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Typhoid Mary: An Urban Historical

3.43 of 5 stars 3.43  ·  rating details  ·  1,813 ratings  ·  233 reviews
From the best-selling author of Kitchen Confidential comes this true, thrilling tale of pursuit through the kitchens of New York City at the turn of the century.

By the late nineteenth century, it seemed that New York City had put an end to the outbreaks of typhoid fever that had so frequently decimated the city's population. That is until 1904, when the disease broke out i
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Hardcover, 160 pages
Published May 4th 2001 by Bloomsbury USA (first published 2001)
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The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz ZafónLife of Pi by Yann MartelAtonement by Ian McEwanAmerican Gods by Neil GaimanJohn Adams by David McCullough
Best Books of 2001
52nd out of 309 books — 151 voters
Stiff by Mary RoachThe Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales by Oliver SacksThe Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca SklootOne Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken KeseyThe Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
Medicine and Literature
202nd out of 1,009 books — 1,238 voters


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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Melissa
At first, I really enjoyed it. He had chapter titles like "Typhoid Sucks" He was tellilng history with wit, humor, and personality. And then he made, what to me at least, was a glaring error. He started talking about the 1900 Chicago World's Fair. There was no World's Fair in Chicago in 1900. There was one in 1893 and 1933. In 1900 (and I looked it up, because I was pissed), the only World's Fair was in Paris. France, not Texas. And though this is a fairly minor error, it is the kind that's fair ...more
Ellen
As a factual account, this book frustrated me a great deal, because it's really such an overview into the topic. Granted, Bourdain's interest in Mary Mallon stems from his experience as a cook (and he riffs on this topic continually) -- I simply wanted a deeper factual account (and make sure the facts are correct, please -- there are some glaring errors in the book!). The idea of a cook of his caliber writing about Typhoid Mary is brilliant, but I think he could have developed these ideas in the ...more
Laura Williams
I first read this book in college. I did not know who Anthony Bourdain was at the time, so I probably didn't fully appreciate his viewpoint as a fellow cook. I remember that I did appreciate the approach of book as a more modern take on non-ficton. As a stressed out college student, I probably also appreciated that the book was small and a quick read.

However, upon second reading, the 150ish pages don't seem to offer a ton of fact regarding Mary Mallon, the woman who became known as Typhoid Mary.
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Lindsay
This is a quick, interesting read, but it's often distracting how often the author wants to inject himself in the story. I know, I know. It's Anthony Bourdain, so most people are probably looking for his personality, and are reading this because he is the author. However, the shtick gets tiresome, especially in the intro and epilogue. It took 4 pages before he's making fun of feminism's take on this story, and yet he presents a picture of a woman who he is clearly sympathetic towards. It's hard ...more
Sarah Fisher
Who knew Anthony Bourdain wrote a history book? This was a highly enjoyable quick read but let's get a few things straight.

Anthony Bourdain is a cook who writes books about cooking, traveling and murder mystery things (haven't read those). So this is quite the departure.

This book is NOT for people looking for an indepth study about typhoid mary. This book is NOT for people looking for a deep analysis and a completely comprehensive storyline.

I knew nothing about typhoid Mary so it was all new to
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Rebecca
This had some interesting historical information in it on cooks in general and 1800s Irish women in particular, but Bourdain's approach was definitely biased. He seemed to start with the idea that Mary, as a cook, was innocent and every public health official she came in contact with was evil and incompetent at their job.

I had to stop 50% of the way through the book -- I just couldn't trust anything I was reading.
Evanston Public  Library
Anthony Bourdain, considered by some to be the bad boy of novelle cuisine, is best known for his eye-opening exposé of the restaurant business, Kitchen Confidential.That book that caused many people to think long and hard before they stepped foot in a restaurant again. Bourdain has always had food safety on his mind, or so it appears. In this slim biography of Mary Mallon, he does a pretty thorough job of telling us as much as is known about this figure from the turn of the 19th century. It's no ...more
Bex
meh. It's a quick read and gives the basics of what happened to Typhoid Mary (which can be gotten elsewhere) plus some interesting tidbits from documents written by the players. But as a work of nonfiction it annoyed me a great deal. Firstly, there are no citations in the book. There's a bibliography at the end, but Bourdain is using direct quotes with no concrete reference back to where they came from. Secondly, the book is full of a lot of speculation about what Mary must have done and felt. I ...more
Chazzi
The title intrigued me and I was surprised to see Anthony Dourdain as the author. I only know of him from cooking shows.

I knew of Typhoid Mary, but not much about her story. Bourdain writes from the cook's point of view, and gives a good picture of life in the late 1800s - early 1900s. It was not easy, no matter how you sliced it. His research and used of quotes from documents of the time help illustrate the era. Her treatment and the 'rights' given her were terrible.

Bourdain's style is easy to
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Meg
Color me surprised that Anthony Bourdain (who I've only been tangentially aware of as a chef and food personality) of all people could put together what has to be one of the more illuminating histories on this oft (and incorrectly) maligned woman that I've ever read.

