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Typhoid Mary: Captive to the Public's Health
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Typhoid Mary: Captive to the Public's Health

3.57  ·  Rating details ·  488 ratings  ·  54 reviews
She was an Irish immigrant cook. Between 1900 and 1907, she infected twenty-two New Yorkers with typhoid fever through her puddings and cakes; one of them died. Tracked down through epidemiological detective work, she was finally apprehended as she hid behind a barricade of trashcans. To protect the public's health, authorities isolated her on Manhattan's North Brother ...more
Paperback, 352 pages
Published July 31st 1997 by Beacon Press (first published July 31st 1996)
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Average rating 3.57  · 
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Redundant, amateurish, and dry. Within the first page of basically every chapter the author would say "In this chapter we examine". The last time I was subjected to writing like that it was in my 3rd grade history text book. Leavitt tried to make more out of Mary's story than there was and ends up grasping at straws. There is a point where she is discussing Mary Mallon returning to cooking after she has been released from quarantine on the promise she would not be employed as a cook again, ...more
Dec 08, 2007 rated it it was amazing
'Typhoid Mary' has become a catchphrase for disease, pestilence, and death. Most people have heard the nickname, but few know the particulars. Judith Walzer Leavitt takes a legendary figure in the history of public health protection and humanizes her. In so doing, Leavitt also examines the age-old dilemma of individual liberty vs public safety.

Typhoid Mary was an Irish immigrant cook named Mary Mallon, who spent decades as a prisoner / guest of the New York Public Health Department. As a
Ruth Turner
Jul 08, 2014 rated it did not like it
Shelves: abandoned


This was my second attempt to read this book.

Dry, boring and repetitive. I give up!
Maggi LeDuc
Aug 08, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: owned-books
Lots of good information, but rather repetitive.
Dec 26, 2013 rated it it was ok
This book wasn't the easiest read- it's very academic and dry, with surprisingly very little information given about "Typhoid Mary" Mallon. Apparently not much is known about her life, so the book seems drawn-out and slow at points. Despite that, it makes a poignant case for Mary's unfair judicial ruling, being excommunicated to an island off Manhattan where she posed no threat to public health. The photos and newspaper reprints throughout the book were a nice touch.
Jan 04, 2014 rated it it was ok
I took a look at this book because the author of "Fever" (Mary Beth Keene) wrote that this book was central to the research for her novel. I found the novel so interesting that I wanted to check the known facts. After reading halfway through, it appeared that all the major facts about Typhoid Mary were included in the novel version. Much of the writing in this book was repetitive so I felt I had the gist at the halfway mark.
J.L. Greger
Nov 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This is a great book on several levels. It provides accurate and detailed information on a very abused woman - Mary Mallon (better known as Typhoid Mary). Thus it is a great reference.

Second, it really shows all sides of a complex problem - when should common good (preventing the spread of typhoid fever) supercede individuals rights. Mary Mallon was quarantined for over 20 years on an island.
Apr 09, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, own-it, biography
While the topic, Mary Mallon aka Typhoid Mary is interesting, this book reads like a dissertation, really difficult to get through. Anthony Bourdain's book on her is much, much better.
Sort or repetative but good none the less.
May 01, 2011 rated it really liked it
Like most people my age, I wasn't even sure if "Typhoid Mary" was a real person. I thought it was just some stereotype of dirty immigrant women spreading disease wherever they go. However, an Irish born cook named Mary Mallon was the real person behind the stereotype. She cooked for New York's well-to-do at the turn of the 20th century, until she was hauled off to Willard Parker Hospital to be tested for carrying typhoid bacillus (even though she exhibited no symptoms of the disease), and then ...more
Katelyn (Lost as Alice, Mad as the Hatter)
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
Jun 24, 2015 rated it really liked it

With 170 measles cases reported in the United States during the first two months of 2015*, Judith Walzer-Leavitt's Typhoid Mary: Captive to the Public's Health is a timely read in that the author lends a voice of reason to a perennial question: Which is more important, the public's health or inalienable human rights? Rather than providing an answer to this question, however, the author instead takes an impartial approach by revealing the complexities of the debate, and she does so in a manner
Sep 28, 2015 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book. This book talks about Typhoid Mary. It talks about different perceptions, hers and the society in general at that time, the early 1900s both from the scientific and the press viewpoints. It talks about attitudes and perceptions about racism and fear now and present. It paints a real picture of fear of disease, scientific progress and fear (real or percieved). It is a very good public health book.

Her name was Mary Mallon and she was a "healthy carrier". Mary was an
Lisa Feld
Sep 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: boston
At the turn of the twentieth century, Mary Mallon, an Irish-born cook, was seized by New York health officials as the first healthy carrier of typhoid, infecting others without showing signs of illness herself. She was incarcerated, briefly freed, and then recaptured and imprisoned for life when she was discovered cooking again (and infecting those she cooked for). But the story of the woman who became known as Typhoid Mary is far more complicated than those bare facts. Why was she imprisoned ...more
Jan 13, 2015 rated it it was ok
This book was very interesting but only when you heard facts that were newly said in the book, otherwise it was quite repetitive. The story of Mary Mallon, or Typhoid Mary, could be summarized in 3 to 5 sentences, honestly. Nonetheless, the author finds it necessary to repeat the story of how Mallon became stigmatized through all sorts of different aspects and perspectives, such as: the medical perspective, the law's perspective, the cultural or sociological perspective, the media's perspective, ...more
Michelle Marvin
This book was an interesting tale about "Typhoid Mary," providing multiple perspectives on the historical story of the isolated Mary Mallon who was a healthy carrier of the Typhoid bacteria and infected many people through her cooking. However, the book was very repetitive. If you read the introduction and chapter one, you wonder what else the author could possibly have to say about the case ... and the answer is "not much." The author desires to show that there are many prejudices and social ...more
Sep 29, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: school
With accessible and readable prose, Judith Walzer Leavitts social history, "Typhoid Mary: Captive to the Public Health," chronicles the experience of Mary Mallon, who for unknowingly spreading disease through her cooking was sentenced, first in 1907 and again in 1915, by the New York City public health department to a total of twenty-six years of isolation on North Brother Island.

