COVID-19 Response at

Read what we're doing...

The Barbary Plague


Product Description
Product Details

About the Author

MARILYN CHASE, a longtime reporter for The Wall Street Journal, covers medical science and health care, currently focusing on infectious-disease outbreaks and bioterrorism. An honors graduate of Stanford University who also holds a master's degree from the University of California at Berkeley, Chase lives with her family in San Francisco.


Chase has been reporting on current issues in medicine and science for the Wall Street Journal since 1978, but here she treads backward to uncover events surrounding the bubonic plague that swept early 1900s San Francisco.

Adult/High School-Chase's knowledge of the city and skill for making scientific concepts accessible to educated lay readers make this snapshot of a relatively unknown event vivid and thought provoking. Bubonic plague entered the port of San Francisco with the 20th century. For the next decade, it defied both medical and political efforts to eradicate it from an urban landscape fraught with ethnic distrust, new money, and old customs. The author offers a clear and telling portrait of the roles played by Chinese merchant societies, the white press, and Sacramento officials that initially enabled the disease to gain a foothold. She then turns most of her attention to detailing the scientific and personal strengths and weaknesses of the national public health officials who worked to determine efficient ways to diagnose, treat, and eventually halt the spread of the disease. In addition to finding readers among students already interested in modern medicine, Chase's book is a fine selection for ethnic studies and political science classes. Although the few photos do little to expand the narrative, the thumbnail descriptions of the disparate lives altered, ended, or detoured by San Francisco's experience with rats, fleas, and disease provide concrete images for readers with any imagination.-Francisca Goldsmith, Berkeley Public Library, CA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

In 1900, a ship called the Australia docked in San Francisco, carrying infected rats that launched a plague epidemic in the city, which raged sporadically for five years before it was subdued. Chase, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, argues in this engaging narrative that social, cultural and psychological issues prevented public health officials from curtailing the outbreak. Relying on published sources, diaries and letters, Chase shows how the disease first hit Chinatown and explains that most San Franciscans denied the outbreak, while others blamed the city's Chinese population (city officials hid behind worries about tourism and the city's reputation). But Chase goes beyond sociological analysis in this lively work and focuses on the players. While the first public health official assigned to stem the epidemic, Joseph Kinyoun, was an innovative scientist, Chase shows how he lacked the strategy and tact necessary for the task-his plan to quarantine Chinatown caused as many problems as it solved. Only when Rupert Blue, a new official, was assigned to the case after a second outbreak five years later, was the epidemic quashed. Avoiding pedantry and tediousness, Chase tells a story that highlights the true nature of epidemics-and how employing a combination of acceptance, perseverance and diplomacy are key to solving them. As she notes in her final pages, the parallels with the AIDS crisis are striking, and the lessons worth salting away for any future epidemics. (Mar.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

A pleasure to read, full of people, dramatic situations, individual foibles and collective hard work...The story, 100 years old, has much to teach us about today."
--The New York Times Book Review

"An involving medical detective story...richly atmospheric [and] consistently enthralling."
--San Francisco Chronicle "Chase, with her elegant, subtle writing, brings alive the human victims, particularly the often-tragic lives of Chinese laborers trying to make a life for themselves."
--USA Today "If the folks at Homeland Security read one book this year, let it be Marilyn Chase's The Barbary Plague, for the way it captures in precise detail how political and business imperatives can impede the battle against a deadly epidemic, in this case the bubonic plague--the fabled Black Death--in old San Francisco. The city's leaders, even its health department, fought the news of the plague's arrival more aggressively than the disease itself, despite the deaths of dozens of victims. But Chase's book is also simply a great story of a long-past time when a few heroic men, armed with only the most basic knowledge of infectious disease, stood up to the powers arrayed against them and, through ingenuity and intuition, at last ran this epidemic to ground."
--Erik Larson, bestselling author of The Devil in the White City "Outbreaks of disease can catalyze either courage or cowardice in individuals and society. Chase brings to life a largely forgotten story--in vivid prose and at a pulse-quickening pace--of a time when America's character was tested. There is much to learn about how to confront uncertainty from this remarkable tale."
-Jerome Groopman, M.D., author of The Measure of Our Days; Second Opinions; and the forthcoming The Anatomy of Hope (Random House, Spring 2004) "The Barbary Plague is a thoroughly engrossing tale of mankind's battle with the most stubborn of foes, infectious disease.... Chase's vast experience in medical reporting keeps her writing not only accurate but highly entertaining."
-Dean Edell, M.D., medical TV correspondent for ABC-TV 7, San Francisco, and host of the syndicated radio talk show, The Dr. Dean Edell Show, "At a time when fear of anthrax and smallpox are very much in the public consciousness, it's interesting to go back and look at an outbreak in this country of perhaps the most frightening and deadly of all scourges--the bubonic plague. Everything that we imagine today in our worst nightmares happened in San Francisco in the early part of the 20th century--a population in denial or panic, politicians refusing to tell the truth, and the sadly inevitable blame on racial grounds. Yet even during the worst days, men like Dr. Rupert Blue rose to the occasion in the most amazing, humane, and courageous ways. This story of the past gives me great hope for the present."
-Lisa See, author of On Gold Mountain: The One-Hundred-Year Odyssey of My Chinese-American Family

Ask a Question About this Product More...
Write your question below:
How Fishpond Works
Fishpond works with suppliers all over the world to bring you a huge selection of products, really great prices, and delivery included on over 25 million products that we sell. We do our best every day to make Fishpond an awesome place for customers to shop and get what they want — all at the best prices online.
Webmasters, Bloggers & Website Owners
You can earn a 5% commission by selling The Barbary Plague: The Black Death in Victorian San Francisco on your website. It's easy to get started - we will give you example code. After you're set-up, your website can earn you money while you work, play or even sleep! You should start right now!
Authors / Publishers
Are you the Author or Publisher of a book? Or the manufacturer of one of the millions of products that we sell. You can improve sales and grow your revenue by submitting additional information on this title. The better the information we have about a product, the more we will sell!
Item ships from and is sold by Fishpond Retail Limited.
Back to top