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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.
About the Author
MARILYN CHASE, a longtime reporter for The Wall Street Journal, covers medical science and health care, currently focusing on infectious-disease outbreaks and bioterrorism. An honors graduate of Stanford University who also holds a master’s degree from the University of California at Berkeley, Chase lives with her family in San Francisco.
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
“Chase, with her elegant, subtle writing, brings alive the human victims, particularly the often-tragic lives of Chinese laborers trying to make a life for themselves.”
“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
"Outbreaks of disease can catalyze either courage or cowardice in individuals and society. Chase brings to life a largely forgotten story--in vivid prose and at a pulse-quickening pace--of a time when America's character was tested. There is much to learn about how to confront uncertainty from this remarkable tale."
-Jerome Groopman, M.D., author of The Measure of Our Days; Second Opinions; and the forthcoming The Anatomy of Hope (Random House, Spring 2004)
“The Barbary Plague is a thoroughly engrossing tale of mankind’s battle with the most stubborn of foes, infectious disease.... Chase’s vast experience in medical reporting keeps her writing not only accurate but highly entertaining.”
–Dean Edell, M.D., medical TV correspondent for ABC-TV 7, San Francisco, and host of the syndicated radio talk show, The Dr. Dean Edell Show,
“At a time when fear of anthrax and smallpox are very much in the public consciousness, it's interesting to go back and look at an outbreak in this country of perhaps the most frightening and deadly of all scourges--the bubonic plague. Everything that we imagine today in our worst nightmares happened in San Francisco in the early part of the 20th century--a population in denial or panic, politicians refusing to tell the truth, and the sadly inevitable blame on racial grounds. Yet even during the worst days, men like Dr. Rupert Blue rose to the occasion in the most amazing, humane, and courageous ways. This story of the past gives me great hope for the present.”
-Lisa See, author of On Gold Mountain: The One-Hundred-Year Odyssey of My Chinese-American Family