The veteran Wall Street Journal science reporter Marilyn Chase’s fascinating account of an outbreak of bubonic plague in late Victorian San Francisco is a real-life thriller that resonates in today’s headlines. The Barbary Plague transports us to the Gold Rush boomtown in 1900, at the end of the city’s Gilded Age. With a deep understanding of the effects on public health of politics, race, and geography, Chase shows how one city triumphed over perhaps the most frightening and deadly of all scourges.
Perhaps because of its experience with plague, San Francisco proved different from most cities in the early days of the AIDS epidemic: "When denial or discrimination clouded the country's vision, San Francisco was a model of swift and compassionate care," Chase writes. — Deirdre Donahue