I think it's because Bourdain comes at this not from a "I'm going to write the authoritative work on this" standpoint but from a "wow, I really can sympathize with this woman in a lot of ways, because we have something major in comm
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Adam Dunn
There is little known now about Mary Mallon and hardly enough for a book, which is one of the reasons no real book has been written on her. The print version of the book is 160 pages and I imagine large type, the Kindle version is only 120 or so and these feel padded. Particularly around the 49% mark the author goes into a lengthy explanation of what may have made Mary go back to work after escaping confinement and while knowing she was infectious. Lengthy. Too Lengthy.
This is really inexcusable
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Alison
Being between books from the library, and being intrigued by this book offered by Nook, I began reading and found it quite fascinating to learn of the story of Typhoid Mary. Perhaps more than the story itself, was a behind the scene peek at cooks and restaurants. Unfortunately, the uncovering of such truths of what some cooks might do in the kitchen, leaves me wondering if I can eat out ever again. Typhoid Mary was a cook and left in her wake a trail of people who became sick. Sanitary working c ...more
Jessica
3.5 stars

Hearing Anthony Bourdain’s voice narrating this story in my head is probably a good indication that I’ve seen too many episodes of No Reservations, Parts Unknown and Mind of a Chef, but it added a different layer to my reading experience that I did not expect, yet fully enjoyed.

I will admit to being surprised by his stance in this book. If you go in with the idea that Tony’s stance will be one of mild outrage, as one professional chef detailing the dastardly deeds of another, dirty and
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Laurie Carlson
This was a book I picked up about a month or so ago just to read for myself out of curiosity. It was very enlightening. I sure had shock value from this book! It sure makes you NOT want to go out to eat in ANY restaurant or at least a restaurant that did not serve cooked food, for that matter! I think I'll pass, or at least I will for a little while!
I happened to have grandparents who were 'germophones'. They really would lovingly joke around and call me 'Typhoid Mary' if I had a cold or sounded
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Hashim Qureshi
I read Typhoid Mary solely because of Anthony Bourdain. I am a huge fan of his other works, Kitchen Confidential, A Cook's Tour, etc. To expect Typhoid Mary to live up to those books is foolish considering it is a relatively minor project but I was still a little let down. Bourdain's writing is as sharp as ever but this book really suffers when it starts moving away from food/cooking as its major theme. The sections of the book, mainly the introduction and epilogue are easily the best writing he ...more
Christine Rebbert
Who better than a cook to write a book about a cook? We've all heard of Typhoid Mary, but until this book, I had no idea of who the real person and story was behind the nickname. Mary Mallon was a cook in the homes of the wealthy in early 1900's New York City. Although she herself was never sickened, she was a carrier of the typhoid germ, unfortunately at a time when there was not yet a palliative or cure for the disease. When the "jig was up" as a result of a super-sleuth NYC health officer, Ma ...more
Terri Lynn
I will admit I do not like Anthony Bourdain on television. He seems rude, arrogant, and full of himself. Naturally, I gave pause to the idea of reading something he wrote but was so tempted by the subject matter, I gave in and am glad I did.

Bourdain takes a rather empathetic approach to the story of Mary Mallon at many points though other times calls her a monster. She was no monster. She grew up dirt poor in Ireland, almost died of starvation, and came to the USA where she settled in New York
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Rob Charpentier
From what I can gather, Anthony Bourdain is a rock star in the cooking world. Maybe not in the figurative sense, where he reigns supreme over all others, for I just wouldn’t know anything about that. It is more in the attitude that the man possesses that smacks of rock star and so is something more in the vein of a literal definition here. He walks the talk, as they say.

From what I’ve seen of his television show, “No Reservations,” he comes across as exceedingly casual and aloof, even when showi
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Stephanie
I can't say I really knew anything about Typhoid Mary going into this, so the complaint other reviewers have about this being light on fact doesn't really resonate with me. This is a much less Bourdain style of a book than Bourdain's usual works. I did enjoy how much he seemed to LIKE Mary, despite her flaws. Fun, fast read.
Heather
I didn't know much, if anything, about typhoid fever before reading this, though I'd heard the term "Typhoid Mary" used, no doubt in reference to someone who was sick and infecting others. Flu and cold season, anyone? This was a short read, but interesting. Anthony Bourdain is fun to read; he's smart, snarky,and spins a good yarn. A cook telling a cook's story; he managed to throw in some emotion too. I'm biased because I'm a huge Bourdain fan and I'll read whatever he writes, but I thought this ...more
Biff  Nightingale
An exceptionally quick read that I enjoyed for its brevity and unique perspective. If you don't like Bourdain, I doubt this will be the book to convince you otherwise. Telling the story of the infamous Typhoid Mary, who unknowingly infected dozens of people with Typhoid at the beginning of the Twentieth century. It's interesting to read a chef's perspective on the story, and to see him draw parallels between that time and now. He even manages to garner sympathy for a character who had KNOWINGLY ...more
Cottero
** I can't say I hated this book but I did learn a bit about typhoid! 1870 to 1920 is my favorite part of American history and Typhoid Mary earned her reputation in approximately 1905. The historical information about Mary Mallon, aka Typhoid Mary, was interesting and I enjoyed how the author portrayed Mary's exploits and her life albeit not the most wonderful. The book also contained a considerable amount of behavior history of Irish women along with the cooking habits of the times...interestin ...more
Don Lively
A non-fiction historical account about the life of Mary Mallon, Mr. Bourdain's perspective is unique in that it views Ms. Mallon's life not only from her perspective, somewhat, but also from the perspective of a professional cook. While his adherence to this perspective is not strict, his analysis is well researched and feels very complete.

