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Black Death at the Golden Gate: The Race to Save America from the Bubonic Plague

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For Chinese immigrant Wong Chut King, surviving in San Francisco meant a life in the shadows. His passing on March 6, 1900, would have been unremarkable if a city health officer hadn’t noticed a swollen black lymph node on his groin—a sign of bubonic plague. Empowered by racist pseudoscience, officials rushed to quarantine Chinatown while doctors examined Wong’s tissue for For Chinese immigrant Wong Chut King, surviving in San Francisco meant a life in the shadows. His passing on March 6, 1900, would have been unremarkable if a city health officer hadn’t noticed a swollen black lymph node on his groin—a sign of bubonic plague. Empowered by racist pseudoscience, officials rushed to quarantine Chinatown while doctors examined Wong’s tissue for telltale bacteria. If the devastating disease was not contained, San Francisco would become the American epicenter of an outbreak that had already claimed ten million lives worldwide. To local press, railroad barons, and elected officials, such a possibility was inconceivable—or inconvenient. As they mounted a cover-up to obscure the threat, ending the career of one of the most brilliant scientists in the nation in the process, it fell to federal health officer Rupert Blue to save a city that refused to be rescued. Spearheading a relentless crusade for sanitation, Blue and his men patrolled the squalid streets of fast-growing San Francisco, examined gory black buboes, and dissected diseased rats that put the fate of the entire country at risk. In the tradition of Erik Larson and Steven Johnson, Randall spins a spellbinding account of Blue’s race to understand the disease and contain its spread—the only hope of saving San Francisco, and the nation, from a gruesome fate.


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For Chinese immigrant Wong Chut King, surviving in San Francisco meant a life in the shadows. His passing on March 6, 1900, would have been unremarkable if a city health officer hadn’t noticed a swollen black lymph node on his groin—a sign of bubonic plague. Empowered by racist pseudoscience, officials rushed to quarantine Chinatown while doctors examined Wong’s tissue for For Chinese immigrant Wong Chut King, surviving in San Francisco meant a life in the shadows. His passing on March 6, 1900, would have been unremarkable if a city health officer hadn’t noticed a swollen black lymph node on his groin—a sign of bubonic plague. Empowered by racist pseudoscience, officials rushed to quarantine Chinatown while doctors examined Wong’s tissue for telltale bacteria. If the devastating disease was not contained, San Francisco would become the American epicenter of an outbreak that had already claimed ten million lives worldwide. To local press, railroad barons, and elected officials, such a possibility was inconceivable—or inconvenient. As they mounted a cover-up to obscure the threat, ending the career of one of the most brilliant scientists in the nation in the process, it fell to federal health officer Rupert Blue to save a city that refused to be rescued. Spearheading a relentless crusade for sanitation, Blue and his men patrolled the squalid streets of fast-growing San Francisco, examined gory black buboes, and dissected diseased rats that put the fate of the entire country at risk. In the tradition of Erik Larson and Steven Johnson, Randall spins a spellbinding account of Blue’s race to understand the disease and contain its spread—the only hope of saving San Francisco, and the nation, from a gruesome fate.

30 review for Black Death at the Golden Gate: The Race to Save America from the Bubonic Plague

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jeanette

    Such a deep subject and over quite a span of time- this was supremely researched. The only star it loses is that it sidetracked to Gold Rush and other historical background context a bit more than was necessary, IMHO. But all told the title is the core of this book. Oh the early 1898-1903 "fights" between the individuals and the politico "eyes" (BOTH) of the two highest officials! And the obscuring of the reality to the populace or even to the numbers or locations because of the disorganization an Such a deep subject and over quite a span of time- this was supremely researched. The only star it loses is that it sidetracked to Gold Rush and other historical background context a bit more than was necessary, IMHO. But all told the title is the core of this book. Oh the early 1898-1903 "fights" between the individuals and the politico "eyes" (BOTH) of the two highest officials! And the obscuring of the reality to the populace or even to the numbers or locations because of the disorganization and just plain selfishness of the "know betters"! It reminds me of the politico "eyes" of the present which allow infectious disease to stream into the country without the stringent measures required at all and at every time because it doesn't fit their "compassionate" politico agenda. Then, like now, the politicians and officials druthers came/ come first. And people continued to die. It was the most remarkable 5 star portion within the last 1/3rd, in the story of Rupert Blue in particular. I had never heard of the man. What a true heroic life he lead. And what sacrifices and disdaining rejections he suffered for his unrelenting truth telling. And rat wars he conducted against huge and always ridiculed push back. Not to speak of the loneliness! Only the quirks of the fleas saved 100,000's (100's dying instead of 100,000's) and we still get about 7 deaths a year in the western USA presently. Squirrels can carry it too. The big Earthquake seems to have put the Bubonic Plague in the shade, so to speak, historically re San Francisco. It sure shouldn't have. Not for the great numbers it killed then and since. Lies, lies, lies and cover ups to disease outcomes and sources with their paths-alive and well within S.F. presently-just as the feces piles and the rats are. For the most delicate, this book is not politically correct, IMHO. Racial projection and laws, treatments and consequences for a number of issues, like quarantine- very unequal as well.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Raughley Nuzzi

