Typhoid Mary: Captive to the Public's HealthTyphoid Mary: Captive to the Public’s Health by Judith Walzer Leavitt
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This would have reminded me of a text-book if the text-book had been written by an unorganized amateur.

That is not to say that there is not some good information in this book, there is. But good luck finding it among the babble.

A little provided history on Mary Mallon:


“This woman is a great menace to health, a danger to community, and she has been made a prisoner on that account. In her wake are many cases of typhoid fever,” which she caused when she “unwittingly disseminated–or as we might say, sprinkled–germs in various households.”

Mary Mallon was the Christian name of ‘Typhoid Mary.’ In the early 1900s, she was the first documented person to be a healthy carrier of typhoid fever–a real killer in the time period. Mary herself had never been sick. And in fact, during this time period she was one of the first people to be recognized as a “healthy carrier.” Prior to Mary, diseases were thought to spread by illness, poor hygiene, or contaminated water and milk. So when a doctor literally tracked the uneducated Mary down at work and accused her of killing people with a disease she has never had, well Mary was not at all believing.

During this time period, Irish immigrants were looked down on and persecuted. They had crap jobs and were not thought well of. Irish woman had it even worse. Mary herself was a very good cook and made her living as such. So when a doctor showed up and accused her of spreading “germs” that killed, she believed him daft because everyone knew how people got sick. Then the doctor showed up in her home and convinced her roommate to let him wait in her private room. And then the doctor had her taken to a hospital and tried to convince her to have her gallbladder surgically removed. Needless to say, Mary was scared and convinced that these doctors were trying to kill her. Naturally she not only refused the treatment, but ran away.


Herein lies Mary Mallon’s particular tragedy. Not even her fellow carriers would claim her as their own. People accused of transmitting disease to others in the same ways that Mallon did thought themselves innocent, but believed the worst about her. She was dirty; they were clean. She was evil; they were good. She was deviant; they were normal. Alienated even from those who carried the same disease she did, Mary Mallon was truly alone.

Oh yes, there were other far more deadly people than our Typhoid Mary. Unfortunately the public were not as interested in them. Mary was the first and the most publicly denounced. She was the talisman that doctors used to prove that healthy people can spread the disease. She ran away. She hid. She kept cooking. Even after she was released from her confinement, she disregard a court order and “endangered” the public by making a living the only way she knew how. So she was drug away publicly and violently by the police not once, but twice. That made for a better story.


…any story “that did not cause its reader to rise out of his chair and cry, ‘Great God!’ was counted as a failure.”

So you see what brought the rating up to 2 stars: the history.

Now for everything else. What a disorganized, unedited mess.

There was no timeline or general organization to the book. In addition, there has been gaps in the Mary Mallon story since it happened. The press did not report the truth and the doctors were not interested and Mary was not talking anyhow. So how did this author cope with historical gaps? Repetition. As in she bloody well repeated the same darn things over, and over, and over, and over again!

It. Was. Painful. To. Read.

It got to the point where I knew what the author was going to say next! She came up with dozens of ways to say the same thing. The words “let’s examine” got tiresome. The prose was appalling. She even labeled photographs wrong! That calls the rest of the information into question, in my opinion. The read became a jumble where I was picking out the good information and sifting through the poor syntax.

There was some good history here or this would have been a 1 star book. Still, I will not be picking it up again. There are better books about Typhoid Mary out there. Trust me.

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