Black Death at the Golden Gate
For Chinese immigrant Wong Chut King, surviving in San Francisco meant a life in the shadows. His passing on March 6, 1900, would have been unremarkable if a city health officer hadn’t noticed a swollen black lymph node on his groin—a sign of bubonic plague. Empowered by racist pseudoscience, officials rushed to quarantine Chinatown while doctors examined Wong’s tissue for telltale bacteria. If the devastating disease was not contained, San Francisco would become the American epicenter of an outbreak that had already claimed ten million lives worldwide.To local press, railroad barons, and elected officials, such a possibility was inconceivable—or inconvenient. As they mounted a cover-up to obscure the threat, ending the career of one of the most brilliant scientists in the nation in the process, it fell to federal health officer Rupert Blue to save a city that refused to be rescued. Spearheading a relentless crusade for sanitation, Blue and his men patrolled the squalid streets of fast-growing San Francisco, examined gory black buboes, and dissected diseased rats that put the fate of the entire country at risk.In the tradition of Erik Larson and Steven Johnson, Randall spins a spellbinding account of Blue’s race to understand the disease and contain its spread—the only hope of saving San Francisco, and the nation, from a gruesome fate.

Black Death at the Golden Gate Details

TitleBlack Death at the Golden Gate
Author
ReleaseMay 7th, 2019
PublisherW. W. Norton Company
ISBN-139780393609455
Rating
GenreHistory, Nonfiction, Science, Medical, Health, Medicine

Black Death at the Golden Gate Review

  • Jeanette
    January 1, 1970
    Such a deep subject and over quite a span of time- this was supremely researched.The only star it loses is that it sidetracked to Gold Rush and other historical background context a bit more than was necessary, IMHO. But all told the title is the core of this book.Oh the early 1898-1903 "fights" between the individuals and the politico "eyes" (BOTH) of the two highest officials! And the obscuring of the reality to the populace or even to the numbers or locations because of the disorganization an Such a deep subject and over quite a span of time- this was supremely researched.The only star it loses is that it sidetracked to Gold Rush and other historical background context a bit more than was necessary, IMHO. But all told the title is the core of this book.Oh the early 1898-1903 "fights" between the individuals and the politico "eyes" (BOTH) of the two highest officials! And the obscuring of the reality to the populace or even to the numbers or locations because of the disorganization and just plain selfishness of the "know betters"! It reminds me of the politico "eyes" of the present which allow infectious disease to stream into the country without the stringent measures required at all and at every time because it doesn't fit their "compassionate" politico agenda. Then, like now, the politicians and officials druthers came/ come first. And people continued to die.It was the most remarkable 5 star portion within the last 1/3rd, in the story of Rupert Blue in particular. I had never heard of the man. What a true heroic life he lead. And what sacrifices and disdaining rejections he suffered for his unrelenting truth telling. And rat wars he conducted against huge and always ridiculed push back. Not to speak of the loneliness!Only the quirks of the fleas saved 100,000's (100's dying instead of 100,000's) and we still get about 7 deaths a year in the western USA presently. Squirrels can carry it too.The big Earthquake seems to have put the Bubonic Plague in the shade, so to speak, historically re San Francisco. It sure shouldn't have. Not for the great numbers it killed then and since. Lies, lies, lies and cover ups to disease outcomes and sources with their paths-alive and well within S.F. presently-just as the feces piles and the rats are.For the most delicate, this book is not politically correct, IMHO. Racial projection and laws, treatments and consequences for a number of issues, like quarantine- very unequal as well.