    This is a really engaging pop-history of science covering a series of Plague outbreaks in California at the turn of the last century. It was remarkable to see today's headlines reflected in the issues of 1898 San Francisco, from the anti-vaxxers deriding the work of scientists, to an executive blind to objectivity in favor of political expediency, to an anti-immigrant fervor against unwashed masses, to hyperbolic claims and counter-claims of fake news. The story sometimes reads like a slowly unfo This is a really engaging pop-history of science covering a series of Plague outbreaks in California at the turn of the last century. It was remarkable to see today's headlines reflected in the issues of 1898 San Francisco, from the anti-vaxxers deriding the work of scientists, to an executive blind to objectivity in favor of political expediency, to an anti-immigrant fervor against unwashed masses, to hyperbolic claims and counter-claims of fake news. The story sometimes reads like a slowly unfolding horror movie with a mysterious silent killer lurking the streets of San Francisco while doctors and scientists do their level best to thwart its efforts. There were Jack-the-Ripper vibes and I could almost picture a modern police procedural in the description of Rupert Blue's map marked with red X's for every plague victim. It's a fascinating peek back just 120 years to a time when germ theory had only recently been adopted by the medical community (to say nothing of the public), but antibiotics were yet to be developed. San Francisco was teeming with plagued rats under its wooden sidewalks and packed-dirt basements and use of microscopes by physicians was seen as a quaint hobby. Technologically, we've come a long way since then, but in many ways, we're still stuck in an 1898 mentality. Overall, well-written, well-narrated, and extremely interesting!

  3. 4 out of 5

    Kelly

    A fascinating, engrossing, and at times downright enraging look at the spread of bubonic plague in San Francisco at the turn of the 20th century. The book follows how two doctors recognized what was going on and how one was let down turn after turn, allowing the disease to spread because of inadequate funding and support -- as well as rampant xenophobia and racism -- while the other doctor was able to make inroads and discover that it was a specific type of flea that spread the disease to rats a A fascinating, engrossing, and at times downright enraging look at the spread of bubonic plague in San Francisco at the turn of the 20th century. The book follows how two doctors recognized what was going on and how one was let down turn after turn, allowing the disease to spread because of inadequate funding and support -- as well as rampant xenophobia and racism -- while the other doctor was able to make inroads and discover that it was a specific type of flea that spread the disease to rats and then onto people. He helped develop a public health system and ways to combat the further spread of plague (even though anyone who has spent time in the west or southwest knows it exists still, and that's touched on here a bit in regards to the wild squirrels). Randall doesn't shy away from the realities of racism and classism, and he does a great job framing the situation in San Francisco with the greater things going on in the US and around the world at the same time. The earthquake is covered and offers sort of the ah ha moment of figuring out why the disease was spreading the way it was, followed later by further understanding of its spreading in Los Angeles following World War I and the Spanish Influenza. The history of disease, and plague especially, is fascinating to me, and Randall writes the history in a compelling, engaging manner. Readers who dig this and are open to reading nonfiction for youth would do well with Bubonic Panic: When Plague Invaded America as well, which is how I was already aware of the history of the plague in America.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Meg

    Remember the Middle Ages with all of its death-by-pandemic? This is a true account of when the Bubonic plague hit the United States at the turn on the last century. For years, one of my favorite books and reading experiences for book club was Steven Johnson’s GHOST MAP. I’ve been searching for something to scratch that itch ever since, but hadn’t found anything close enough... until now. Author David Randall tells a fascinating story about the race to discover the cause and cure, with an element Remember the Middle Ages with all of its death-by-pandemic? This is a true account of when the Bubonic plague hit the United States at the turn on the last century. For years, one of my favorite books and reading experiences for book club was Steven Johnson’s GHOST MAP. I’ve been searching for something to scratch that itch ever since, but hadn’t found anything close enough... until now. Author David Randall tells a fascinating story about the race to discover the cause and cure, with an element of racism to foul things up even further, all set on the Pacific seaboard of the United States. This is one of those “how have I never heard about this?!” stories from history.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Fredrick Danysh

    A well written history of the plague's appearance in Hawaii and San Francisco as well as the efforts to combat it at the advent of the twentith century. The development of the Public Health Service is chronicled as well as the personalities of the doctors involved. The ethnic and financial bias of the period is also well documented. This was a free review copy obtained through Goodreads.com.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jane

