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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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Before the world wide pandemic faded in 1920, the great influenza would kill more people than any other outbreak of disease in history.

The lowest world wide death toll is 21 million people.

2/3 of the deaths occurred between mid Sept 1918 and early Dec 1918.

Although not a scientist, Barry's microbiological segments were detailed.
The tenacity and persistence of these investigators is amazing.
Having worked in this discipline, I can, in particular, appreciate their
contributions to modern medicine.

As a side note
"In 2004, the National Academies of Science asked him (John Barry) to give the keynote speech at its first international scientific meeting on pandemic influenza, he was the only non-scientist on a federal government Infectious Disease Board of Experts, and he was a member of the original team which developed plans for mitigating a pandemic by using "non-pharmaceutical interventions"--

Military, political and other social environments are examined systematically..
Slowly a body of knowledge emerged, contributed by hundreds of investigators in many disciplines.
This provides a model, ever evolving, to face current and future disease states.

An interesting lesson learned from 1918 outbreak involved fear and the media.
In this case, "authorities helped create the terror, not by exaggerating but by minimizing it, (by trying to reassure.)"

Notes and bibliography are extensive.
There is a wealth of information in this epic.
There is something for everyone interested in a historical perspective of the times.
( )
  pennsylady | Jan 14, 2015 |
The Great Influenza focuses on both the actual pandemic of 1918 and the problems associated with it as well as the science and doctors who fought, and in some cases died, to understand and stop this pandemic. Most of the material is drawn from the US, with some mention of events in other parts of the world. The book contains photographic plates as well as an extensive bibliography.

I approached this book with some apprehension, fearing that it would be a dry recitation of statistics about deaths, illness, etc. Instead, I found a book that both gave the important statistics and clearly set them in context regarding science, society, and history. The writing was well done -- perhaps not the best prose, but not dry nor tedious.

If there was a criticism to make it would be the last few chapters, where some of the biographical information about the researchers seemed to far from the topic. Additionally, I would have liked to see a more thorough discussion of how viruses mutate -- this perhaps would have been best as an appendix, but it was a key point in the book (as the flu came in waves after each mutation).

Overall, this was a very good book and one that I highly recommend to others interested either in epidemics or in science circa 1920. ( )
  LMHTWB | Dec 14, 2014 |
I approached this mammoth book with excitement, which soon dimmed as I slogged through the first 100 pages. It was all background on academic changes regarding science and research, especially in the forming of Johns Hopkins and the Rockefeller Institute, and key figures in this advancement. Interesting stuff, if in a small dose, but it dragged on as I was impatient to get to the actual influenza outbreak. Once I reached that part, I found the book I had hoped for and sped through hundreds of pages in a matter of days. I also jotted down notes related to writing projects. The last part of the book returned to the pivotal men mentioned at the front, and I pretty much skimmed just to have the thing done. So many names were thrown at me that I couldn't keep them straight.

It was a frustrating, disappointing book overall. If I wanted a book about medical science in general for that time period, I would find a book on that subject. This one is titled THE GREAT INFLUENZA. That should be the central subject. This text needed more editorial control--someone to lop off the first and last third. ( )
  ladycato | Nov 23, 2014 |
I really wanted to enjoy this book, but I did not. The story of mass suffering and the shockingly fast rate of infection is very dramatic, sad, and frightening to read, and the author could have devoted more of the text to this. Instead, he spends far too much time discussing the history of American (and global) medicine up until the pandemic, too much time on the science of the virus, and too much time on the personalities of the doctors studying the disease. Some of this is definitely relevant, but the length of these sections detracted from the book so much that it became a struggle to get through it.

Part of my problem with the book may be that some of the material was a repeat for me (I read "Genius on the Edge," about a pioneering surgeon at Johns Hopkins when its medical school first opened), so much of the discussion about the history of medicine had been covered in previous reads. That being said, other books cover this history better than Barry did in "The Great Influenza." Further, other books have covered other, less far-reaching disease outbreaks than the 1918 flu epidemic (which devastated the globe), and still I found myself more enthralled with the writing in those other books than with this one. (Some examples: "Polio: An American Story," "The Barbary Plague," "Spitting Blood," etc.) This book starts slowly, picks up to an exciting pace, and then just when you think it's on the right track, it slows right back down again to a painful slog. I am not even opposed to covering scientific details in books, but I think there are ways to make the material more interesting to the layperson. ( )
1 vote slug9000 | Oct 8, 2014 |
THE definitive book on the subject of the 1918 influenza pandemic. More recent and way more detailed (and referenced!) than Gina Kolata's book, Flu, which I also read.

The particular value of Barry's book, in addition to tracing the actual courses of the global waves of infection (there were at least 3, with #2 being "the big one"), is that he puts the events in context: World War I was in high gear, requiring that lots of young bodies be in crowded conditions and that "morale" be upheld at all costs; Tammany Hall was in full swing, making public health appointments disastrously political; and no clinical research or drug regulatory infrastructure existed yet, leading people to sometimes work at cross-purposes at best.

The text does get bogged down in places, but you can skim without losing much of the narrative. It's just that the disease and its effects were so overwhelming: influenza killed up to 5% of the WORLD's population within a year. Even now, influenza and pneumonia kill >50,000 people in the U.S. alone each year--it's the 8th leading cause of death--and the incidence is not going down. All it takes is a little shift in the antigens, a jump from an animal to a human, and off we go again...

I was stupid enough to no get my flu shot last year. Never again. ( )
1 vote Pat_F. | Jul 25, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 65 (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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:33 -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)

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