Armchair historians, San Francisco-philes, and doctors interested in their profession’s past will find this particularly...

THE BARBARY PLAGUE

THE BLACK DEATH IN VICTORIAN SAN FRANCISCO

Real-life medical thriller providing a slice of history we don’t want to repeat.

The bubonic plague threatened San Francisco for a decade at the turn of the century. In her debut, Wall Street Journal reporter Chase documents how federal authorities put an end to the epidemic. Public health disasters can only be averted, she learned from her research, if local, state, and federal health agencies work together. When the plague arrived in 1900, racism against Chinese immigrants, its initial victims, kept federal health inspectors from documenting and instituting measures to eradicate the scourge. Then boosters in the Golden State’s railroad and agricultural industries stymied federal decontamination efforts, because they didn’t want anything to impede California trade. Finally, disputes in Washington agencies bogged down the cleanup. Chase’s narrative focuses on two pioneers in American public health, Joseph Kinyon and Rupert Blue, to convey the difficulty of overcoming the public’s ignorance about how the plague spread and the importance of education and a good public relations campaign in saving lives. If San Franciscans had listened to self-righteous and rough-edged Kinyon instead of running him out of town on a rail, they would never have needed the brilliant and diplomatic Blue, who saved the city from mass death in the wake of the Great Earthquake, which drove hordes of plague-bearing rats out of their warrens in 1906. Much space is devoted to old-time medicine—rudimentary testing for plague bacteria, transferring blood samples from a human corpse to a guinea pig, inoculating people with serums derived from horses—and sometimes these scenes make for a plodding read. But usually there’s satisfaction to be found in being lost in Chase’s narrative. Blue’s meticulous cleanup campaign provides plenty of color as he burns down entire city hospitals and cleans up slaughterhouses teeming with rodents.

Armchair historians, San Francisco-philes, and doctors interested in their profession’s past will find this particularly gripping.

Pub Date: March 25, 2003

ISBN: 0-375-50496-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2002

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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