    A devastating disease, an apathetic and greedy local government, and an unlikely hero. Black Death at the Golden Gate is a shocking tale of a plague outbreak in turn of the century California, an event that had previously been buried in America's history. David K. Randall paints a vivid picture of the chilling events from San Francisco, using a multitude of sources to give the readers a true understanding of who these men facing the Black Death were, and what they stood for. Randall does an amazi A devastating disease, an apathetic and greedy local government, and an unlikely hero. Black Death at the Golden Gate is a shocking tale of a plague outbreak in turn of the century California, an event that had previously been buried in America's history. David K. Randall paints a vivid picture of the chilling events from San Francisco, using a multitude of sources to give the readers a true understanding of who these men facing the Black Death were, and what they stood for. Randall does an amazing job at pointing out that history isn't just black and white; no person is either "good" or "bad." You learn each character's strength, but also their faults. I am often frustrated that authors leave the less pretty information out to make a more compelling hero. Randall absolutely came through, providing the whole picture. This read is fascinating, shocking, chilling, and in the end, encouraging. It is an absolute must read!!

  7. 4 out of 5

    Pamela

    4.5 stars. A historical medical mystery following two doctors who recognized plague when it came to the US and had to fight politicians, business interests, and rampant racism and xenophobia in trying to control the disease. Because of all the pushback the doctors and the Marine Medical Service encountered, it took too long to make the connection to rats and fleas, and now western squirrels also carry the disease (as anyone who has been to a park near Lake Tahoe can tell you; there are signs war 4.5 stars. A historical medical mystery following two doctors who recognized plague when it came to the US and had to fight politicians, business interests, and rampant racism and xenophobia in trying to control the disease. Because of all the pushback the doctors and the Marine Medical Service encountered, it took too long to make the connection to rats and fleas, and now western squirrels also carry the disease (as anyone who has been to a park near Lake Tahoe can tell you; there are signs warning people to stay away from plague-bearing squirrels). As noted in the last sentence, “ ... the disease remains hidden along the wide open horizon of the West, where it waits to once again make a jump into the human population.”

  8. 5 out of 5

    Christy

    As an RN who minored in history, this book was right up my alley. Prior to picking up the book, I did not know about this struggle to eradicate bubonic plague on the West Coast in (fairly) contemporary times. So, this book read like a mystery. The book details the timeline between patient zero through through the nail biting peak and ultimate end of the scourge in San Francisco. At the time of patient zero, the route of transmission and the vector of Yersinia pestis had not been identified. Davi As an RN who minored in history, this book was right up my alley. Prior to picking up the book, I did not know about this struggle to eradicate bubonic plague on the West Coast in (fairly) contemporary times. So, this book read like a mystery. The book details the timeline between patient zero through through the nail biting peak and ultimate end of the scourge in San Francisco. At the time of patient zero, the route of transmission and the vector of Yersinia pestis had not been identified. David Randall reminds us, though, that bacteria Yersinia pestis is still around (sorry/not sorry, rodents) so we should not get too complacent. The book has lots of engrossing sub-plots including widespread bigotry and cover-ups by the media and local governments. The evolving profession of medicine (late 1800s to early 1900s) and understanding of science make for interesting backstories. The true heroes in this book are science and the federal public health officers. I got this book gratis from Goodreads.com in exchange for my honest review. I recommend this book to anyone interested in science, history, medicine, infectious disease, public health, rodentia, San Francisco, or non-fiction books that read like mystery. If you liked, “The Great Influenza,” you’ll love “Black Death at the Golden Gate.”

  9. 4 out of 5

    Weixiang

    The roots of racism towards Chinese immigrants during the late 1800s is very much new to me. I've not read much stories, analysis, historical events of how the white devils treated the Chinese during the time of the Chinese exclusion act, nor during the transcontinental railroad building. It's nice how this book was the first book to introduce me into that world of racism, from a world of eugenical thinking. This book was a great background on how the Chinese was treated during that time, and the The roots of racism towards Chinese immigrants during the late 1800s is very much new to me. I've not read much stories, analysis, historical events of how the white devils treated the Chinese during the time of the Chinese exclusion act, nor during the transcontinental railroad building. It's nice how this book was the first book to introduce me into that world of racism, from a world of eugenical thinking. This book was a great background on how the Chinese was treated during that time, and the entire reading was similar to how the Soviet union treated the cover up of Chernobyl. It was all too close how the black death would've come into the world of the golden mountains before the dawn of the Flu virus.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Gerry

    Randall writes well, and kept his narrative moving along compellingly. Who knew that not only had bubonic plague actually occurred in 20th century America, but that it still exists to this day, especially in the western part of the country? What prevented its eradication was primarily a combination of racism and greed, as politicians fought to maintain a cloak of secrecy over the outbreak lest the economy of their city be damaged.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Kate

