August 23, 2016

Terrible Typhoid Mary: A True Story of the Deadliest Cook in America by Susan Campbell Bartoletti

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 1:54 pm by suebe2

Terrible Typhoid MaryTerrible Typhoid Mary:
A True Story of the Deadliest Cook in America
by Susan Campbell Bartoletti
HMH Books for Young Readers

Mary Mallon was an excellent cook — her employers especially loved the ice cream that she made during the hot summer months. But then 9-year-old Margaret fell ill.  Soon she was running a raging fever.  Typhoid!  Eventually six people, including the gardener, would fall ill.  As soon as the family returned to the city, Mallon left them to find a new job with a family that wasn’t sick.  She was healthy and strong but typhoid was a killer fever.

The people who owned the house where Mallon had worked rented it out every summer.  They wanted to make sure that they didn’t own a “sick house” so they hired George Soper.  Soper was considered an expert in epidemiology (the study of epidemics).  He checked the homes water.  He checked the local produce and shell-fish, all of which could transmit the typhoid bacteria.  Nothing.  The house and the local environment were fine.  The cause had to be a human carrier.  By tracing other cases of typhoid, he eventually traced it back to one cook — Mary Mallone.

Mary made history because she was the first healthy carrier known to live in New York City or the US.  I don’t want to give many more details because I want you to read the book.  Written as a medical thriller or mystery, it traces the steps that community health experts went through first to identify Typhoid Mary but also in attempting to deal with her.  It is worth nothing here that Soper, the expert, wasn’t a doctor but a sanitary engineer.  But he still had enough power to have Mary imprisoned on a hospital island because of the fear that people had of typhoid.

Mary developed the reputation of being an irrational killer.  Why not just have surgery?  Why didn’t she trust Soper or the doctors? You’ll have to read the book to find out.  And it really is a book you should read because it is a telling story.  Not only does it trace the development of public health but it also delineates the differences between how the New York City health department dealt with a female carrier and male carrier.  Night and day, people.  Night and day.

Bartoletti has written an engaging book that reads like a medical thriller.  Whether your young reader likes “true stories,” mysteries, science or history, this book will pull them in. This is definitely a book that I would recommend experiencing in print vs an audio book so that you get to see the period graphics.

–SueBE

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