This excellent well-researched book covers the rise of modern medicine in America, the state of the home front during America's surge to World War I, and the path of influenza through it all. It's a wonderful history of the early 1900s that I can highly recommend, and there's not too much virology, either, if you're worried about that. There is enough, of course, to emphasize that the next great flu is coming and we are unprepared. (Wonderful news, no?)
Did you know: The regular old influenza that hits every year kills more people than AIDS - around 36,000 deaths a year in the United States alone. The influenza pandemic in 1918-1919 killed more people in 24 weeks than AIDS has killed in 24 years.
Mr. Barry brought up an interesting question. Should the 1918 influenza virus genetic code be published? It would, of course, help scientists around the world develop potential vaccines and even better medications. It could also give sophisticated terrorists another powerful weapon. I didn't try to find out if it's been published yet.
There are dangers to reading this book on an airplane in December, as I did, listening to people all over the plane cough and sneeze their germs into the air. I'm not sure I'd recommend that plan.
This is a VERY thorough book about the Influenza Pandemic that killed millions of people world wide between 1917 and around 1920. The author gives a nice overview of the progression of medical science from around the 1500's up until the pandemic hits. I found that very interesting. However, once the author began writing about the actual pandemic, I found that he used many more words to say what could have been said in fewer. I think this 465 page book could have been just as effective, and a little less boring if he had cut off about 65 of those pages. He repeats himself a lot and really goes on and on about some subjects in order to impress upon the reader how bad the conditions really were. I can respect that, however, by the time I was 2/3 of the way through the book, I was ancy for it to end. That's too bad because it is apparent the author did a lot of excellent research and really knew his subject in order to prepare and write this book. But overall, it is a very informative and interesting case history about what happened when the pandemic hit right in the middle of WW I.
As an entomologist who often lectures on insects and their effect on history, I have to say that this is a remarkable book, even though the "Spanish" influenza was not vectored by or associated with insects.
From the struggle to elevate American "medical schools" to real schools of learning, through the push to develop American medical laboratories able to confront epidemics, during the efforts of the Wilson administration to dominate every aspect of life during World War I, and the petty local politics that resulted in thousands of needless deaths, this book offers an amazing view of American history that should be taught in our colleges, and offered as an elective in high schools.
I highly recommended it to all my friends and anyone interested in American history, medical or otherwise.
Sometimes the detailed medical science can be a little dry to those not interested in that field, but overall, this is one of the best books I have ever read on diseases, and I've read dozens. It will change the way you look at our history.
Linda H. reviewed The Great Influenza (The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History) on
Helpful Score: 1
I was drawn to this book because one of my great uncles died of influenza while in the Army for World War I, and another great uncle wrote home about being quarantined while at boot camp. This book was a fascinating explanation of the disease, how it mutates and spreads, why there is no vaccine, and how it effects the body.
Having heard about this worldwide flu pandemic all my life, it became necessary to find out what it was all about. This is an excellent book, very well researched and well written. Yes, it is frightening. Death was horrible and very fast. Having said that, it is also fascinating to read the history of medicine for that time, as scientists frantically sought a way to slow down this rampant killer. The politics and how the public was intentionally deceived about its severity add another dimension as well. You can bet I'll continue to get MY flu shot! D.
Extensively researched and thoughtful examination into a scourge that remains something of a mystery even today. Barry shows how the responses (or in some cases, lack thereof) by political leaders, scientists, military leaders, and even blueblood society leaders altered the course of the pandemic.
Not only is this about the devastating influenza outbreak, it's an excellent introduction to the history of germ theory and the development of the scientific method in the early 1900s. It's striking how little we knew back then and how relatively quickly we learned. Those false starts and blind alleys that the pioneers in labs struggle with are full of drama and tragedy. The author's prose can turn a little purple on occasion, but it's still a fascinating work.
If you have a choice between this and "Flu : The Story Of The Great Influenza Pandemic" by Gina Kolata, skip Kolata's book. This is the one to read.
It briefly discusses the differences between science practiced in Europe in the last half of the nineteenth century differed from superficially similar ¨science¨ before that time. This touches, in my mind, on the topic of Islamic science, i.e. discussions of al-Razi and al-Biruni and Islamic civilization´s advances, etc. My position is that, without taking away from any of the historical geniuses who were able to discover facts about the universe and without denying that societies in the past employed these advances where they were able, the modern scientific enterprise is almost entirely different on the social, epistemological and organizational levels as to make comparisons with earlier efforts meaningless. A previous review in this blog deals with this topic as well. One of the keys to good science and good public health is freedom from government and popular coercion. In this book, censorship mandated and encouraged by the United States government in its efforts to prosecute World War I resulted in poor public health efforts. Pandemic influenza is serious business, and we must press leaders at all levels to prepare a respose to a pandemic when it comes. For Muslim organizations, should we at least have a discussion now regarding things like gathering for jumu'a and funeral prayers rather than wait for the pandemic to strike and then have these discussions when emotions will cloud our judgments?
In the winter of 1918, at the height of World War1, history's most lethal inflluenza virus erupted in an army camp in Kansas, moved east with American troops, then exploded, killing as many as 100 million people worldwide.