    Excellent read. Nothing has changed in 119 years. Hatred of immigrants. Politics corrupt and criminal. People in charge trying their hardest to destroy anyone who they feel may threaten them and trying to get more power and funding.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Ariel Marie

    I received an ARC for this book in return for an honest review. I apologize it took me so long. I just found it hard to read this book. Maybe it was because I wanted more of a science POV. I don’t know what I wanted, but this book simply was not for me. It felt too drawn out in moments and a bit dull. While the information is important, I just didn’t care for it and prefer a handful of other history books about infectious diseases and their societal impact.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Caitlyn

    This is a fascinating history of the efforts of public health officials to prevent the spread of bubonic plague in San Francisco in the early 1900s. Efforts were fraught with prejudice, political maneuvering and corruption, bacteriology as a new science, and the discovery that the plague was spread by fleas. It’s the history of San Francisco, of California, and the newly formed federal public health. It regards the sociology of medicine, and science deniers. The book is written for the lay perso This is a fascinating history of the efforts of public health officials to prevent the spread of bubonic plague in San Francisco in the early 1900s. Efforts were fraught with prejudice, political maneuvering and corruption, bacteriology as a new science, and the discovery that the plague was spread by fleas. It’s the history of San Francisco, of California, and the newly formed federal public health. It regards the sociology of medicine, and science deniers. The book is written for the lay person and is a quick, easy, and fascinating read.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Queenie Collins

    I received an ARC of this book through a Goodreads Giveaway. I was so caught up in the plot and characters that I had to keep checking to see if this was really a history book. The characters are fascinating. Not only are we told what they did, but who they were as husbands, friends, employers. Getting equal spotlight as the characters, is the city of San Francisco. I learned many new things about the popular tourist destinations in the city. Overall, if you enjoy suspense, travelogs and/or science I received an ARC of this book through a Goodreads Giveaway. I was so caught up in the plot and characters that I had to keep checking to see if this was really a history book. The characters are fascinating. Not only are we told what they did, but who they were as husbands, friends, employers. Getting equal spotlight as the characters, is the city of San Francisco. I learned many new things about the popular tourist destinations in the city. Overall, if you enjoy suspense, travelogs and/or science, this is a great read!

  15. 5 out of 5

    Kristina Harper

    This is a fascinating account of bubonic (and pneumonic) plague outbreaks in San Francisco at the start of the 20th century, along with the doctors who fought to control and eradicate the disease, and the politicians and press who initially fought them every step of the way to protect their business interests. It’s also a look at the filth and lack of sanitation endemic to San Francisco before and after the Great Quake. A really interesting read.

  16. 5 out of 5

    L.A.

    Si jeunesse savait, si vieillesse pouvait! Oh America. You were so wild in the early 20th century, what with your complete ignorance of bacteriology and racist pseudo-science. It nearly got you all killed, too, when bubonic plague, of all things, turned up in San Francisco. Completely ignorant of how diseases actually work, you nearly started a pandemic. Lucky for you, a few good scientists fought to drag you into the modern medical age. Said scientists, Joseph Kinyoun and Rupert Blue, played imp Si jeunesse savait, si vieillesse pouvait! Oh America. You were so wild in the early 20th century, what with your complete ignorance of bacteriology and racist pseudo-science. It nearly got you all killed, too, when bubonic plague, of all things, turned up in San Francisco. Completely ignorant of how diseases actually work, you nearly started a pandemic. Lucky for you, a few good scientists fought to drag you into the modern medical age. Said scientists, Joseph Kinyoun and Rupert Blue, played important roles in halting the plague. Kinyoun, though first on the scene, was not nearly as effective because his bedside manner left a lot to be desired. This is an important lesson for educated people to learn: you might be right, but if you use your intelligence as a club instead of a bridge, nobody's going to listen to you...which is exactly what happened. Kinyoun was a brilliant doctor, exiled to the West Coast by a jealous government superior, so he wasn't thrilled to be there in the first place. As a result he made a lot of social faux pas, mainly being a cranky recluse instead of making nice with city officials. When plague turned up, and he identified it, he had a hell of a time convincing San Francisco's ruling elite and press that they were up shit creek, because of all the bridges he burned. Kinyoun, however, was incredibly stubborn -- a far lesser person would've given up trying a lot sooner -- and he fought tooth and nail to keep the plague in check, mostly succeeding. Besides political failures, other forces in play that kept Kinyoun from completely eradicating plague were things you sadly still find in the 21st century: a mistrust of scientists and doctors, newspapers that played ball with government and printed "fake news," anti-vax sentiment, and --worst of all - virulent racism that blamed Chinese immigrants for bringing and spreading plague. Never mind that America, up to the first few decades of the 20th century, was absolutely FILTHY. Hand-washing? Not a thing. Garbage and rats everywhere. Poor personal hygeine. It was truly a hot mess. Enter Rupert Blue, just as good a doctor, but with a much better bedside manner. Blue, a thoughtful, empathetic guy as well as a good scientist, followed advances in bacteriology as closely as Kinyoun did; the difference was, he knew how to talk to people and make them understand, even people who thought bacteriology was nonsense. Blue's greatest success was making inroads into the Chinese community and convincing them to accept prophylactic treatment that saved many lives...and kept white people from burning Chinatown to the ground. Even with a willing city behind him, however, Blue had a hell of a time defeating plague. Arguably, he never entirely did: after his first city-wide cleaning/demolition/garbage cleaning/rat killing spree, Blue returned to San Francisco repeatedly as tiny pockets of plague broke out in and near the city. To this day there is still plague in America, and if that doesn't scare the bejeezus out of you, I honestly don't know what does. Thanks to the bacteriologists, however, who persisted in the face of derision, we have treatments for it now. Ironically, it was influenza, not bubonic plague, that turned out to be the scourge of the early 20th century. It's easy to laugh at these ignorant folks who resisted science and progress, but if you stop to consider that we STILL don't know how to fight flu properly -- thanks in part to the alarming anti-scientific thinking that's returned with a vengeance -- it stops being funny very fast. This thrilling tale of American medical history reads like a novel, and belongs in all library collections. A good pick not just for folks who like science writing, but readers who enjoy Stephen King and Mira Grant, as the element of danger-via-disease has cross-over appeal.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Kend