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  • Kelly
    January 1, 1970
    A fascinating, engrossing, and at times downright enraging look at the spread of bubonic plague in San Francisco at the turn of the 20th century. The book follows how two doctors recognized what was going on and how one was let down turn after turn, allowing the disease to spread because of inadequate funding and support -- as well as rampant xenophobia and racism -- while the other doctor was able to make inroads and discover that it was a specific type of flea that spread the disease to rats a A fascinating, engrossing, and at times downright enraging look at the spread of bubonic plague in San Francisco at the turn of the 20th century. The book follows how two doctors recognized what was going on and how one was let down turn after turn, allowing the disease to spread because of inadequate funding and support -- as well as rampant xenophobia and racism -- while the other doctor was able to make inroads and discover that it was a specific type of flea that spread the disease to rats and then onto people. He helped develop a public health system and ways to combat the further spread of plague (even though anyone who has spent time in the west or southwest knows it exists still, and that's touched on here a bit in regards to the wild squirrels). Randall doesn't shy away from the realities of racism and classism, and he does a great job framing the situation in San Francisco with the greater things going on in the US and around the world at the same time. The earthquake is covered and offers sort of the ah ha moment of figuring out why the disease was spreading the way it was, followed later by further understanding of its spreading in Los Angeles following World War I and the Spanish Influenza. The history of disease, and plague especially, is fascinating to me, and Randall writes the history in a compelling, engaging manner. Readers who dig this and are open to reading nonfiction for youth would do well with Bubonic Panic: When Plague Invaded America as well, which is how I was already aware of the history of the plague in America.
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  • Fredrick Danysh
    January 1, 1970
    A well written history of the plague's appearance in Hawaii and San Francisco as well as the efforts to combat it at the advent of the twentith century. The development of the Public Health Service is chronicled as well as the personalities of the doctors involved. The ethnic and financial bias of the period is also well documented. This was a free review copy obtained through Goodreads.com.
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  • Meg
    January 1, 1970
    Remember the Middle Ages with all of its death-by-pandemic? This is a true account of when the Bubonic plague hit the United States at the turn on the last century.For years, one of my favorite books and reading experiences for book club was Steven Johnson’s GHOST MAP. I’ve been searching for something to scratch that itch ever since, but hadn’t found anything close enough... until now. Author David Randall tells a fascinating story about the race to discover the cause and cure, with an element Remember the Middle Ages with all of its death-by-pandemic? This is a true account of when the Bubonic plague hit the United States at the turn on the last century.For years, one of my favorite books and reading experiences for book club was Steven Johnson’s GHOST MAP. I’ve been searching for something to scratch that itch ever since, but hadn’t found anything close enough... until now. Author David Randall tells a fascinating story about the race to discover the cause and cure, with an element of racism to foul things up even further, all set on the Pacific seaboard of the United States.This is one of those “how have I never heard about this?!” stories from history.
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  • Jane
    January 1, 1970
    A devastating disease, an apathetic and greedy local government, and an unlikely hero.Black Death at the Golden Gate is a shocking tale of a plague outbreak in turn of the century California, an event that had previously been buried in America's history. David K. Randall paints a vivid picture of the chilling events from San Francisco, using a multitude of sources to give the readers a true understanding of who these men facing the Black Death were, and what they stood for. Randall does an amazi A devastating disease, an apathetic and greedy local government, and an unlikely hero.Black Death at the Golden Gate is a shocking tale of a plague outbreak in turn of the century California, an event that had previously been buried in America's history. David K. Randall paints a vivid picture of the chilling events from San Francisco, using a multitude of sources to give the readers a true understanding of who these men facing the Black Death were, and what they stood for. Randall does an amazing job at pointing out that history isn't just black and white; no person is either "good" or "bad." You learn each character's strength, but also their faults. I am often frustrated that authors leave the less pretty information out to make a more compelling hero. Randall absolutely came through, providing the whole picture.This read is fascinating, shocking, chilling, and in the end, encouraging. It is an absolute must read!!
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  • Pamela
    January 1, 1970
    4.5 stars. A historical medical mystery following two doctors who recognized plague when it came to the US and had to fight politicians, business interests, and rampant racism and xenophobia in trying to control the disease. Because of all the pushback the doctors and the Marine Medical Service encountered, it took too long to make the connection to rats and fleas, and now western squirrels also carry the disease (as anyone who has been to a park near Lake Tahoe can tell you; there are signs war 4.5 stars. A historical medical mystery following two doctors who recognized plague when it came to the US and had to fight politicians, business interests, and rampant racism and xenophobia in trying to control the disease. Because of all the pushback the doctors and the Marine Medical Service encountered, it took too long to make the connection to rats and fleas, and now western squirrels also carry the disease (as anyone who has been to a park near Lake Tahoe can tell you; there are signs warning people to stay away from plague-bearing squirrels). As noted in the last sentence, “ ... the disease remains hidden along the wide open horizon of the West, where it waits to once again make a jump into the human population.”
