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The Black Angels

On sale

5th October 2023

Price: £24.99

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Selected: Audiobook Downloadable / ISBN-13: 9781405559652

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New York City, 1929. A sanatorium, a deadly disease, and a dire nurse shortage.

So begins the remarkable true story of the Black nurses who helped cure tuberculosis, one of the world’s deadliest plagues, told alongside the often strange chronicle of the cure’s discovery.

It’s everything that I love. It’s about women whose names have been forgotten – until now. I am so passionate about it’ Sandi Toksvig, BBC Two Between the Covers

‘Wonderfully told… an invaluable restoration of another of history’s racially biased omissions’ Diana Evans

‘Their triumphant story has until now been almost completely neglected’ The Bookseller

During those dark pre-antibiotic days, when tuberculosis killed 1 in 7 people, white nurses at Sea View, New York’s largest municipal hospital, began quitting. Desperate to avert a public health crisis, city officials summoned Black southern nurses, luring them with promises of good pay, a career, and an escape from the strictures of Jim Crow. But after arriving, they found themselves on an isolated hilltop in the remote borough of Staten Island, yet again confronting racism and consigned to a woefully understaffed facility, dubbed ‘the pest house’ where ‘no one left alive’.

Spanning the Great Depression and moving through World War II and beyond, this story follows the intrepid young women, the ‘Black Angels’, who, for twenty years, risked their lives working under dreadful conditions while caring for the city’s poorest – 1,800 souls languishing in wards, waiting to die or become ‘guinea pigs’ for experimental (often deadly) drugs. Yet despite their major role in desegregating the NYC hospital system – and vital work in the race for the cure for tuberculosis and subsequently helping to find it at Sea View – these nurses were completely erased from history. The Black Angels recovers the voices of these extraordinary women and puts them at the centre of this riveting story celebrating their legacy and spirit of survival.


Jason Fagone, author of The Woman Who Smashed Codes: A True Story of Love, Spies, and the Unlikely Heroine who Outwitted America's Enemies
I've never read anything like The Black Angels, a tale of medical horror and heroism that recalls The Hot Zone as much as it does Hidden Figures. Smilios plunges the reader into the festering tuberculosis wards of 1930s New York, where death was airborne, inevitable - until a few brave nurses changed the lives of millions... extraordinary
A'Lelia Bundles, author of On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C. J. Walker
With a detective's tenacity, Maria Smilios pays tribute to the Black Angels, that compassionate cadre of nurses whose meticulous record keeping helped buttress the clinical trials that led to a pivotal breakthrough in the treatment of tuberculosis. She weaves their personal journeys with their professional devotion to the indigent, incurable patients whose care became their cause even as they were unwelcome in most American hospitals because of their race
The Lancet
Extraordinary...Written with an astute grasp of the medical facts surrounding TB, [the] book eloquently highlights the humanity of the nurses who were recruited from the segregated South to provide care for people with TB in the hospital when nobody else would...Smilios is a rare combination of rigorous scientist and an exquisite writer...[A] must-read for anyone in the TB field but also for those who wish to gain a better understanding of the factors that drive current health disparities
Booklist, starred review
Immensely rewarding...[A] confluence of histories, encompassing public health, urban development, race, class, and social upheaval...[Smilios] blends all of the threads she followed into a big blistering narrative that takes readers into the lives of an exceptional group of individuals whose personal stories are as compelling as the disease they confronted was deadly. Informative, enthralling, and sometimes appalling, this is history at its best
Diana Evans
Wonderfully told, both informative and passionate, this is an invaluable restoration of another of history's racially biased omissions
A breathless... illuminating conquest-of-disease narrative
Caroline Sanderson, The Bookseller
Their triumphant story has until now been almost completely neglected
New York Times
Sarah Rose, author of D-Day Girls: The Spies Who Armed the Resistance, Sabotaged the Nazis, and Helped Win World War II
Edna, Missouria, and Virginia answered a call for nurses and changed the world. These courageous women who desegregated hospitals and tamed an airborne killer at last receive necessary, poignant recognition in Maria Smilios' exquisitely rendered history
Sandi Toksvig BBC Two Between the Covers
I am blown away by this book ... this is a story I did not know ... these women risked their own lives. It is a fabulous story - everything that I love, it's untold history, it's looking at the world from a different perspective. This is a story that needs telling and it IS being told. It's about women whose names have been forgotten - until now. I am so passionate about it
New York Times Book Review
Vivid... The nurses' tenacity in the face of harsh working conditions and pervasive racism is humbling and inspiring... A book that deserves reading and remembering in the pandemic age
BBC History Magazine
Based on personal interviews and archival research, Smilios's poignant account exposes a prolonged and shameful episode in medical history