In addition, "Typhoid Mary" addresses the conflict of how to both protect the public health and uphold the rights
Jan 24, 2016 rated it liked it
This came across as somewhat dated, as the author made repeated comparisons to the "recent" AIDS epidemic and the lessons learned from the treatment of Typhoid Mary. While the AIDS comparison is apt, the author kept bringing it back around to how "recent" it was and it lacked information from the last twenty years re AIDS. In today's climate, Ebola would be more applicable since it's the current public conversation. Or maybe even the anti-vaccination advocates, since it boils down to the rights ...more
Nicole G.
Jun 19, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2008
In modern parlance, the phrase "Typhoid Mary" conjures up visions of hundreds of people dying at her hand. In truth, Mary Mallon, the Irish cook who had this moniker forced upon her, made 22 people ill; only two actually died from typhoid fever. Mary was a curious case at the time; most people who transmitted typhoid had been ill once before. Mallon was what is known as a healthy carrier, which was virtually unheard of in her time. Leavitt details the case and describes other people who were ...more
Amanda Schaefer
Jan 21, 2012 rated it really liked it
This book tells the story of Mary Mallon, aka "Typhoid Mary," who was the first healthy carrier of typhoid identified in the U.S. She was isolated in an island hospital for much of her adult life by the ruling of New York public health officials.

I liked Leavitt's treatment of this subject - it wasn't just Mallon's life story, but her life from different perspectives. The most fascinating question Leavitt poses is "Why?" Why did the NY Public Health Department quarantine Mary and not the other
Apr 07, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2018-books-read
The book was interesting but dry and repetitive. I learned a great deal about the early stages of the CDC and some of their reasoning. It did also talk about "Typhoid Mary" in that she was a carrier although she claimed she never had the disease. She was isolated for 23 years but some of it was her own doing. I saw her own doing because they did let her out provided that she would continue to be tested and she would give up cooking, which is how she transferred the disease. She kept cooking ...more
Mary Alice
Interesting book about Mary Mallon and her imprisonment as a health menace. It's a very short story of a healthy woman who is the victim of her times, her temperament and science. Mary's story is told a few times in the book from several different points of view: Mary's own pov, that of science (public health), the press' exploitation, and the women's/lower class/Irish historical perspective.

On account of the various points of view, there is a great deal of repetition in the book.

Sep 12, 2009 rated it really liked it
I am currently taking a class about women in history. One of our big projects is to read a biography of a woman, ordinary or famous, who has passed away. Later on I need to do a literary review of this book. I chose Typhoid Mary as my subject and found the book later.

This book was written by a medical history professor at University of Wisconsin. It covers many perspectives on Typhoid Mary, including the question of if her civil liberties were stripped because single women were not considered
Sep 15, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: bookcrossed
I liked this book, but at the same time I think I probably should have read it a bit at a time. It opened up a lot of questions about patient rights, even in today's society and I liked that particular period in history, so I enjoyed the book.
That being said, it reads a bit like a textbook, or something you might read in a medical ethic class (which I liked, but not everyone would be interested in).
Rec'd from Talon2Claw and handed off to Karenlea during my California Bookcrossing Adventure 2.0.
Jul 20, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, my-book
The author did a great job expressing the Mary we should know from the one we think we know as "Typhoid Mary." Although written at the height of the AIDS scare, she did not attempt to use "Typhoid Mary" as an excuse for modern day bacteriologists/virologists to incarcerate people on a whim. Instead, she exposes those people who attempt to use "Typhoid Mary" to advance their own agenda's.

With Obamacare coming, we all need to be on the look out for changes in public health policy and ensure that
Jan 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
As outbreaks make the news and make for big movies regularly, we may forget those diseases in the past that thoroughly frightened North American society. When you next go to your doctors office and are asked to put on a mask, feel fortunate that you are not Mary Mallon. In 1907 she inadvertently infected 22 people with deadly typhoid fever and was then incarcerated for the next 26 years until her death! She never exhibited any symptoms; she was a healthy carrier. A hefty price to pay for a crime ...more
Carmen K
Jun 15, 2008 rated it liked it
This books gets repetative simply because the task of viewing the story of Mary Mallon from so many different perspective is impossible without repeating facts. I liked the way this book examines how the public felt, how health officials felt, and how the press portrayed her. It is far from a cut and dry case, and I walked away from the book realizing that 'Typhoid Mary' was not a cold blooded killer like her nickname has come to imply.
Jul 08, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: medicine
A bit too academic at times, although the different ways to view Mary Mallon and what happened to her - in scientific, sociological, etc contexts - are fascinating. Still, there were a number of times that I was a bit bored, and felt like I was reading the same thing over. It's a good read if you're unfamiliar with the time period, but a little bit of a slog if you're not an academic.
Jan 12, 2009 rated it really liked it
Fascinating. I never stopped to think about how insane microbiology and virology must have seemed to the general public at first. Telling someone that they have a disease when they've never been sick had to have been baffling. And when you add in the wage disparity between cook and laundress, it's no wonder she went to ground and tried again.
Jun 02, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Quite interesting book learning about a cook who was a carrier of Typhoid. Because of her, there were so many discoveries made and laws changed. She was a definite asset to science in the 20th century. It is just unfortunate how she was the one that was forced to isolation, while others like her were able to lead their own lives. Good learning!!
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