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  • Ariel Marie
    January 1, 1970
    I received an ARC for this book in return for an honest review. I apologize it took me so long. I just found it hard to read this book. Maybe it was because I wanted more of a science POV. I don’t know what I wanted, but this book simply was not for me. It felt too drawn out in moments and a bit dull. While the information is important, I just didn’t care for it and prefer a handful of other history books about infectious diseases and their societal impact.
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  • Caitlyn
    January 1, 1970
    This is a fascinating history of the efforts of public health officials to prevent the spread of bubonic plague in San Francisco in the early 1900s. Efforts were fraught with prejudice, political maneuvering and corruption, bacteriology as a new science, and the discovery that the plague was spread by fleas. It’s the history of San Francisco, of California, and the newly formed federal public health. It regards the sociology of medicine, and science deniers. The book is written for the lay perso This is a fascinating history of the efforts of public health officials to prevent the spread of bubonic plague in San Francisco in the early 1900s. Efforts were fraught with prejudice, political maneuvering and corruption, bacteriology as a new science, and the discovery that the plague was spread by fleas. It’s the history of San Francisco, of California, and the newly formed federal public health. It regards the sociology of medicine, and science deniers. The book is written for the lay person and is a quick, easy, and fascinating read.
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  • Queenie Collins
    January 1, 1970
    I received an ARC of this book through a Goodreads Giveaway.I was so caught up in the plot and characters that I had to keep checking to see if this was really a history book. The characters are fascinating. Not only are we told what they did, but who they were as husbands, friends, employers.Getting equal spotlight as the characters, is the city of San Francisco. I learned many new things about the popular tourist destinations in the city.Overall, if you enjoy suspense, travelogs and/or science I received an ARC of this book through a Goodreads Giveaway.I was so caught up in the plot and characters that I had to keep checking to see if this was really a history book. The characters are fascinating. Not only are we told what they did, but who they were as husbands, friends, employers.Getting equal spotlight as the characters, is the city of San Francisco. I learned many new things about the popular tourist destinations in the city.Overall, if you enjoy suspense, travelogs and/or science, this is a great read!
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  • Kerry Bossons
    January 1, 1970
    I was drawn to this book like an infected flea to a warm rat. I had no idea that there had been a bubonic plague outbreak in San Francisco and this account really met my expectations. The account has a readable style, features well drawn characters (aka real people), reads like fiction and demonstrates thorough research. I was left wanting to investigate my own hometown for outbreaks (thankfully clean since 1665).The story arc followed the zombie novel pattern of setting the scene, unleashing th I was drawn to this book like an infected flea to a warm rat. I had no idea that there had been a bubonic plague outbreak in San Francisco and this account really met my expectations. The account has a readable style, features well drawn characters (aka real people), reads like fiction and demonstrates thorough research. I was left wanting to investigate my own hometown for outbreaks (thankfully clean since 1665).The story arc followed the zombie novel pattern of setting the scene, unleashing the plague, racism and ineptitude leading to more plague and a handsome doctor arriving to sort everything out, finishing with success tempered by the potential of future outbreaks. I was thoroughly invested in the outcome and cheered the transformation of San Francisco from grubby frontier town to beacon of urban sanitation. The achievement of the author is in putting a human face to the people who made it all possible.My favourite part of the whole book is a celebration dinner given for Dr Blue and his team, complete with garbage pail shaped glasses!This book perfect for anyone who enjoys hidden histories and contagious diseases. Perfect for fans of This Podcast Will Kill You (who have covered bubonic plague if you need more of the science behind it).. I will definitely seek out other books by the same author.I'm now going to wash my hands and remember to never feed squirrels.