    Did you know that the plague is here, in the United States, right now? I didn't know that until I was having coffee with a friend's family and her father mentioned the fact that all of the prairie dogs in their part of central Montana had died of plague—and I quote—"again." He then went on to explain that this is a cyclical occurrence throughout the region, as populations rebound from being wiped out, only for the plague to be re-introduced and those bumper populations to crash ("again"). For a Did you know that the plague is here, in the United States, right now? I didn't know that until I was having coffee with a friend's family and her father mentioned the fact that all of the prairie dogs in their part of central Montana had died of plague—and I quote—"again." He then went on to explain that this is a cyclical occurrence throughout the region, as populations rebound from being wiped out, only for the plague to be re-introduced and those bumper populations to crash ("again"). For a long time I wasn't sure that the plague he spoke of was THE plague, as in the Black Death which wiped out upward of 40% of Europe's population in the Middle Ages ... but spoiler alert, he was. So why isn't the plague as deadly here in the United States as it was in Europe (and throughout other huge swathes of the globe)? I won't spoil the entire book for you, but it comes down to a species of flea, as well as the way populations are distributed in the western United States. You can find out a lot more about the current state of plague distribution, treatment, and so on, by visiting the CDC website dedicated to plague. Truthfully, Randall is less interested in the present state of things than he is in the history of how it came to this country, and what measures were taken to prevent its effects from reaching devastating levels. This is certainly worth reading in conversation with other plague-related works out there, of which there are remarkably few, given its history-shaping power. Or rather I should say that there are very few readable nonfiction books for general audiences, as the plague has been frequently written about in the context of medical research and Medieval history. The tone of this book is rather dry. But the story itself is super compelling, and I found that Randall focused on the kinds of pivotal historical figures in whom I am most interested. So despite the delivery, I found myself tearing through this book, and respecting Randall's research ethic as I did so. The end notes and references at the end of this book more than confirm Randall's authority to write about the Black Death in America, and that's a refreshing departure from some of the other nonfiction works I've read this year. I have already passed this book on to a couple of friends, as it's the sort of book which blew my mind and changed my perception of certain aspects of daily life in modern America.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Jess

    **I received an advanced reader’s copy of this book through NetGalley from the publisher in exchange for an honest review** At the turn of the twentieth century, San Francisco faced a crisis – the bubonic plague caused the death of citizens in Chinatown. What began as an identity of the disease led to cover-ups; rampant racism; political alliances; egocentric officials who cared more about their career than the masses; and finally, the emergence of one man who helped a city on the verge of an epi **I received an advanced reader’s copy of this book through NetGalley from the publisher in exchange for an honest review** At the turn of the twentieth century, San Francisco faced a crisis – the bubonic plague caused the death of citizens in Chinatown. What began as an identity of the disease led to cover-ups; rampant racism; political alliances; egocentric officials who cared more about their career than the masses; and finally, the emergence of one man who helped a city on the verge of an epidemic become plague-free. In this quick read, Randall lays down the facts, discusses the obstacles faced in bringing the disease to light, including massive cover-ups by the governor and by the press – and how practices in San Francisco influenced later outbreaks. It’s spellbinding and a story not told in US history texts. The San Francisco earthquake of 1906 also laid bare further struggles with the disease. I could not stop reading this. Randall’s writing style keeps readers hooked from the first outbreak to the last. Randall delves into the history of San Francisco and its founding, outlining reasons behind some of the decisions made during the potential epidemic. The plight of the Chinese Americans and Chinese immigrants in San Francisco during this time are also discussed, bringing to light another aspect to the potential epidemic and the erroneous thoughts about its spread. I enjoyed learning more about Rupert Blue, whose dogged determination to eradicate the disease left him an oftentimes unsung hero to the crusade. This is a story that needs told, another chapter of American history neglected. Randall does an amazing job bringing this to light. Highly recommended.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Kerry Bossons

