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The Colony: The Harrowing True Story of the Exiles of Molokai

3.78  ·  Rating details ·  1,942 ratings  ·  320 reviews
In the bestselling tradition of In the Heart of the Sea, The Colony, “an impressively researched” (Rocky Mountain News) account of the history of America’s only leper colony located on the Hawaiian island of Molokai, is “an utterly engrossing look at a heartbreaking chapter” (Booklist) in American history and a moving tale of the extraordinary people who endured it.

Paperback, 421 pages
Published January 9th 2007 by Scribner (first published January 6th 2006)
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May 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
Incredible and yet little known story of American history of segregation due to disease. Nonfiction true history, gives the reader the history of Leprosy segregation from it's inception in Molokai to current care in Atlanta Georgia.
It began in 1866. Particularly among native Hawaiians who were more susceptible to this terrible disease, people were brought and segregated here. Most often singly, even children.
This book explains the longest segregation due to disease in American history effectivel
home audio. I wonder if the author is more used to being a down market tabloid hack because this sure reads that way. For such a tragic, heart-wrenching piece of history I would have preferred a sober, levelled approach.

Publisher's Summary
In the best-selling tradition of In the Heart of the Sea, The Colony reveals the untold history of the infamous American leprosy colony on Molokai and of the extraordinary people who struggled to survive under the most horrific circumstances.

In 1866, 12 men an
Feb 25, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: hawaii
I'd been wanting to read this book ever since I first heard about it after reading Moloka'i by Alan Brennert a few years ago. In preparation for a trip to Hawaii, I figured this was a good time to check it out.

It tells the story of Hansen's disease (or leprosy, as it used to be called, and still is in many parts of the world) and its emergence in Hawaii, and the subsequent exile of sufferers to a remote peninsula on the island of Moloka'i. There is a large focus on the history, and particularly
Lisa Vegan
Nov 20, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those interested in Hansen’s Disease & its history & its sufferers and in quarantining
I read this because I recently read and adored the novel Moloka'i by Alan Brennert and wanted to learn more about Moloka’i by reading a non-fiction account. I nearly gave this book 5 stars (it’s a definite 4 ½ star book) because it does what it does so impressively. but the fact is I felt as though I got a better feeling of what leprosy was like and how people with the disease were treated from the novel, even though this book covers so much more ground. I was definitely fascinated by some of th ...more
Oct 29, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I would have liked to read this book in connection with a visit to Molokai. Instead, I started it while on the island of Maui, from where you can look across the open seas to Molokai. Perhaps that "distant view" was more symbolic of this isolation of the leper colony which was located on the island's isolated northern peninsula from 1866 to 1969.

The author presents a sweeping history both of "Hansen's disease" (the modern designation) and its physical impacts, the creation and evolution of the c
I had such high hopes for this, as a non-fiction supplement to the excellent historical-fiction book Moloka'i I just read.

Early on the book had promise. John Tayman gives you a lot of details on the establishment and very early years of the colony, which the novel was only able to touch on briefly. I thought I was prepared for the horrors of this place having read the fiction version. I was so wrong. Details of human experimentation (the patients knowledge and/or consent of course not a conside
Jon Nakapalau
A sad chapter in American history that needs to be studied so it is not repeated.
Feb 20, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history-politics
On the surface, this book is about some people, who happened to contract Hansen's disease (leprosy) and how they were taken forcibly from their families and exiled. The deeper story is our human response to physical illness. Leprosy, prior to the 1950's was a terrible, disfiguring and painful disease. Although it is not highly contagious in most forms, the fear surrounding it is both literally and figuratively Biblical. It is both fascinating and disturbing to read about the level of fear and di ...more
Apr 12, 2014 rated it really liked it
This is the story of the leper colony (to use the phrasing of the time) at Moloka'i: a narrow peninsula on the northern coast of a pretty tiny Hawaiian island, separated from the rest of its population by a sheer cliff designed to protect everyone else from what was presumed to be a deadly, infectious disease. The colony was founded in the 1860s and while the state of Hawai'i ceased exiling people infected with Hansen's disease in the mid-twentieth century, some of those who were originally sent ...more
Jul 05, 2007 rated it liked it
Very interesting. However this book stirred up a lot of emotion in Hawaii because the author apparently was not always historically or factually accurate. Apparently he took a lot of liberties with the story. Very interesting read though.
Jeff Jellets
May 17, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: disaster, non-fiction