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  • Droid
    January 1, 1970
    ADVANCED READER'S COPYThis was an excellent look at not only the bubonic plague, but also the birth of our nation's public health system. Randall does an amazing job of intertwining the actual researched history of events with the very personal accounts of people who lived them. You can't help but be drawn into their personalities and are saddened by their setbacks and overjoyed at their successes. It was a wonderful read, not heavy on medical language as one might think, and the descriptions of ADVANCED READER'S COPYThis was an excellent look at not only the bubonic plague, but also the birth of our nation's public health system. Randall does an amazing job of intertwining the actual researched history of events with the very personal accounts of people who lived them. You can't help but be drawn into their personalities and are saddened by their setbacks and overjoyed at their successes. It was a wonderful read, not heavy on medical language as one might think, and the descriptions of people, places, and events was superbly written. Rather than a flat account of events, the reader becomes enmeshed with the fate of a city in the grips of turmoil. One thing I found striking in the book is the overall undertone of push-back from government and the public against the very individuals who are attempting to save their lives from the bubonic plague. The amount of mistrust among citizens, government agents, and even the press is almost laughable, except for the fact that these themes still echo today. The birth of science and bacteriology is discussed, with references to outside players, bringing many facets of history I had known separately, together into a beautifully woven account of events.
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  • Teresa Bateman
    January 1, 1970
    I got an ARC of this book at ALA Midwinter and was astonished at the story it told. I never knew that the United States was faced with a possible bubonic plague epidemic at the turn of the 20th century. The epicenter was San Francisco. The author has meticulously researched the battle against the plague and the, perhaps, even harder battle to pretend that it didn't exist, which stymied the efforts of medical professionals. it became quite the political hot potato dealing with issues of interstat I got an ARC of this book at ALA Midwinter and was astonished at the story it told. I never knew that the United States was faced with a possible bubonic plague epidemic at the turn of the 20th century. The epicenter was San Francisco. The author has meticulously researched the battle against the plague and the, perhaps, even harder battle to pretend that it didn't exist, which stymied the efforts of medical professionals. it became quite the political hot potato dealing with issues of interstate commerce, racism, and diplomacy. The politics undoubtedly led to additional deaths, and the destruction of some medical careers. This is a fascinating insight into a little-known incident in American history. One wonders if the Great San Francisco earthquake, which occurred during the plague outbreak, muddied the waters so this even somehow became obscured. This is an instructive book that makes the reader wonder how politics is actively subverting science today.
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  • Susan Burlew
    January 1, 1970
    This was an incredible book! I rarely read nonfiction but this read like a novel. A very scary one! I had no idea that bubonic plague was found in San Francisco in the early nineteen hundreds. City and state officials tried to cover it up and newspapers wrote lies about it. They were afraid of losing business if they were quarantined. Since most of the early cases were in Chinatown it was blamed on Chinese immigrants. There were several doctors who tried to tell the truth but it wasn't until Rup This was an incredible book! I rarely read nonfiction but this read like a novel. A very scary one! I had no idea that bubonic plague was found in San Francisco in the early nineteen hundreds. City and state officials tried to cover it up and newspapers wrote lies about it. They were afraid of losing business if they were quarantined. Since most of the early cases were in Chinatown it was blamed on Chinese immigrants. There were several doctors who tried to tell the truth but it wasn't until Rupert Blue was appointed that anything positive was done. He was one of the first doctors to understand the connection with rats and fleas. He didn't give up and pretty much saved the country by getting it cleaned up before it spread. I don't know where we'd be or if we'd be without his tenacity. Very interesting read!!!