    I was drawn to this book like an infected flea to a warm rat. I had no idea that there had been a bubonic plague outbreak in San Francisco and this account really met my expectations. The account has a readable style, features well drawn characters (aka real people), reads like fiction and demonstrates thorough research. I was left wanting to investigate my own hometown for outbreaks (thankfully clean since 1665). The story arc followed the zombie novel pattern of setting the scene, unleashing th I was drawn to this book like an infected flea to a warm rat. I had no idea that there had been a bubonic plague outbreak in San Francisco and this account really met my expectations. The account has a readable style, features well drawn characters (aka real people), reads like fiction and demonstrates thorough research. I was left wanting to investigate my own hometown for outbreaks (thankfully clean since 1665). The story arc followed the zombie novel pattern of setting the scene, unleashing the plague, racism and ineptitude leading to more plague and a handsome doctor arriving to sort everything out, finishing with success tempered by the potential of future outbreaks. I was thoroughly invested in the outcome and cheered the transformation of San Francisco from grubby frontier town to beacon of urban sanitation. The achievement of the author is in putting a human face to the people who made it all possible. My favourite part of the whole book is a celebration dinner given for Dr Blue and his team, complete with garbage pail shaped glasses! This book perfect for anyone who enjoys hidden histories and contagious diseases. Perfect for fans of This Podcast Will Kill You (who have covered bubonic plague if you need more of the science behind it).. I will definitely seek out other books by the same author. I'm now going to wash my hands and remember to never feed squirrels.

  20. 4 out of 5

    ⋟Kimari⋞

    You might also enjoy: ✱ The Ghost Map ✱ Rabid: A Cultural History of the World's Most Diabolical Virus ✱ Beating Back the Devil: On the Front Lines with the Disease Detectives of ✱ Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic ✱ The Great Mortality: An Intimate History of the Black Death ✱ Rats, Lice and History ✱ Pandemic 1918 ✱ The Great Influenza ✱ Microbe Hunters ✱ The Medical Detectives

  21. 5 out of 5

    Droid

    ADVANCED READER'S COPY This was an excellent look at not only the bubonic plague, but also the birth of our nation's public health system. Randall does an amazing job of intertwining the actual researched history of events with the very personal accounts of people who lived them. You can't help but be drawn into their personalities and are saddened by their setbacks and overjoyed at their successes. It was a wonderful read, not heavy on medical language as one might think, and the descriptions of ADVANCED READER'S COPY This was an excellent look at not only the bubonic plague, but also the birth of our nation's public health system. Randall does an amazing job of intertwining the actual researched history of events with the very personal accounts of people who lived them. You can't help but be drawn into their personalities and are saddened by their setbacks and overjoyed at their successes. It was a wonderful read, not heavy on medical language as one might think, and the descriptions of people, places, and events was superbly written. Rather than a flat account of events, the reader becomes enmeshed with the fate of a city in the grips of turmoil. One thing I found striking in the book is the overall undertone of push-back from government and the public against the very individuals who are attempting to save their lives from the bubonic plague. The amount of mistrust among citizens, government agents, and even the press is almost laughable, except for the fact that these themes still echo today. The birth of science and bacteriology is discussed, with references to outside players, bringing many facets of history I had known separately, together into a beautifully woven account of events.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jessica F

    "There is not, and never has been, a noble generosity in California." All hail Rupert Blue, white male savior of Chinatown, remarkable man of the time for noticing disease is no respecter of race... I got really bored reading about the heroic efforts of white male men in this book. It's amazing to me that the author can talk about Rupert Blue's later push for pasteurized milk without mentioning the USDA's first female scientist, Alice Catherine Evans. In fact the contributions of women in microbi "There is not, and never has been, a noble generosity in California." All hail Rupert Blue, white male savior of Chinatown, remarkable man of the time for noticing disease is no respecter of race... I got really bored reading about the heroic efforts of white male men in this book. It's amazing to me that the author can talk about Rupert Blue's later push for pasteurized milk without mentioning the USDA's first female scientist, Alice Catherine Evans. In fact the contributions of women in microbiology or any scientific field at the time aren't mentioned at all, at least not that I remember reading. The author did a great job framing the issue in a political, historical and worldwide context, and obviously did a lot of research. And I can also count on one hand the number of times the author quoted from the Chinese Western Daily, as opposed to the numerous references to the San Francisco Chronicle and other white newspapers. All of this contributed to the feeling I was reading a lopsided account of history, one in which I rarely heard the voice of the people most impacted by the race to save America from the bubonic plague.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Scott