Unsettling and tragic, Tayman uncovers the history of the exiles of Molokai

John Tayman’s The Colony recounts the history of the exiles of Molokai -- people castaway to a remote shore in the Hawaiian islands after they became stricken with the staggeringly painful and destructive disease of leprosy. The text is meticulously researched, beginning with the founding of the colony in 1866, and then covering more than 150 years as the book traces the fate of the community and its residents into the ea
Tom Schulte
Nov 23, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a detailed an expansive history of the leper colony at Molokai covering over a century from the late 19th Century to the early 1990s. I had read about and had a clear idea of the sainted Fa. Damien whose selfless support of the inmates and deathbed photo brought international attention.

This also covers the pre-Damien days when the rude colony had patients and provisions thrown into the pier-less sea, suffered privation and the cruel supervision on an island nation with more than its shar
Feb 02, 2009 rated it liked it
Pretty interesting book and a somewhat quick read. I came away with a slightly more sympathetic view towards those who created the colony. I by no means think it was appropriate, but after you read that half of Oahu died of small pox, 5000 died of typhoid, 10000 died of various std's, and one year nearly every new born baby died of influenza, it creates more context for the reader. It's not a simple case of people unreasonably thinking a disease could wipe them all out. Actually, that WAS a reas ...more
Jun 18, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
The story of leprosy or Hansen's Disease in the Hawaiian islands is emotional and intense. The story unfolds violently between the natives of the islands and the "white man" who think that leprosy poses a huge threat to the population. Little is known about the disease at the beginning and ignorance plays a great part in the forced exile, separation of families and insufficient healthcare that follows these people to a barren strip of land on the north shore of the Molokai. The victims' perserve ...more
Feb 01, 2012 rated it really liked it
An incredible book. I wish I could have read the book before we visited Kalawao in 1999. I would like to revisit again, now with a different and deeper understanding of the loneliness, pain and suffering that these people went through most of their lives. Children torn from their families, husbands and wife sent away, banished to this remote place, not knowing if they would ever see their loved ones again. Not knowing what was happening to them.
John Tayman has really done a fantastic job putting
Edward Rathke
Apr 05, 2018 rated it liked it
I think the issue with this book has to do with focus. The information is all good and interesting, and it tells a fascinating and depressing story about a century of ineffective medical treatment and brutal callousness for those suffering.

So the book gives a lot of information, which is great. But it's a bit dry and boring after a while, and this has to do with the structure of the book. It's difficult to capture something like this, since there are few consistent characters, and absolutely no
Lisa James
Jun 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
Absolutely STELLAR. Written in sometimes heart crushing details that are hard to read, & hard to believe, this is the comprehensive story of the leper colony that used to be on the island of Molokai, Hawaii, & is now part of the National Park Service. I WISH this book had actually arrived in TIME for me to read it & use it as a reference book for my final research paper on Hansen's Disease/Leprosy in my Microbiology class! That's what I ordered it for. This book is HAUNTING. It's the reminder of ...more
Sep 23, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This was both heartbreaking and inspiring.
Leprosy was historically such a horrifyingly debilitating disease that a history of it would be hard enough to read, but this is even worse. It chronicles the terrible impact of scientific ignorance, religious bigotry, and governmental abuses had on thousands of sufferers. But – it is also the story of selfless care and personal sacrifice of those who risked everything to care for them.
Unfortunately, the author chose to include foul language later in
Oct 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
As a child living in Hawaii (Oahu) in 1969, I remember my parents flying to the Leper Colony on the island of Molokai to attend the wedding of a physician working there. I have been interested in the disease and the segregation of their population to such a remote area. I found the book extraordinarily enlightening. And, in retrospect, heartbreaking to know what these people lived through and with, having a disease that is so easily treatable now.
Becky Loader
Nov 25, 2019 rated it liked it
Well-researched and written about Molokai and the handling of the leprosy epidemic in Hawaii in the 19th century. Not easy to read (man's inhumanity to man), but informative.
Feb 06, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Leprosy isn't something we think about anymore unless we're reading the Bible, and although the word in scripture is used rather broadly, a stigma has attached to those suffering from Hansen's Disease. John Tayman explains that the skin disease usually affects the colder parts of the body – particularly the hands, feet, ears, and nose – destroying the underlying tissue. Those afflicted suffer a loss of feeling and sometimes a curling in of the fingers or collapse of the nose often resulting in h ...more
Chris Demer
Mar 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This history of the leper colony on Molokai is truly a fascinating read!

