13: 978-0756779566
- Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.5 x 7.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars See all reviews (192 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #6,483,967 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Typhoid Mary: An Urban Historical
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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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
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. If you want to read a textbook history or about emerging viruses, this is not for you. But if you enjoy historical books from a unique standpoint, and a sense of humor in writing about serious topics, this book is definitely a must-have. Bourdain does do research into the areas he is greatly interested in, such as America's obsession with food...the menus from that time period and the explanation about the use of all animal parts was enough to make me gag. Good grossology!
University of Pittsburgh
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 been much higher. Certainly, it was a matter of life and death whether or not she cooked for others.
What do you think should be done if someone has a communicable disease that cannot be treated? Would your answer change if you were the person who had that disease?
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