    Mary Roach recommended this book. She did not steer me wrong. I've been all concerned about the lying going on about climate change, wondering how can people possibly be so willing to ignore the science. But this book helped me understand that decisions about science are impacted by political complications, with lethal results. Around 1900, bubonic plague hit San Francisco. And, because the city not only refused to deal with the danger constructively, but prevented federal resources from resolvi Mary Roach recommended this book. She did not steer me wrong. I've been all concerned about the lying going on about climate change, wondering how can people possibly be so willing to ignore the science. But this book helped me understand that decisions about science are impacted by political complications, with lethal results. Around 1900, bubonic plague hit San Francisco. And, because the city not only refused to deal with the danger constructively, but prevented federal resources from resolving it, we have bubonic plague in our countryside to this day, and it will probably never be eraticated... er, eradicated. (Sorry.) Stay away from rats AND squirrels, and be diligent about not being bitten by fleas! And always, always look to the actual science, rather than the self-serving people who insist the science is wrong or is biased. And, the way forward is not a straight line, but meanders... true change may only take place after significant changes in mindset. This book may also be instructive if climate change leads to more virulent attacks of disease in our future.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Paul Brandel

    Who knew there was a great plague in San Francisco, at the turn of the 20th century? I sure didn't, and I pride myself on knowing more than a little about Californian and American history. This is my second book about San Francisco history this year. The first book was The White Devil's Daughters, by Julia Flynn Silas. A book I gave 4 stars to. What I enjoyed about this book is finding about this deadly plague, who they blamed, lets see... oh yeah, lets blame the Chinese! They of course faced ext Who knew there was a great plague in San Francisco, at the turn of the 20th century? I sure didn't, and I pride myself on knowing more than a little about Californian and American history. This is my second book about San Francisco history this year. The first book was The White Devil's Daughters, by Julia Flynn Silas. A book I gave 4 stars to. What I enjoyed about this book is finding about this deadly plague, who they blamed, lets see... oh yeah, lets blame the Chinese! They of course faced extreme bigotry, no surprise there. They were segregated, yes in Chinatown. Found out how filthy San Francisco was, no surprise there. The author goes into detail about the many rats, so many damn rats! Also found out there are 2 types of rats and 2 types of fleas. ( Read the book for the details). David K. Randall writes a very readable and educational book. Oh rats!, I almost forgot to mention the hero of his superb book, it Dr. Rupert Blue, don't know who he was, well then do read this book.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Ellen

    This was a really interesting book about something I really had no idea about. I had read one YA book about the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco and the lives of Chinese immigrants there (Outrun the Moon, but I had no clue about the plague epidemic that was happening during this era. It was an eye-opening story for multiple reasons. It showed the deep-seated racism endemic to the USA that ultimately resulted in many people losing their lives. It showed how politicians always seem to be shifty (n This was a really interesting book about something I really had no idea about. I had read one YA book about the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco and the lives of Chinese immigrants there (Outrun the Moon, but I had no clue about the plague epidemic that was happening during this era. It was an eye-opening story for multiple reasons. It showed the deep-seated racism endemic to the USA that ultimately resulted in many people losing their lives. It showed how politicians always seem to be shifty (not being a fan of American History, I was particularly interested in learning about Teddy Roosevelt and his Gentleman's Agreement with Japan...kinda shifty). It demonstrated just how young this country is. AND MOST IMPORTANT it showed how people die when the government doesn't believe the scientists and the proof they have. Great book about an interesting piece of US History.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Teresa Bateman

    I got an ARC of this book at ALA Midwinter and was astonished at the story it told. I never knew that the United States was faced with a possible bubonic plague epidemic at the turn of the 20th century. The epicenter was San Francisco. The author has meticulously researched the battle against the plague and the, perhaps, even harder battle to pretend that it didn't exist, which stymied the efforts of medical professionals. it became quite the political hot potato dealing with issues of interstat I got an ARC of this book at ALA Midwinter and was astonished at the story it told. I never knew that the United States was faced with a possible bubonic plague epidemic at the turn of the 20th century. The epicenter was San Francisco. The author has meticulously researched the battle against the plague and the, perhaps, even harder battle to pretend that it didn't exist, which stymied the efforts of medical professionals. it became quite the political hot potato dealing with issues of interstate commerce, racism, and diplomacy. The politics undoubtedly led to additional deaths, and the destruction of some medical careers. This is a fascinating insight into a little-known incident in American history. One wonders if the Great San Francisco earthquake, which occurred during the plague outbreak, muddied the waters so this even somehow became obscured. This is an instructive book that makes the reader wonder how politics is actively subverting science today.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Aimee Dars