Meticulously researched, the historical aspects are backed by mountains of documentation. However, the book reads more like a novel. Tayman includes life stories of several key players, including Father Damien, Mother Marianne, numerous directors and physicians who served the colony,(both good-hearted and greedy) several politicians and Board of Health members and several patients who spent years in exile. He draws informati
Oct 13, 2008 rated it really liked it
This is seriously a fantastic book. I consider myself a pretty educated person, not brilliant or anything, but when it comes to American history, there's not a lot that I haven't at least heard about. Until I started doing research on Hawaii (I'm writing a book of my own that takes place there) did I discover this hidden piece of history: the leper colony of Molokai.

John Tayman tells this story vividly and with more detail than any historian could ever ask for. The book itself is filled with dat
Jul 09, 2009 rated it really liked it
In 1866, Hawaii was trying to save it's reputation as a beautiful, tropical place to visit and tried to hide the fact that it had a large number of citizens who had leprosy. So in an effort to keep the streets clean, it passed a law where anyone found with the disease would be sent to the island of Molokai, an "almost island" that boasted one small claim, it had the tallest sea cliff in the world. The "patients" were virtually prisoners on the island. There were no landing sites along the island ...more
Jun 11, 2009 rated it really liked it
by John Tayman, Backyard BBQ (50 States Challenge)

Themes: illness, superstition, compassion, love, science
Setting: Molokai, Hawaii 1866-1970s

Leprosy. It's a horrible disease. It makes your extremities fall off. It's horribly contagious. It causes nasty oozing sores that spread germs to everyone you pass by. It's always fatal. And there's still no cure.

Except that none of this is true. Except that is a pretty horrible disease, if not treated. But there is a very effective treatment available. It'
Edwina Callan
Dec 08, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2016, bookcrossing
Well written and researched account of the leper colony on the Hawaiian island of Molokai.

Hard to read at times, due to the heartbreaking descriptions of human suffering, and the mad scientist ways that were used while searching for a cure were stomach turning, but there were a few moments of comic relief thrown in, such as John Wayne being scared to the point of hiding
and Robert Louis Stevenson strolling around in a suit with a red silk scarf tied around his waist.
(Really? You're going to a pri
Mar 19, 2015 rated it liked it
3.5 stars. Very interesting at parts. I learned that my knowledge of how leprosy works was slim to none. So on a educational stand point, it was very helpful. And it did encourage me to do a little extra research on this strange and widely misunderstood disease. I can't put a finger on why I didn't enjoy this book more, but it felt like it was taking a long time to finish. It is 300 pages long though, which is longer than the average book I read. But it just never really grabbed me. And it is ki ...more
Jane Mettee
Jul 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing
As a public health nurse I found this true account of the horrors of the island prison where people with leprosy were left to die both heartbreaking and fascinating. People were separated from loved ones and children put in orphanages. In the early days there was inadequate food and no nursing/medical care. There were no antibiotics at that time. The public was terrified of the disfiguring disease. Eventually things improved somewhat with the arrival of a dedicated priest and nursing nuns. Taxpa ...more
Jan 09, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Reading any history on the leper colony of Molokai (Hawaii) promises to be less than pleasant, of this one is assured. However, John Tayman has done a rather brilliant job of presenting a well-documented and engaging reflection on a period of our nation's past not frequently discussed or examined. I don't think I've ever encountered a piece of relatively recent history reported in such an objective and non-sensational manner. He does not tell you how to feel, what to think or who to blame; you a ...more
Oct 01, 2009 rated it liked it
Interesting information about Molokai and it's leper colony. When you think lepers you think ancient history but this colony was extinguished not so long ago. This is a depiction of yet another set of people in our society who have been persecuted, outcasted and deemed less than human. I found this book very informative.
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John Tayman is the author of the nonfiction bestseller The Colony, which was a No. 1 BookSense Pick, and an Editor’s Pick by The New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal, Entertainment Weekly, Publishers Weekly, and NPR.

In 2011, Tayman founded the award-winning digital publishing company Byliner, which published thirty-two bestsellers by authors such as Jon Krakauer, Amy Tan, Margaret Atwood, and Nick

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