Terrible Typhoid Mary: A True Story of the Deadliest Cook in America

Susan Campbell Bartoletti. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $17.99 (218p) ISBN 978-0-544-31367-5
In this thoroughly researched biography, Bartoletti (They Called Themselves the KKK) seeks to illuminate the backstory of “Typhoid Mary,” who allegedly infected nearly 50 individuals with the disease. Mary Mallon cooked for wealthy families in turn-of-the-20th-century New York City until she became the first documented “healthy carrier” of typhoid in the U.S. and was imprisoned in hospitals for most of her remaining life. Little is known about Mallon outside of one six-page letter she wrote, official documents, newspaper reports, journal articles, and other firsthand accounts of her. Though Bartoletti forms an objective portrait of Mallon’s case, she often has to rely on conjecture (“Mary probably didn’t understand that she could be a healthy carrier”), filling in gaps using deductive reasoning based on facts from that era. In the end, this study of Mallon’s ill-fated life is as much an examination of the period in which she lived, including the public’s ignorance about the spread and treatment of disease, the extreme measures health officials took to advance science, and how yellow journalism’s sensationalized stories could ruin someone’s reputation. Ages 10–up. Agent: Ginger Knowlton, Curtis Brown. (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 06/01/2015
Release date: 08/04/2015
Genre: Children's
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