Terrible Typhoid Mary

August 4, 2015 ARC, Book Review, Nonfiction 0

I received this ARC from Publisher for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Terrible Typhoid MaryTerrible Typhoid Mary by Susan Campbell Bartoletti
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on August 4th 2015
Pages: 240

What happens when a person's reputation has been forever damaged? With archival photographs and text among other primary sources, this riveting biography of Mary Mallon by the Sibert medalist and Newbery Honor winner Susan Bartoletti looks beyond the tabloid scandal of Mary's controversial life. How she was treated by medical and legal officials reveals a lesser-known story of human and constitutional rights, entangled with the science of pathology and enduring questions about who Mary Mallon really was. How did her name become synonymous with deadly disease? And who is really responsible for the lasting legacy of Typhoid Mary? This thorough exploration includes an author's note, timeline, annotated source notes, and bibliography.

My Thoughts:

I was familiar with the term “Typhoid Mary” and knew a very basic bit about where it came from. This book filled in a huge knowledge gap for me. And the best part? It did it in a quick and interesting story!

Terrible Typhoid Mary: A True Story of the Deadliest Cook in America has multiple facets. You have biographical information about Mary Mallon, the story of disease and how the overcrowding and poor hygiene in cities helped it to thrive, the beginnings of germ theory and medical advancements, and, the one that surprised me the most…civil liberties and how Mary Mallon’s were disregarded. When I look at that (not comprehensive!) list it seems like it would be so easy for the story to be confusing and bogged down. Thankfully, Susan Campbell Bartoletti does an excellent job of weaving these aspects together in a concise and engaging read.

I admit that all I knew about “Typhoid Mary” was that she was a cook, her name was Mary, and she spread typhoid. I think that this is probably true for a lot of people. What I loved most about this book was the way it gave Mary Mallon her personhood back. While she was alive, the sensationalism of “Typhoid Mary” took that from her. Most people saw her as a germ carrier… someone who was infected and could get others sick. I never understood why she would continue to cook if she was infecting people. Terrible Typhoid Mary brought so many different things to light. There are still things I wonder about but I know that I am seeing them through the lens of my experience and what we know about germs now.

I am really excited to add this fascinating narrative nonfiction title to our school library and classroom use! There are so many things to talk about. I foresee some great student-led discussions here.

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