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Typhoid Mary : An Urban Historical
Typhoid Mary An Urban Historical
Author: Anthony Bourdain
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 ...  more »
ISBN-13: 9781582341330
ISBN-10: 1582341338
Publication Date: 5/4/2001
Pages: 160
  • Currently 3.3/5 Stars.

3.3 stars, based on 62 ratings
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Book Type: Hardcover
Members Wishing: 19
Reviews: Member | Amazon | Write a Review

Top Member Book Reviews

whippoorwill avatar reviewed Typhoid Mary : An Urban Historical on
Helpful Score: 8
I read it for the first time when I was 17/18. I remember finding it thrilling. The second time around? Not so much. I found myself wanting to skip over large portions of the book. So, I'd recommend only if you have a burning fascination with either the author or Mary Mallon (Typhoid Mary). Also, I wouldn't read the first few chapters while eating, or planning to go to a restaurant. Typhoid transmission through dirty fingers... yum.
demiducky25 avatar reviewed Typhoid Mary : An Urban Historical on + 161 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 4
This story is told by a cook about a cook. Bourdain takes the reader on an inside look on what happened in early turn-of-the-century kitchens (and sometimes still does happen, YIKES). He tries to show the reader what this experience would have been like from Mary's point of view as a proud cook suddenly told that she can no longer do what she was born to do. This is not a pure history book if that's what you are looking for; rather it provides a snapshot of the type of world Mary Mallon (Typhoid Mary) lived in and provides reasons from a cook's point of view about why Mary continued to seek employment in the food industry even after it was proven that she was a carrier. It reads more like a conversation or a psychological profile than a history text, which makes it a quick and light read, but I wish I learned more about Mary's actual life than just speculations on why she may have done the things she did.
TXGrobanite avatar reviewed Typhoid Mary : An Urban Historical on + 270 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 3
In reading this book, I could really hear Anthony Bourdain telling it like it was in that blunt attitude he has. I would've liked to hear more about what happened to her on the island and it would've also been nice to have some pictures of her/where she lived on the island and things of that nature-he talks about several photos he saw though in the book. Very interesting reading nonetheless and i'll definately read more by Anthony Bourdain now that I know he writes books. (I know him from the Travel Channel!)
reviewed Typhoid Mary : An Urban Historical on + 93 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 2
An interesting read. I could hear Anthony Bourdain's voice telling me the story in my head.

I didn't know whether to feel sorry for her or not throughout the book.
RockStarGirl avatar reviewed Typhoid Mary : An Urban Historical on + 329 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 2
This was a short tale of the impact of Typhoid Mary, or Mary Mallon. It's told with some sympathy towards Mary Mallon, as she wasn't ill while cooking and medical science being what it was, would have found it hard to believe that she could carry an illness with her. What's interesting is her stubborness and determination to not cooperate, not change her standards of cleanliness, and her desire to continue cooking knowing that she was spreading disease to families. Was it pride or simply a matter of ignorance and survival? Bourdain tends to believe it was a love of cooking that propelled her, and his view is shared throughout this book. Decent read with interesting historical facts.
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reviewed Typhoid Mary : An Urban Historical on + 102 more book reviews
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.
Dargent avatar reviewed Typhoid Mary : An Urban Historical on
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.
njmom3 avatar reviewed Typhoid Mary : An Urban Historical on + 1355 more book reviews
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.
kateford avatar reviewed Typhoid Mary : An Urban Historical on + 13 more book reviews
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.