cover image Black Death at the Golden Gate: The Race to Save America from the Bubonic Plague

Black Death at the Golden Gate: The Race to Save America from the Bubonic Plague

David K. Randall. Norton, $26.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-393-60945-5

Journalist Randall (The King and Queen of Malibu) delivers a fast-paced and well-researched narrative about the efforts to eradicate bubonic plague from San Francisco at the turn of the 20th century. The disease claimed its first victim in Chinese immigrant Wong Chut King in 1900 and then established itself over the next several years, threatening the entire country. Randall vividly recounts the efforts of Dr. Joseph Kinyoun, surgeon of the Marine Hospital Service and the city’s chief quarantine officer, and his replacement, Dr. Rupert Blue, to overcome corrupt politics, inaccurate journalism, and a disregard for Yersina pestis (the bacterium that causes plague) to convince state and local officials of the danger. Unlike his thwarted predecessor, Blue established ties to Chinatown, where the plague first appeared, and hired a Chinese interpreter who brought more cases of plague to his attention. When Blue focused on catching the flea-infested rats that surged through the district, rather than assuming the inhabitants were to blame, he succeeded in temporarily halting the disease’s spread. After the Great Earthquake of 1906, the plague flared up in other neighborhoods, this time mainly infecting white victims, and Blue’s extensive rat extermination program was successful again. Underscoring how prejudice, complacency, and willful ignorance can be as dangerous to public health as bacteria, Randall spins an action-packed and stirring tale. [em](May) [/em]