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The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the…

The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History

by John M. Barry

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2,748833,416 (3.91)2 / 181
"In the winter of 1918, the coldest the American Midwest had ever endured, history's most lethal influenza virus was born. Over the next year it flourished, killing as many as 100 million people. It killed more people in twenty-four weeks than AIDS has killed in twenty-four years, more people in a year than the Black Death of the Middle Ages killed in a century. There were many echoes of the Middle Ages in 1918: victims turned blue-black and priests in some of the world's most modern cities drove horse-drawn carts down the streets, calling upon people to bring out their dead." "But 1918 was not the Middle Ages, and the story of this epidemic is not simply one of death, suffering, and terror; it is the story of one war imposed upon the background of another. For the first time in history, science collided with epidemic disease, and great scientists - pioneers who defined modern American medicine - pitted themselves against a pestilence. The politicians and military commanders of World War I, focusing upon a different type of enemy, ignored warnings from these scientists and so fostered conditions that helped the virus kill. The strain of these two wars put society itself under almost unimaginable pressure. Even as scientists began to make progress, the larger society around them began to crack." "Yet ultimately this is a story of triumph amidst tragedy, illuminating human courage as well as science. In particular, this courage led a tenacious investigator directly to one of the greatest scientific discoveries of the twentieth century - a discovery that has spawned many Nobel prizes and even now is shaping our future."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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When it comes to pandemics – the worst version of an epidemic – the flu virus (influenza) still strikes the most fear in officials of public health. It is highly contagious and leaves us with few options to counteract. The year 1918 had the worst attack of the flu worldwide. In this book, Barry traces the history of what happened in that year and extracts lessons for us to follow in our age.

The 1918 influenza attack, nicknamed the Spanish Flu, struck fear into entire cities like Philadelphia and hit army barracks, packed due to World War I, particularly hard. This attack was termed a modern-day plague and fueled the fear in some of the end of human civilization. Bacterial infections (now known as sequelae) were then thought to be the primary cause – not a virus. Modern medical research, then in its infancy, spurned a structure through which it would conduct further advances.

Through copious details, it is obvious that Barry spent much time gleaning through original sources to construct this delightful narrative. He tells several narratives at once – the public-health story, the stories of research (both of individuals and as a collective), the military story of World War I and its aftermath, and the governmental story of building a national infrastructure for health.

This book should be read by anyone who makes emergency plans for pandemics. The afterward contains analysis that the author provided to public-health committees based on his research. In addition, it seems that the story of this pandemic has often been overlooked by historians. Barry brings its stark realities to the fore and allows us to engage in its lessons in fanciful detail.

( )
  scottjpearson | Jan 25, 2020 |
adult nonfiction ( )
  lisafhill | Jun 21, 2019 |
Brilliant book. I really enjoyed it. The idea of another pandemic such as this taking over the world seems like little more than a dream, but it is quite possible and scary. ( )
  Floyd3345 | Jun 15, 2019 |
nothing compares to rabies or AIDS, but this was informative, and a warning about how equipped we are to deal with pandemic level disease, especially airborne like H1N1. this flu (h1n1) killed more people than aids did in 20 years, and in less than two years, and we are still incredibly unprepared to deal with. a good reminder. ( )
  adaorhell | Aug 24, 2018 |
Wow, this was a terribly written book—repetitive purple prose. The underlying story is really interesting, because the 1918 epidemic broke out right as the science was almost at a point to take serious steps to identify the pathogen and fight it, but the science was no match for the speed of the attack. Most of the book is about the scientists who studied infectious disease at the time, with a secondary focus on how the epidemic hit, spread, and killed. ( )
  rivkat | May 21, 2018 |
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John M. Barry calls The Great Influenza "the epic story of the deadliest plague in history," but his book is somewhat more idiosyncratic than epic and in any case is not as interested in the 1918 influenza pandemic as in the careers of those American medical researchers who studied the disease.
added by John_Vaughan | editlection, Tim morris (Jun 26, 2011)
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For Edna Rose, who didn't get to find her colors but made the world brighter anyway
To my darling Anne
and to the spirit that was Paul Lewis
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Prologue: The Great War had brought Paul Lewis into the navy in 1918 as a lieutenant commander, but he never seemed quite at ease when in his uniform.
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Average: (3.91)
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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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