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The Great Influenza, Revised Edition Paperback – Oct 7 2005


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 560 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Revised edition (Oct. 7 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143036491
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143036494
  • Product Dimensions: 21.6 x 13.9 x 3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 540 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #124,578 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is chalked full of the facts and figures about the great pandemic of 1918. It covers everything from the very first outbreak which was in a small town in the US to the end which was in 1922 - 1923. The book also covers alot about future outbreaks of other influenza like the one in 1997 and 2003 which is all related to the one in 1918.
What I found really interesting is that the flu didn't start in Europe and come over here (which is what I had been taught) and I found that how the American government - Especially Wilson's action during the war and the pandemic crisis to be less then heroic. He made fear and ignorance rule and that just breeds death.
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Format: Hardcover
I was very much looking forward to this book, and now about 100 pages into it, I'm not sure I'll even finish it. The influenza outbreak of 1918 is inherently a fascinating story, but it is unfortunate that this great and important drama was taken up by such a mediocre writer.
Simply put, the author lacks the necessary skill to complement this story - and the publishing house failed to pair him with a competent editor. The extensive opening dissertation on the development of modern medicine, for instance, could have been related in a cohesive and understandable fashion; instead Barry hops around tracing so many confusing threads that the reader is left baffled as to the real trajectory. Much more annoying is his breathless style of writing and his habit of inserting his own melodramatic asides at every turn that it resembles a sophomore trying to impress you of the import of each development. I was tempted to shout "I get it! I don't need you to add swelling music to underscore every point."
Upshot: the great influenza plague of 1918 makes a great story. I wish a more skilled writer had been the one to tell it.
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Format: Hardcover
In The Great Influenza, John Barry has produced a massive and exhaustively researched description of one of the greatest disasters of human history. At least, from the American point of view. While there are a few glancing references to what was going on in the rest of the world, there is no serious discussion of any attempts to deal with the pandemic in other countries, even in other industrialized countries. On the other hand, Barry has chosen a very specific point of view: the transition of American medicine and medical training from folk wisdom to science. It's a compelling point on which to balance a long and exhaustive (there's that word again) study of how America and, specifically, American medicine confronted an epidemic in which people were dying faster than the technology of the time could handle, an epidemic in which society itself was nearly overwhelmed by death.
As other reviewers have noted, the book's weakness is a tendency towards melodrama, as in the far-too-often repeated tag line "This was influenza. Only influenza." After a while, you think to yourself, "Yes, we get it. Give it a rest."
On the other hand, the book has one of those quirky displays of real brilliance in the last two chapters in which Barry deals with how science is done well (in the case of Oswald Avery) or done poorly (in the case of Paul A. Lewis). These two chapters are so strong that they could stand on their own, and what they have to say about the process of scientific thought itself is fascinating. Avery's story is that of a man who was just relentessly focused, who kept digging deeper and deeper into a single issue until he discovered the source of heredity itself. Lewis's story, on the other hand, is that of a man who simply lost his way.
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By Seth J. Frantzman on March 29 2004
Format: Hardcover
This is the first and most thorough account of the terrible Influenza pandemic to come out in a while. This book tells the story of the worldwide plaque of Influenza that killed between 20-100 million people between 1918-1922. A wonderful book in separate chapters it details the rise of medical technology, the beginnings of the plaque and the terrible history of the pandemic. Riveting, fast paced writing makes this book easy to read and accessible to all. This is simply an amazing story about an overlooked disease that killed more then the Black plague and Aids put together, in some peoples estimates killing 10% of all adults, and certainly striking down many young men and women in the prime of their lives. The disease itself and its symptoms and outcome are detailed and so are the people who tried so hard to overcome the mysterious illness.
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Format: Hardcover
A book that recently caught my eye was one by John Barry titled The Great Influenza - The Epic Story Of The Deadliest Plague In History. Now, I generally have a phobia about needles, and have *never* received a flu vaccination, but I think that will change next year. This was scary stuff...
Barry details the Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918 in great detail. He starts by setting the stage of how American medicine was practiced at the end of the 19th century, and how there was little control or respect for the profession. And rightly so... Nearly anyone could call themselves a doctor and do nearly anything. But through the efforts of a few key people, John Hopkins university was formed to bring the medical education up to European standards. Most of this transformation was occuring when the flu pandemic started. This is where the book gets interesting... and frightening.
Because of World War 1, recruits were overcrowded into training facilities that were less than sanitary. When the flu first broke out in one of the army camps in the states, it was quickly transferred to other camps when soldiers transferred. From there, it easily jumped into major cities, decimating large numbers of people. And when these soldiers went overseas, the flu went with them. Being especially contagious, it swept the globe in short order and left, by some estimates, over 100 million dead. That is so hard to comprehend.
When you look at the struggle they had to even identify the cause of the illness, you understand how it could so easily run rampant. One would think that it couldn't happen today, but one would be wrong. SARS, AIDS... diseases that defy attempts to quickly identify the virus, and are resistant to attempts and efforts to treat them. It's not hard to imagine how a pandemic could start so much more quickly today due to the ease of worldwide travel.
Well worth reading to understand how precarious the general health of society could be...
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