Black Death at the Golden Gate
The Race to Save America from the Bubonic Plague
by David K. Randall
Pub Date 07 May 2019
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A spine-chilling saga of virulent racism, human folly, and the ultimate triumph of scientific progress.
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.
“David K. Randall has created a meticulously researched history that unfolds like a thriller. I raced through this book in two days (horribly, the span of time it took bubonic plague to fell a victim). The unlikely heroes—bacteriologists and public health officers with long, flowing beards—battle villains most vile: racism, rotten politics, disregard for science, and Yersinia pestis. Black Death at the Golden Gate is both a page-turner and a cautionary tale: those villains still lurk.” - Mary Roach, New York Times best-selling author of Grunt
“A haunting detective tale packed with villains and heroes, Black Death at the Golden Gate shows how bigotry and greed almost brought a major U.S. city to ruin—and how science and courage saved it. The events in this book may be a hundred years old, but its message is as urgent as ever.” - Jason Fagone, author of the national bestseller The Woman Who Smashed Codes
“David K. Randall is a spellbinding writer. He has turned a critical chapter of medical history into a riveting tale that reads like a detective novel, chock-full of scandals and intrigue…Read Black Death at the Golden Gate because it’s a page-turner, but more important, read this book because the issues Randall spotlights resonate today.” - Randi Epstein, author of Aroused