The Barbary Plague
March 17, 2019 12:14 PM - by Marilyn Chase - Subscribe

The veteran Wall Street Journal science reporter Marilyn Chase’s fascinating account of an outbreak of bubonic plague in late Victorian San Francisco is a real-life thriller that resonates in today’s headlines. The Barbary Plague transports us to the Gold Rush boomtown in 1900, at the end of the city’s Gilded Age. With a deep understanding of the effects on public health of politics, race, and geography, Chase shows how one city triumphed over perhaps the most frightening and deadly of all scourges.

A pleasure to read, full of people, dramatic situations, individual foibles and collective hard work...The story, 100 years old, has much to teach us about today.”
—The New York Times Book Review

“An involving medical detective story...richly atmospheric [and] consistently enthralling.”
—San Francisco Chronicle

“If the folks at Homeland Security read one book this year, let it be Marilyn Chase’s The Barbary Plague, for the way it captures in precise detail how political and business imperatives can impede the battle against a deadly epidemic, in this case the bubonic plague—the fabled Black Death—in old San Francisco. The city’s leaders, even its health department, fought the news of the plague’s arrival more aggressively than the disease itself, despite the deaths of dozens of victims. But Chase’s book is also simply a great story of a long-past time when a few heroic men, armed with only the most basic knowledge of infectious disease, stood up to the powers arrayed against them and, through ingenuity and intuition, at last ran this epidemic to ground.”
—Erik Larson, bestselling author of The Devil in the White City
posted by Homo neanderthalensis (1 comment total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
People think about the bubonic plague as a relic from the medieval period- but it has never left us. The last big outbreak was at the turn of the last century, in San Francisco. At first the cities leaders put their heads in the sand- and with the help of a very racist health official tried to tie the illness to the Chinese and deny it's ability to spread. This of course, was a disaster. Eventually a new health official who was not an idiot got in charge and with limited technology made an attempt to combat one of humanities oldest foes... and then the quake came. A great window into the San Francisco of the past, and the consequences of medical racism- to this day plague exists in prairie dogs out west, and it was this outbreak that caused it to become endemic in that rodent population, directly because the response to the initial outbreak was so botched.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 12:20 PM on March 17 [3 favorites]


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