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

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

4.2 53
by John M. Barry

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ISBN-10: 0670894737

ISBN-13: 9780670894734

Pub. Date: 02/09/2004

Publisher: Viking Penguin

No disease the world has ever known even remotely resembles the great influenza epidemic of 1918. Presumed to have begun when sick farm animals infected soldiers in Kansas, spreading and mutating into a lethal strain as troops carried it to Europe, it exploded across the world with unequaled ferocity and speed. It killed more people in twenty weeks than AIDS has


No disease the world has ever known even remotely resembles the great influenza epidemic of 1918. Presumed to have begun when sick farm animals infected soldiers in Kansas, spreading and mutating into a lethal strain as troops carried it to Europe, it exploded across the world with unequaled ferocity and speed. It killed more people in twenty weeks than AIDS has killed in twenty years; it killed more people in a year than the plagues of the Middle Ages killed in a century. Victims bled from the ears and nose, turned blue from lack of oxygen, suffered aches that felt like bones being broken, and died. In the United States, where bodies were stacked without coffins on trucks, nearly seven times as many people died of influenza as in the First World War.

In his powerful new book, award-winning historian John M. Barry unfolds a tale that is magisterial in its breadth and in the depth of its research, and spellbinding as he weaves multiple narrative strands together. In this first great collision between science and epidemic disease, even as society approached collapse, a handful of heroic researchers stepped forward, risking their lives to confront this strange disease. Titans like William Welch at the newly formed Johns Hopkins Medical School and colleagues at Rockefeller University and others from around the country revolutionized American science and public health, and their work in this crisis led to crucial discoveries that we are still using and learning from today.

The Washington Post’s Jonathan Yardley said Barry’s last book can “change the way we think.” The Great Influenza may also change the way we see the world.

Product Details

Viking Penguin
Publication date:
Edition description:
Older Edition
Product dimensions:
6.44(w) x 9.62(h) x 1.72(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Table of Contents

prologue 1

Part IV: IT BEGINS 167
Part VII: THE RACE 253
Part X: ENDGAME 399
afterword 448
Acknowledgments 463
Notes 467
Bibliography 507
Index 529

