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The Great Influenza by John M. Barry
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The Great Influenza

by John M. Barry

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2,075603,195 (3.87)2 / 140
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Very interesting. Other reviewers thought the book should have been written as 2 books - one on the scientists, one on the epidemic - but I thought it was fine. This is mainly a book about American scientists (you get the feeling that they were the only country working on the influenza epidemic but that may just be the focus of the book) and really rather a sketchy overview of what actually happened to the the world with a bit more about America. So I think that works. My main problem was the language. It seemed to be trying to be playful and streetwise but the main effect was to make the reader guess at the meaning. I wasn't always sure what the author was trying to say despite rereading bits several times. Interesting nonetheless. ( )
  Ma_Washigeri | Jun 17, 2014 |
A dense history of the 1918 flu pandemic that perhaps tries to pack in too much; what the author could remember and organize in his brain through seven years of writing was too much for my brain to keep track of in a few weeks of reading. The book begins with the development of modern medicine in the United States; the founders of emerging institutions and their proteges were involved in researching causes and cures. World War II was a crucial component. The flu spread from a probable origin in Kansas through military bases. Death was caused by immune system overreaction, disproportionate among young adults. Information was suppressed in the interest of morale; an especially gruesome section describes bodies piling up in the streets while newspapers uttered not a word. Well after the pandemic had subsided, the pathogen was unknown and the primary suspect, erroneously, was a bacterium. Personalities, politics, and science, entwined, expounded, and footnoted, with stretches of compelling story interspersed with tedious detail.
  qebo | Jun 12, 2014 |
I'm a retired Registered Nurse, and I found this book to be a vast disappointment. Pop history at its worst. Purple prose at its most cloying. (Things have come to a pretty pass when I, a novelist who writes in the lyric-literary style of an Irish journalist, am revolted by melodrama.) This book could have been shortened by 2/3 with no loss of anything substantial. The best part was the section of period photographs. I didn't pay full price for it, but it was still a waste of money. ( )
  christineplouvier | Apr 20, 2014 |
You will never think of 'just flu' the same again. Dead carts (as in 'bring out your dead) roamed the streets of American cities in the early 20th century. In Philadelphia, 4597 (yea, four thousand five hindered ninety seven) people died in one week and bodies piled up in the streets to be carted off to mass graves. Got you flu shot yet? ( )
  bke | Mar 30, 2014 |
A very detailed account of the 1918-1919 flu epidemic following the outbreaks, particularly those in the U.S., the doctors and researchers as they tried to stop it, the way the war both affected the course of the epidemic and the way the epidemic affected the course of the war and perhaps the peace. Barry began with a description of the state of medicine in the second half of the 1800's and how a few men spearheaded its transformation so that by the time the U.S. entered the war it had some of the best doctors and medical researchers in the world. Then we learn about viruses and, in particular, the influenza virus. This virus is possibly the most contagious virus of all and it is at its most contagious in the one or two days before the symptoms appear. Also when it kills, it usually kills by making its victim very susceptible to pneumonia. Next we have detail upon detail of each of the major outbreaks in the States and how the disease traveled from place to place by ship, rail, and river. Then there were all the efforts by researchers to come up with anything that would stop or at least slow down the spread of the flu. These efforts were heroic but not of much help. It wasn't until after the epidemic that they were even able to decide whether flu was bacterial or viral in nature.

I found The Great Influenza to be really interesting and very different from Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 by Kolata. This one focused on the period before and during the epidemic for the most part while Kolata focused her story on the search for the virus that caused it which has only recently succeeded. Also Barry, in his afterword, asks how we would handle another such pandemic and his answer isn't very encouraging. At any rate, I found both books to be worthwhile reads.
  hailelib | Feb 24, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 60 (next | show all)
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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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0143036491, Paperback)

At the height of WWI, history’s most lethal influenza virus erupted in an army camp in Kansas, moved east with American troops, then exploded, killing as many as 100 million people worldwide. It killed more people in twenty-four months than AIDS killed in twenty-four years, more in a year than the Black Death killed in a century. But this was not the Middle Ages, and 1918 marked the first collision of science and epidemic disease. Magisterial in its breadth of perspective and depth of research and now revised to reflect the growing danger of the avian flu, The Great Influenza is ultimately a tale of triumph amid tragedy, which provides us with a precise and sobering model as we confront the epidemics looming on our own horizon. John M. Barry has written a new afterword for this edition that brings us up to speed on the terrible threat of the avian flu and suggest ways in which we might head off another flu pandemic.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:53:34 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

In the winter of 1918, at the height of WWI, history's most lethal influenza virus erupted in an army camp in Kansas, moved east with American troops, then exploded, killing as many as 100 million people worldwide. It killed more people in twenty-four weeks than AIDS has killed in twenty-four years, more in a year than the Black Death killed in a century. But this was not the Middle Ages, and 1918 marked the first collision of science and epidemic disease. Magisterial in its breadth of perspective and depth of research, John M. Barry's The Great Influenza weaves together multiple narratives, with characters ranging from William Welch (founder of Johns Hopkins Medical School) to John D. Rockefeller and Woodrow Wilson. Ultimately a tale of triumph amid tragedy, this crisis provides a precise and sobering model for our world as we confront AIDS, bioterrorism and other, as yet unknown, diseases.… (more)

» see all 3 descriptions

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