Scott's Reviews > Black Death at the Golden Gate: The Race to Save America from the Bubonic Plague

Black Death at the Golden Gate by David K. Randall
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really liked it

4.5 stars

"The plague was not only spreading, but Chinese residents . . . appeared to be hiding victim's bodies in hopes that the decomposition process would obscure the true nature of death, turning the survival of [San Francisco] into a cat-and-mouse game." -- pages 58-59

Sometimes I like nothing better than investing time in a 'non-fiction novel' - a stylish narrative that covers an actual event (a natural or man-made catastrophe, a crime, an accident, etc.) - and getting caught up in the story likes it's an all-star disaster movie from the 70's. That sounds a bit ghoulish, perhaps, but I'd like to think people often show their best selves when confronted with a very bad incident. Or, alternatively, you can get a glimpse of just how rotten or petty some people can be.

Randall's Black Death at the Golden Gate recounts the deadly bubonic plague outbreak striking San Francisco at the start of the 20th century. At the time said city was THE metropolis on the U.S. west coast, much larger and more populous than Los Angeles (though that would eventually change with the forthcoming entertainment industry), as it was a major port and railroad terminus, and it hosts (and still does) the largest community of Chinese immigrants in its large Chinatown neighborhood. Unfortunately, it was also a city then-known for its self-serving, questionable, and corrupt politics.

Into this mix arrives the lethal plague, which confounds the local medical establishment, enflames racism (since it first appeared among the Chinese population), and is badly downplayed by many in city and state government to safeguard the area's reputation. After the initial investigating physician, a federal officer from the Marine Hospital Service (now called the U.S. Public Health Service) and an honest if not exactly personable man, is cruelly excommunicated after attempting follow correct procedures we meet the true protagonist of the event. Rupert Blue, the next assigned government physician - an underdog-type, he is sort of described as an average ordinary guy - quickly taps into previously unused personal skills and strength with his new, unenviable position. The humble, hard-working Dr. Blue admirably rises to the occasion and then literally races against time to prevent the plague from spreading beyond San Francisco's Bay Area. The sweeping changes in health codes and sanitation - things we now take for granted - as a result of the outbreak were also sort of fascinating.
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Reading Progress

December 4, 2019 – Started Reading
December 4, 2019 – Shelved
December 5, 2019 –
page 88
28.95%
December 6, 2019 –
page 142
46.71%
December 10, 2019 – Finished Reading

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