Terrible Typhoid Mary: A True Story Of The Deadliest Cook In America by Susan Campbell Bartoletti | Book Review

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Terrible Typhoid Mary: A True Story Of The Deadliest Cook In America by Susan Campbell Bartoletti | Book ReviewTerrible Typhoid Mary by Susan Campbell Bartoletti
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on August 4th 2015
Genres: Juvenile Nonfiction, Biography & Autobiography, Historical, Girls & Women, Health & Daily Living, History, United States, 19th Century, Law & Crime, Social Issues, Prejudice & Racism, Young Adult, Adolescence
Pages: 240
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
Buy on Amazon
ISBN: 9780544776807

What happens when a person's reputation has been forever damaged? With archival photographs and text among other primary sources, this riveting biography of Mary Mallon by the Sibert medalist and Newbery Honor winner Susan Bartoletti looks beyond the tabloid scandal of Mary's controversial life. How she was treated by medical and legal officials reveals a lesser-known story of human and constitutional rights, entangled with the science of pathology and enduring questions about who Mary Mallon really was. How did her name become synonymous with deadly disease? And who is really responsible for the lasting legacy of Typhoid Mary? This thorough exploration includes an author's note, timeline, annotated source notes, and bibliography.

Okay, if you are not new to Good Books & Good Wine you know that I love books about diseases. I do not know why I find diseases so interesting, but there it is. If you are new here, HI SORRY IF I SCARED YOU AWAY. Terrible Typhoid Mary: A True Story Of The Deadliest Cook In America by Susan Campbell Bartoletti peaked my attention because hello TYPHOID. And yes, I am full of caps about diseases, c’est la vie. And so, book in hand, I was super excited to read Bartoletti’s non fiction middle grade book. ALSO YOU GUYS! It is so short, how awesome is that? Sometimes I just really want a short book to cleanse the palate and also to teach me something.

The title of the book – Terrible Typhoid Mary: A True Story of The Deadliest Cook In America is quite accurate. Typhoid Mary is a historical figure who was real and who I think I learned about in history class, but I honestly do not remember. I do know that I’ve heard of Typhoid Mary before this book but I never really knew her story. I also, to be quite honest, did not entirely know what exactly typhoid is. It’s essentially diarrhea and it can kill you. THE MORE YOU KNOW.

Anyways, so, this book details some bad luck that the Warren family has. They are renting a house in Oyster Bay when the daughter falls ill and then some servants. An expert is called in and the cause is traced over to Mary. Also? This is the 1900s so people know about germ theory but there’s still some odd ideas floating around about diseases.

Mary is tracked down. She believes it is not her fault, despite leaving a trail of typhoid from house to house in her wake. You see, she is a clean, hard working Irishwoman who has worked her way up to cook, which is a high paying servant position. Therefore, with a distrust of health officials, it rankles her that she is being accused of giving people typhoid via her cooking. She is asked to submit samples and refuses.

What is supremely interesting is the question this book brings in of consent to medical procedures especially when public health and safety are at hand. It is interesting how Mary, a woman, is treated much differently from the male natural carriers of typhoid. She is imprisoned for years – quarantined on an island with some other sick people. She has no choice in the matter, yet she has committed no crime.

I think that medical ethics is such an interesting topic and this book could certainly pair well with The Immortal Life of Henrietta LacksAlso, I find the sexism of the time period interesting too. I mean, Mary’s whole career is taken away from her – not without reason. They did not even provide retraining for her to make her way in life some other way. Instead, it’s like oh okay, just check in once a month or so and good luck. I have to say — Bartoletti raises interesting ethical questions in her narrative.

Overall, Terrible Typhoid Mary: A True Story Of The Deadliest Cook In America is a decent introduction to medical ethics and disease theories. It is written as narrative non fiction. There are pictures and resources at the end. It is a quick read. I am not overly in love with this book or exceedingly impressed, but it did meet my expectations. It was a fast paced book that taught me something I did not know before. I think that had I been an actual middle grader, I may have enjoyed this book even more.

About April (Books&Wine)

April is in her 30s and created Good Books And Good Wine. She works for a non-profit. April always has a book on hand. In her free time she can be found binge watching The Office with her husband and toddler, spending way too much time on Pinterest or exploring her neighborhood.


  1. I’ve never read any of Bartoletti’s books yet, but I heard her talk a few years ago, and she had some really interesting things to say. I’m really interested in her book about the Ku Klux Klan. Which is disturbing I am sure.
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  2. I really think this is a book my middle school students would find interesting. I want to read it tho because the topic interesting ME a lot too 🙂
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  3. When I learned about Typhoid Mary, I guess I just thought she was a selfish biotch giving people disease on purpose. I mean, if everywhere you go people are dying of the same disease…. ummmm? Maybe it’s you. And they are telling you that it’s you!!! But I never really thought about the times and how people probably didn’t understand the way germs spread. So what the health officials were telling her was probably confusing. I also didn’t once think that she would be treated differently than males with the disease. That’s interesting… and sad. Great review!! I love seeing someone review something totally off the wall 🙂
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