    Until reading Black Death at the Golden Gate, I didn't realize that San Francisco suffered not just one but two plague outbreaks in the early 1900s. Yet, efforts to eliminate the scourge were hampered by multiple factors. Joseph Kinyoun, the first doctor posted by the Marine Medical Service, the federal agency then with jurisdiction over health matters, alienated local politicians with his arrogant attitude. Plus, at this time, the germ theory of medicine was just beginning to be accepted. City a Until reading Black Death at the Golden Gate, I didn't realize that San Francisco suffered not just one but two plague outbreaks in the early 1900s. Yet, efforts to eliminate the scourge were hampered by multiple factors. Joseph Kinyoun, the first doctor posted by the Marine Medical Service, the federal agency then with jurisdiction over health matters, alienated local politicians with his arrogant attitude. Plus, at this time, the germ theory of medicine was just beginning to be accepted. City and state leaders resisted the diagnosis of plague when residents of Chinatown began dying with the telltale symptoms, including buboes, because they didn't want to inhibit the city's growth. Residents of Chinatown refused to cooperate because they feared officials would raze their neighborhood. Meanwhile, ordinary citizens believed whites were immune. Only when Dr. Rupert Blue replaced Dr. Kinyoun, a more amiable administrator—and when whites also started falling victim to the disease—did officials cooperate to rid the city of the plague. Thought safe from the crisis, Dr. Blue was reassigned, but the earthquake of 1906 created a new emergency. David Randall's book is a well-written, well-researched, and engaging book that reveals this hidden pocket of medical history while showing how powerful political interests, greed, and racism can undermine attempts to save the public.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Anne

    I rec'd an ARC of Black Death at the Golden Gate as a giveaway. It's unfortunate that the US allowed plague run ravage throughout San Francisco's Chinatown in the early 20th century. Blame it on politics, discrimination, poor planning and response and lack of effective quality control. Looking back it's even more amazing that San Francisco didn't learn from her mistake and repeated it in the 80s w/ HIV/AIDS. It's unbelievable how much this country hasn't learned from our mistakes. And now it's o I rec'd an ARC of Black Death at the Golden Gate as a giveaway. It's unfortunate that the US allowed plague run ravage throughout San Francisco's Chinatown in the early 20th century. Blame it on politics, discrimination, poor planning and response and lack of effective quality control. Looking back it's even more amazing that San Francisco didn't learn from her mistake and repeated it in the 80s w/ HIV/AIDS. It's unbelievable how much this country hasn't learned from our mistakes. And now it's over 100 years after the original plague outbreak on the west coast and the US still has pockets where it emerges today. Unreal. This is something that shouldn't happen. When will our leaders at the local, state and national level start working for the good of the people instead of for their best interests?

  29. 5 out of 5

    Susan Burlew

    This was an incredible book! I rarely read nonfiction but this read like a novel. A very scary one! I had no idea that bubonic plague was found in San Francisco in the early nineteen hundreds. City and state officials tried to cover it up and newspapers wrote lies about it. They were afraid of losing business if they were quarantined. Since most of the early cases were in Chinatown it was blamed on Chinese immigrants. There were several doctors who tried to tell the truth but it wasn't until Rup This was an incredible book! I rarely read nonfiction but this read like a novel. A very scary one! I had no idea that bubonic plague was found in San Francisco in the early nineteen hundreds. City and state officials tried to cover it up and newspapers wrote lies about it. They were afraid of losing business if they were quarantined. Since most of the early cases were in Chinatown it was blamed on Chinese immigrants. There were several doctors who tried to tell the truth but it wasn't until Rupert Blue was appointed that anything positive was done. He was one of the first doctors to understand the connection with rats and fleas. He didn't give up and pretty much saved the country by getting it cleaned up before it spread. I don't know where we'd be or if we'd be without his tenacity. Very interesting read!!!

  30. 5 out of 5

    Margaret Foreman

    A really gripping account of an outbreak of bubonic plague in San Francisco in the early 20th century and the dedicated doctors and scientists of the nascent Public Health Service who faced tremendous odds to contain and eradicate it. What I found most chilling (and frustrating) was the opposition of community leaders and politicians who refused to acknowledge the problem, calling newspaper reports about it "fake news" (really) and even going so far as to claim that bacteriology wasn't real scie A really gripping account of an outbreak of bubonic plague in San Francisco in the early 20th century and the dedicated doctors and scientists of the nascent Public Health Service who faced tremendous odds to contain and eradicate it. What I found most chilling (and frustrating) was the opposition of community leaders and politicians who refused to acknowledge the problem, calling newspaper reports about it "fake news" (really) and even going so far as to claim that bacteriology wasn't real science. Many times I found myself shrieking, "It's the freaking plague, idiots!" These were people willing to sacrifice the lives of their own community or the sake of power, reputation, and commerce. It's a compelling story and I highly recommend it!

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