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  • Anne
    January 1, 1970
    I rec'd an ARC of Black Death at the Golden Gate as a giveaway. It's unfortunate that the US allowed plague run ravage throughout San Francisco's Chinatown in the early 20th century. Blame it on politics, discrimination, poor planning and response and lack of effective quality control. Looking back it's even more amazing that San Francisco didn't learn from her mistake and repeated it in the 80s w/ HIV/AIDS. It's unbelievable how much this country hasn't learned from our mistakes. And now it's o I rec'd an ARC of Black Death at the Golden Gate as a giveaway. It's unfortunate that the US allowed plague run ravage throughout San Francisco's Chinatown in the early 20th century. Blame it on politics, discrimination, poor planning and response and lack of effective quality control. Looking back it's even more amazing that San Francisco didn't learn from her mistake and repeated it in the 80s w/ HIV/AIDS. It's unbelievable how much this country hasn't learned from our mistakes. And now it's over 100 years after the original plague outbreak on the west coast and the US still has pockets where it emerges today. Unreal. This is something that shouldn't happen. When will our leaders at the local, state and national level start working for the good of the people instead of for their best interests?
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  • Ley
    January 1, 1970
    This was one of the more fascinating nonfiction reads I've picked up lately! It's definitely not for you if you're a germaphobe, but this was super well-written and highlighted a part of American history that I never knew about.Little known fact about me: I actually wanted to study infectious diseases when I was in high school. I didn't pursue it though (because I have a shoddy immune system and Tulane was expensive), but I still tried to teach myself about all the gross diseases that have hones This was one of the more fascinating nonfiction reads I've picked up lately! It's definitely not for you if you're a germaphobe, but this was super well-written and highlighted a part of American history that I never knew about.Little known fact about me: I actually wanted to study infectious diseases when I was in high school. I didn't pursue it though (because I have a shoddy immune system and Tulane was expensive), but I still tried to teach myself about all the gross diseases that have honestly curbed the human population.The book goes into all the xenophobia and racism that went along with the epidemic at the turn of the century, as well as the political tactics used to try to cover it all up. And with the way it's written, it isn't like an info dump, it's more of an actual story!
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  • Dr. Rajarshee Bhattacharjee
    January 1, 1970
    This is a well imagined historical account which has been penned to perfection. The story about dawn of a city from mist and fog unraveling in a development of infrastructure, politics, health, hygiene and a society against a deadly epidemic which has a history of wiping out half of the world's population. It is also a story of extraordinary determination and skill in "a harsh world of rudimentary healthcare and poor sanitation" with clashes among the ethnics, political figures and health offici This is a well imagined historical account which has been penned to perfection. The story about dawn of a city from mist and fog unraveling in a development of infrastructure, politics, health, hygiene and a society against a deadly epidemic which has a history of wiping out half of the world's population. It is also a story of extraordinary determination and skill in "a harsh world of rudimentary healthcare and poor sanitation" with clashes among the ethnics, political figures and health officials who are stuck at the crossroads between its rough past and a new future.
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  • Elizabeth
    January 1, 1970
    A thrilling true story of the time when the bubonic plague threatened to overwhelm the nascent city of San Francisco, I couldn’t put Black Death at the Golden Gate down. It’s such a fascinating portrait of a time when both medicine and American culture were rapidly changing and evolving, and David K. Randall does an excellent job of bringing the key figures to life with empathy. You’re going to love this book when it comes out. Thank you to WW Norton for the ARC!
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  • Ashley Clark
    January 1, 1970
    This was a very quick read on the efforts to stop plague in SF around the turn of the century (1900s). The book could have easily been edited down into a really compelling long-article, or expended to make a better case. As short book, it was neither thorough enough to impress scholars, or short enough to entice the average reader (extraneous details abound). Made me want to read a lot more about the "great sanitary awakening" by a writer a bit more adept.
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  • David V.
    January 1, 1970
    Received as an ARC via my employer Barnes & Noble. Started 5-4-19. Finished 5-6-19. Two days to read this book!! It holds your interest like a good fiction book. This is well-researched, well written, and is fast paced. Scary story of bubonic plague affecting San Francisco in the early 1900's and other cities over the next 20 years or so. Frightening possibility of a major plague in the U.S. if not for the doctors of the former government agency which became the Public Health Service. Drama Received as an ARC via my employer Barnes & Noble. Started 5-4-19. Finished 5-6-19. Two days to read this book!! It holds your interest like a good fiction book. This is well-researched, well written, and is fast paced. Scary story of bubonic plague affecting San Francisco in the early 1900's and other cities over the next 20 years or so. Frightening possibility of a major plague in the U.S. if not for the doctors of the former government agency which became the Public Health Service. Drama and excitement, politics and denial, back-stabbing and ignorance, corruption and greed, heroes and villains---all are part of this fascinating story that is unknown to most people.
