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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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2,101613,133 (3.88)2 / 141
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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. ( )
  Pat_F. | Jul 25, 2014 |
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 |
Showing 1-5 of 61 (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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