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Great Influenza (revised ed): The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 53 reviews.
Tennesseedog More than 1 year ago
Talk about relevant books for our time. This one is most current and very topical. Of course the interesting thing about influenza outbreaks is how much terror they create in people along with the unfortunate death and disablement that the pandemics leave in their wake. This well-researched work by author Barry provides an interesting and informative journey through the H1N1 influenza outbreak in 1918 and 1919. Gee, that is the same virus that is suspected in the current "swine flu" outbreak. This author plods along from the beginning of the 1918 outbreak, with its suspected origination in the midWest (USA). All the medical researchers and many government health leaders are briefly profiled along with clear explanations of the virus and its workings, even us laymen readers can understand. Most shocking in this story is the all-consuming effort by the US government to gear the country up for fighting the Germans in World War I. Censorship, stupidity, hate, ignorance and numerous other factors play into the nation led by President Wilson that made this outbreak much more devastating than it should have been allowed to become. It is estimated that almost 50 Million people around the world succumbed to the virus. One is shocked by the medical and political behaviors that the author presents. This is must reading for a proper understanding of how virus and man live together and have lived together for probably thousands of years. Finally, I must comment on the important fact as to why this flu (and the current one) proved so fatal to young people (usually aged 19 to 35 years, their prime years). Do not be shocked to learn that it is our own body's strong immune systems (strongest in that age group) that in its fight against the H1N1 virus literally tore the person's internal body parts apart resulting in the high mortality rate. The virus killed by causing a massive immune reaction. I found this to be the most tantalizing bit of information presented in this tome. That and the fact that fear of flu pandemic is what we have to look forward to in the next attack. Maybe in the spring? Good luck.
JulSchneider More than 1 year ago
For every fiction novel I read, I read at least three historical books. Unlike so many others, this book doesn't focus on war, politics, or corruption, it focuses on a sickness and the devastation it caused. From the history of medical science in America to the details of the death and sorrow of millions around the world, this book covers it all in great detail. I've read and re-read parts, simply because it's fascinating!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I picked this book up looking for -- strangely enough-- something quick and easy. Instead I found what I regard as a brilliant book with a compelling narrative. It takes on a complex and all-too-relevant subject-- what with threats from both bioterrorism and pandemic influenza-- and addresses it in a way that not only makes the science about infectious disease and immunology clear, but somehow manages to do so in page-turner fashion. Its insights and analysis go well beyond the 1918 pandemic itself. They get deep into how you do science, and how politics and the media, and society for that matter, function under enormous pressure. I am frankly puzzled by some other reviewers' comments that they can't follow the personalities. I found them fascinating, and a valuable addition that really helped me understand what was going on. A great book. Now onto Barry's other books.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I've enjoyed this book and found it very interesting. Before reading this book I don't recall ever hearing of the influenza pandemic of 1918, and I had no idea of it's severity. I think everyone would benefit from a read, since this is a subject with application for modern times and the future. Coming from someone in the medical field, prior medical knowledge may be helpful in reading this book, but unlike others, I do not feel that a medical background is a prerequisite. Barry does a great job of describing immunology and clinical symptoms in terms that the general public would find easy to understand, so do not be intimidated. The only recommendation I have would be to skip Part I 'the first five chapters' 'The Warriors.' It reads like a collection of biographies about the various individuals involved in the medical community at the time.
RTanny More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed the book - at times it was a little more technical than I would want, but if you get past that, it's an excellent read. Timely since the swine flu outbreak. Amazing what medical staff and media can do during an outbreak to downplay something so serious. So many people died during this influenza, that didn't need to die. I really liked the book overall, and would recommend it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was fast paced at times, somewhat slow at others, however very detailed and informative throughout. If you're looking for a book, solely on disease, death, and the stats they produce, this book may not be for you. If you would like to understand the HOW and WHY coupled with history, a grim one at that than don't hesitate to pick this one up. One may find it advantagous to start with the authors acknowledgments to get a better idea of what direction he was headed in.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Great detail, reads like a graduate project gone bad for the first 200 or so pages. The fascinating part is when he starts describing the detail and symptoms of the disease. A wealth of knowledge masked in an ocean of words. KEEP READING ...
Guest More than 1 year ago
There were parts that were very interesting such as the discriptions of the diseases, however the rest of the book only talked about people who were in some way affiliated with the discovery of a vaccination for influenza. The accounts of these people were completely irrelevent to the subject matter, going into minute details such as their marital status, their eating habits, and their overall happiness. Thus had these irrelevant parts been expunged, the book would have been half as long and twice as interesting.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Well, I was forced to read this book for school in Ohio. I thought it will be fantastic but it was sure boring... :S Read this book if you want to be a doctor or a nurse someday, but its not something you want to read it over the summer
Guest More than 1 year ago
Mr. Barry has the wonderful ability to build excitement and suspense even with historical medical information. Extemely well written, he is able to develop the story while letting the reader get inside the minds of the doctors, scientists, politicians and victims of the pandemic. An important story that should never be forgotten.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Just consider for a moment an outbreak of flu like influenza in let¿s say for the fun of it, Haskell, Kansas. That¿s right Haskell, Kansas, in Middle America. And then let¿s imagine it spreads in days, weeks and less than a month around the world killing as many as 100 Million people. People, who wake up, go to work and die before they come home at night. And you say this can not happen as the government must have a plan, they and the media will give people instructions, keep them out of harms way. But just what if the President of the United States is so distracted on his winning a global war for democracy that he ignores the consequences.Well you say the Media will surly see this as the news story of the day and the press will tell it in a fair and balanced way. But no, the press is censored by the war hawks, no news that undermines national moral can be published. Even Congressman can be thrown in jail for questioning the Presidents war policy. Well enough of this, I have teased you enough. Yet all this happened in 1918 and it is one amazing sequence of events. Barry¿s book begins with a description of the medical profession in the late 1800s and on a small group of scientist (yes, those nasty scientists) who speculate that germs cause disease. This theory leads to an amazing revolution in medical education and Barry focuses on a small group of doctors who create with John D. Rockefeller¿s support the John Hopkins University Medical School. Barry bookends his book with this medical story and the center of the book is the events of the spreading Influenza killing the strongest and youngest first and fastest. I found he book fascinating if not exactly entertaining. There are parts that are not real page turners but all of it very educational. I wish the narrative could have focused more on one point of view that would have held the narrative together. But with real events that is not always possible so Barry gives us multiple takes, multiple characters to identify with in support of an over objective. It can, and most likely, will happen again.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Rich with history of the scientists and events that change everything. I recommend this author.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Super interesting
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great book! I am, admittedly, a huge history nerd, so I really enjoy a well researched, well laid-out historical book. This one was outstanding. I will be reading more by Mr. Barry.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Good representation of what happened
Schantz More than 1 year ago
I picked up this book after seeing a PBS series on this subject. I found the subject fascinating. However I found the book to over-anlaytical about the science of medicine. The details in which author goes to so that the reader can get an in depth understanding of how a doctor works to cure a disease was too much. I skipped most of it because I was mostly interested in how the disease began, its affects on the country, whats was being done about, and how it eventually subsided. The gist of the book was that the government wasn't prepared (or didn't know how) to deal with the illness as it was affecting the war in europe leaving Woodrow Wilson (a victim of this flu near its end) with having to choose between two evils...continue packing men onto ships where the disease would infect the military leaving them unable to fight upon arrival in Europe or wait until the influenza came to an end while watching Europe become infected by the enemy.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great Historical perspective. The pandemic didn't happen in a vacuum. This book gave political setting, perspectives on scientific advances of the time, and the theory behind the medical treatments of the time. The book also helped me understand the workings of the influenza virus. Just enough to make me want to know more.