The Black Angels: The Untold Story of the Nurses Who Helped Cure Tuberculosis

Books on Tape Sept. 2023. 12:14 hrs. ISBN 9780593787519. $95. BIOG
Essayist Smilios’s remarkable debut tells the story of the courageous Black nurses who worked at Staten Island’s Seaview Hospital at the height of the mid-20th-century tuberculosis epidemic. She interweaves well-researched medical history with intimate descriptions of the nurses’ experiences, creating a vivid portrait of the tuberculosis crisis. Many people sought treatment at the hospital, but no cure was available. When faced with poor working conditions and the real possibility of becoming infected themselves, white nurses quit in droves. Their places were filled by Black nurses recruited from the South, who were promised good pay and an education. Narrator Gina Daniels infuses Smilios’s rich prose with resonance and feeling, communicating the fraught circumstances of women who battled racism and sexism along with the relentless scourge of contagion. With impeccable pacing, Daniels deftly navigates between the women’s personal stories and the roller coaster of scientific progress, capturing the hope, disappointment, and frustrations underlying this troubling time.
VERDICT Meticulous research paired with exceptional narration makes this timely account of a public health emergency, labor shortage, and enduring discrimination an essential addition to all nonfiction collections.
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