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  • LeAnn
    January 1, 1970
    Won an ARC of this book through Goodreads. Initially I was having trouble getting into the book. Then about a fourth of the way through, it started to really capture my attention and I found it very enjoyable and interesting from there. Only found a few errors, such as missing 'the' in a sentence or 'rates' instead of 'rats'. Definitely worth reading though, if just to expand your knowledge about a piece of history that is rarely mentioned.
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  • Kathleen
    January 1, 1970
    How does anyone eradicate an illness that spreads like wildfire through the population? David Randall explains the strategies that two Marine doctors used to keep the Bubonic Plague away from the Bay Area. A very political situation, At first, San Francisco refused to recognize that there was even an epidemic. Dr Rupert Blue was the hero. But can this “plague” ever be stopped, as long as there are fleas and rats?
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  • Bonita Braun
    January 1, 1970
    Good story- well writtenInteresting story about the Bubonic plague in San Francisco and its eventual eradication. Occasionally boring but also occasionally fascinating. Being a San Franciscan, I had never heard any of this. But, the denial of city fathers in the early 20th century was no different than when AIDS was first identified in the City or now that human feces and used needles are seen everywhere, new potential for public health crises, same denial.
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  • Kristina Harper
    January 1, 1970
    This is a fascinating account of bubonic (and pneumonic) plague outbreaks in San Francisco at the start of the 20th century, along with the doctors who fought to control and eradicate the disease, and the politicians and press who initially fought them every step of the way to protect their business interests. It’s also a look at the filth and lack of sanitation endemic to San Francisco before and after the Great Quake. A really interesting read.
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  • Melanie
    January 1, 1970
    Wow this was fascinating. There were lots of tidbits aside from the main narrative here that made me want to read more about the history of San Francisco but the real story here is how close we came to the plague taking over there US. Basically, we can thank one guy and some European fleas for this country not being decimated. It's actually really uplifting in this terrible political time to know that one person really can make a difference.
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  • A Silent Bookworm (Jessica Parker)
    January 1, 1970
    I received an ARC of this book through a Goodreads Giveaway.I never knew the bubonic plague made it to the US until I read this book. This is not a book for germaphobes. I also found it interesting that some of the political tactics and games politicians play are still the same a century later.
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  • Billie
    January 1, 1970
    A fascinating story that was, unfortunately, a bit flatly told. And, although I read an ARC and so some errors are to be expected, they were more plentiful here than I usually find. The combination of the dull (to me) telling and the numerous errors made for a book that I found it difficult to really get in to, even though it's on a subject that ticks a lot of boxes for me.
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  • Karen
    January 1, 1970
    This is a fascinating historical account of the outbreak of the bubonic plague in San Francisco over a hundred years ago. The book brilliantly combines the history of medicine, politics, and race issues into a thriller with interesting characters.
  • David
    January 1, 1970
    Cover-ups, conspiracy, racialism, profit before people, science deniers? Here in America. surely not?A fascinating and disturbing account of a little discussed event at he turn of the twentieth century in San Francisco. For all students and those really interested in America's past.
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  • Amy
    January 1, 1970
    An interesting history of the plague in America and the evolution of the national public health system. Even though the politics etc are in the beginning of the 1900s the reader can relate it to current day politic, immigration, health care crisis and the many wheels that make our society move.
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  • Tena Bremmer
    January 1, 1970
    I received this ARC from Goodreads. It is hard to comprehend what damage the bubonic plague did. Lives could have been saved if the government wasn't more concerned with making a profit and more worried about the lives of people.
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