The story is engaging for the most part. The author's personal observations are entertaining and lively, however, a few of these side trips digress and detra
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Steven E
Anthony Bourdain has a touching amount of sympathy for his subject, Mary Mallon, but it's probably to a fault. Although Mallon was likely psychologically damaged as a result of her rough and insensitive arrest and incarceration, she also acted quite monstrously. Mary consciously decided to cook in a hospital incognito, spreading Typhoid to newborns and expectant mothers alike. Bourdain, though he offers a perfunctory one-sentence disapproval of this behavior, sees Mallon as a sort of soul-sister ...more
Kathryn
This is not the kind of book you read for it’s historical content. As much as I love Bourdain when he writes on food and I enjoyed his fiction books centered around kitchens, drugs and gangsters, he is by no means a history writer. This book didn’t teach me much of anything about Typhoid Mary that was factual. It’s really more of a supposition on what kind of attitude she had and what she might have felt.

Yet, even with learning nothing new about Typhoid Mary and the blatant errors in historical
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Valerie
Nov 06, 2008 Valerie rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone interested in microhistory
Shelves: biography, nonfiction
Typhoid Mary: An Urban Historical by Anthony Bourdain

Popular chef and undaunted traveler Anthony Bourdain (Kitchen Confidential, 2000) interprets the history of Mary Mallon, the infamous “Typhoid Mary” from a chef’s point of view. Bourdain’s careful research shines as he details culinary history, turn-of-the century New York social structure, medical and sanitation issues, and the status of immigrants at the time of the typhoid epidemic of 1907. His vivid descriptions of the grim life of a serva
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Bat
I've been drawn to historical books dealing with plagues, outbreaks, and other medical-related history for some time. I'm also familiar with Bourdain's other novels and television series. Although it took me a long time to finally track down a copy of Typhoid Mary: An Urban Historical, it was well worth it.

That said, this book is not for everyone.

Typhoid Mary clocks in around 140 pages, making this a short read. The tale of Mary Mallon, dubbed "Typhoid Mary" by the press, is sad and rather depre
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John
In some ways this book was very good (unexpectedly good!) and in some ways I found it rather frustrating.

What is very good about this book - and what surprised me the most - are Mr. Bourdain's assessments of the overarching historical and cultural forces at work in that time and place. He shows himself to be an astute and insightful cultural historian.

The major problem with this book - and it's a major problem, as it speaks to Mr. Bourdain's entire premise - is that he makes far too many assumpt
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T. J.
Let me first say that as a cultural and food icon, I love Anthony Bourdain. His wit, his style, his love of meat and contempt for vegetarians is absolutely wonderful. His other nonfiction pieces from what I’ve read (currently working through Kitchen Confidential) seems like an extension of his, awesome, television persona.

But as a historian, even a popular culture one, Mr. Bourdain is lacking. This text has factual errors, date of the Chicago World’s Fair, 1893 not 1900 (that one, I gleaned from
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Sarah
My rather floundering attempt at doing NaNoWriMo this year has been writing a fictional, but true to the facts, retelling of "Typhoid" Mary Mallon's story, an idea that came from reading Judith Walzer Leavitt's absolutely superb, but somewhat dry Typhoid Mary: Captive to the Public's Health. A few years later chef Anthony Bourdain decided to write his own book about the beleagured Irish cook: Typhoid Mary: An Urban Historical.

Bourdain's Urban Historical has a snappier entertaining narrative, he
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Anthony Bourdain is the author of the novels Bone in the Throat and Gone Bamboo, in addition to the megabestsellers Kitchen Confidential and A Cook’s Tour.
His work has appeared in the New York Times and the New Yorker, and he is a contributing authority for Food Arts magazine. He is the host of the popular television show No Reservations.
More about Anthony Bourdain...
Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook A Cook's Tour: Global Adventures in Extreme Cuisines The Nasty Bits: Collected Varietal Cuts, Usable Trim, Scraps, and Bones Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles Cookbook: Strategies, Recipes, and Techniques of Classic Bistro Cooking

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