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Review of Terrible Typhoid Mary: A True Story of the Deadliest Cook in America

bartoletti_terrible typhoid mary star2 Terrible Typhoid Mary: A True Story of the Deadliest 
Cook in America
by Susan Campbell Bartoletti
Intermediate, Middle School   Houghton   230 pp.
8/15   978-0-544-31367-5   $17.99   g

In a strange publishing quirk, this is the second book about Typhoid Mary this year, the first being Gail Jarrow’s Fatal Fever (rev. 3/15). That book featured George Soper and Josephine Baker, the epidemiologist and medical examiner who identified Mary as the first healthy carrier in America, just as much as Mary Mallon herself. In contrast, Bartoletti focuses more on Mary, using her as a lens through which to view — and analyze — a wider swath of American society. What was it like to be a servant, an immigrant, a woman at the dawn of the twentieth century? Bartoletti skillfully weaves the answers into the beginning of the story, before moving on to Soper’s cat-and-mouse game of tracking Mary down and then keeping her quarantined for most of the rest of her life. And there are questions remaining at the end, too. How do we balance the rights of the individual with the safety of the entire community? Why was Mary made a public scapegoat, while other healthy carriers walked free? Despite the novelistic trim size and narrative, the book contains the hallmarks of excellent nonfiction: a photo album, timeline, source notes, bibliography, and index.

From the July/August 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

About Jonathan Hunt

Jonathan Hunt is the coordinator of library media services at the San Diego County Office of Education.



  1. The reason why I liked this book is because the author mentions a lot about people’s civil rights and Susan Bartoletti writes as much about the truth as possible, so the reader doesn’t get confused about which part’s real and which part’s made up. Very few books are like that these days. This is a must-read to any reader and writer of nonfiction.

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