It was interesting for sure, but I can't say that this format really worked for me. I loved the background on the time period; I learned a lot in just a few pages that I didn't know before. However, Bourdain writes the same way he talks. If you are familiar with his TV show then you'll know what I mean. He is sarcastic, caustic, witty, and sometimes a bit much for me. I guess I want less opinion with my facts, and more facts in general.
That said, this was an easy book to read and I finished it in just a few days. It wasn't bad but it wasn't great either.
Read my complete review here
The facts are correct. Bourdain's writing style lets the social history down by being either too curt or too windy.
I recommend reading the Wikipedia article, or probably any other online site about Mary, for the same information. There were just too many large gaps in the social history of that time Bourdain could have made good use of for a more interesting read.
An interesting story in an of itself. Interesting also because the author uses it to tell a story of that time in history. As someone who enjoys cooking and learning about the food industry, I found it an enjoyable read. I do wish we could get a better glimpse into the person that Mary was. I ended the book still wanting to know her point of view not history's view of her. My favorite part of the book was the epilogue when Anthony Bourdain interjects himself into the story and tells of his visits to the places in the book. The segment portrays the emotion and sadness of the book while the rest is an abbreviated historical account with excerpts from many other documents. This book reads like an essay except that it is too long to be an essay. However, it is still a short book and a relatively easy read for the serious topic it addresses.
This slim volume (148 pages) is a quick read (I started and finished during a 5 hour airline flight).
As other reviewers have pointed out, there are pages I skimmed and skipped because Bourdain didn't have a lot of material to work with (many details of Mary Mallon's life are lost to history) and thus filled the gaps with his customary over-the-top prose.
His style can be annoying at times, funny at others (but more annoying than funny). If you read Kitchen Confidential and remember his excessive use of colorful adjectives to describe vagabonds, scalawags, and the like, you'll certainly get your fill of them here. Example:
Chapter Two is simply titled "Typhoid Sucks."
-One sample sentence: "Popular objects of desire of the day were 'British Blondes', women who looked like the defensive line of the Pittsburgh Steelers."
-When Mary's stool samples positively identify her as a carrier of Typhoid, Bourdain writes: "Mary was now thoroughly and profoundly screwed."
In any case, getting past the hackish style, this is an interesting story, and I learned a lot more about Mary Mallon than I knew, but Bourdain still can't plug a lot of the gaps that will remain forever lost to history.
What we do know, is that she didn't kill the legions of people her name suggests. She was the "boogey woman" of the day, although not without reason (there were others far worse, at the same time).
That washing your hands is a really, really important thing.
That we are so fortunate to live in a time when medical advances help detect and treat these illnesses, and that we know about "carriers" who may not show symptoms and how to identify them and we don't ship carriers off to lonely islands to get rid of them.
That she brought a lot of this on herself by simply refusing to believe she was a carrier, and even if she didn't believe, by living so sloppy and with such disinterest and lack of self-respect (we already know from history that she died in absolute squalor with no reason at all for having done so) that she couldn't be bothered to wash her own feces off her hands when she cooked food. It's as simple as that.
And, as another reviewer pointed out, don't read this around supper time. You're going to be reading about feces and urine and squalor from page to page. Then you're going to wash your hands. A lot.