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The Great Influenza, Revised Edition [Paperback]

John M. Barry
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Oct. 7 2005

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.

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The Great Influenza, Revised Edition + The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance
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From Publishers Weekly

In 1918, a plague swept across the world virtually without warning, killing healthy young adults as well as vulnerable infants and the elderly. Hospitals and morgues were quickly overwhelmed; in Philadelphia, 4,597 people died in one week alone and bodies piled up on the streets to be carted off to mass graves. But this was not the dreaded Black Death-it was "only influenza." In this sweeping history, Barry (Rising Tide) explores how the deadly confluence of biology (a swiftly mutating flu virus that can pass between animals and humans) and politics (President Wilson's all-out war effort in WWI) created conditions in which the virus thrived, killing more than 50 million worldwide and perhaps as many as 100 million in just a year. Overcrowded military camps and wide-ranging troop deployments allowed the highly contagious flu to spread quickly; transport ships became "floating caskets." Yet the U.S. government refused to shift priorities away from the war and, in effect, ignored the crisis. Shortages of doctors and nurses hurt military and civilian populations alike, and the ineptitude of public health officials exacerbated the death toll. In Philadelphia, the hardest-hit municipality in the U.S., "the entire city government had done nothing" to either contain the disease or assist afflicted families. Instead, official lies and misinformation, Barry argues, created a climate of "fear... [that] threatened to break the society apart." Barry captures the sense of panic and despair that overwhelmed stricken communities and hits hard at those who failed to use their power to protect the public good. He also describes the work of the dedicated researchers who rushed to find the cause of the disease and create vaccines. Flu shots are widely available today because of their heroic efforts, yet we remain vulnerable to a virus that can mutate to a deadly strain without warning. Society's ability to survive another devastating flu pandemic, Barry argues, is as much a political question as a medical one.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

Late in this history of the 1918 influenza pandemic, Barry observes that the event "has survived in memory more than in any literature." Apparently, people would rather not record horrors that make them feel insignificant. Fortunately, there are deep-digging historians. Barry presents the pandemic as the first great challenge to the modern American medical establishment, whose response, although it was overwhelmed, demonstrated what medical science applied to public health practice might do, and as a test of national, state, and municipal political responsiveness to domestic crisis. Medicine, though far too lightly equipped, rose to the occasion, but politicians, from President Wilson on down, refused to acknowledge any crisis except the war in Europe and thwarted medicine's best preventive efforts. To portray the forces that met the crisis, Barry first tells the story of scientific medicine in America, begun by the shaping of Johns Hopkins Hospital and University under William Welch into the model for all other U.S. physicians' training and medical research institutions. The researchers who directly engaged the great flu were Welch proteges, and though they failed at the time, the continued research of one culminated in discovering the significance of DNA. Meanwhile, the death and panic, national and worldwide--the flu most probably started in Kansas, and troop movements that the army continued against its surgeon general's advice spread it cross-country and to Europe--were appalling. For readers, however, they are the somber underscoring of an enthralling symphony of a book, whose every page compels attention. Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Almost Fantastic May 9 2004
This book is very readable and informative about the history of modern medicine, the evolution of medical education in the US, and the personalities involved in the scientific and administrative changes that facilitated that process. The accompanying melodrama is completely unnecessary, but I managed to look past it and get through this book very swiftly. I am confused by the author's attempts to make a connection with current discussions of a bioterrorist threat--that topic would have been better left out. But the knowledge I have gained has made me less fearful of a recurrence of what happened in 1918. All-in-all, this is an eye-opening and informative piece of work, complete with unconventional heroes revealed!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Business lessons Jan. 31 2008
On a recent flight I read a good book called, "The Great Influenza - The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History" by John M. Barry. This is probably not the best book to read on a plane where people are coughing.

From the slip cover: In the winter of 1918, history's most lethal influenza of viruses was born. Over the next year it flourished killing as many as 100 million people.

It took me almost 100 pages to get into the book because of medical jargon, a large number of characters, technical research, and historical footnotes. After that I could not put it down for the next 350 pages.

The book not only tells the story of this great flu but it tells of the social impact and how isolated people became and how communities were no longer helping each other.

It is particularly interesting in light of one of the books I am listening to on CD called, "Social Intelligence" by Daniel Goleman that talks of the importance of social interaction on health and well being.

In some communities, 60% or 70% of the population was wiped out.

Medical researchers were not well connected and did not collaborate well during the crisis and medicine was way behind where it is today. (Although I do not think it is as far ahead as we would like to think.) In that day, in some cases they still bled people to try to help them get better.

The book made me think of my own mortality (something that I tend to fight, hence the exercise, etc.). It also made me think of the social system that we have.

The book is extremely well researched with 50 pages of footnotes.

Although this is not a business book, it was certainly interesting and I learned a lot. I do think that businesses need to think about what happens in the next pandemic. We all need a plan.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Just the flu June 27 2004
Wow. The Great Influenza sort of blew me away. Like most people I've heard of the 1918 influenza, but also like most I've never actually read anything on the epidemic. My first introduction to the topic came as a young nurse working on a neurology ward where Parkinson's Disease was diagnosed and treated. At the time it was believed to have arisen as a late neurological response to that infection. For all I know they may still think so. During the swine flu epidemic and the controversy over whether the vaccine had caused a rise in the incidence of Guillian Barre, the so-called French polio, the 1918 flu was frequently mentioned. After reading Mr. Barry's book I can certainly see why.
What amazes me most about the pandemic of 1918 is not its virulence so much as its repercussions. It definitely occurred during the most inopportune time, almost proving Murphey's law that if anything can go wrong it will and at the worst possible time. Probably one of the most significant outcomes of the flu seems to have been the effect it had on the peace terms. One is left to wonder if Wilson had not been affected by the flu in so damaging a way and at so crucial a time, whether World War II could have been avoided. Moreover much is made of the nihilism of the 1920s, that lost generation between the two world wars. The young of the era seemed to have gone through a loss of innocence that is often attributed to the effects of the WWI experience and the death of the overconfident 19th century way of life. It seems to me that far more damage to the confidence of young adults was due to the effects of the influenza epidemic. Certainly Barry's discussion makes the character of the 1920s and 1930s much clearer to me.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but yes, flawed! June 3 2004
By A Customer
I've read some of the other reviews and agree with most of them. The history itself is dramatic enough and does not require a capping statement every few paragraphs dramatically restating the obvious conclusion Mr. Barry has drawn. Mr. Barry does not take a non-partisan view of this period in history and makes assertions about President Wilson that are not part of the popular view of his administration and heritage.
While reading this somewhat biased history of the Great Influenza epidemic, I found an incredible error on page 303 where Mr. Barry refers to "George Pershhing, in charge of the American Expeditionary Force". I believe, he is referring to General John J. "Blackjack" Pershing, one of America's most famous military men. Finding this obvious flaw makes me distrustful of the rest of the history Mr. Barry quotes.
I have read other books about this same topic and have learned some new details from this book but like other reviewers, I think that there are many details regarding the rest of the world, and the rest of the story, that are left out.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A great book for anyone how wants all the facts
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... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Laura O'Reilly
4.0 out of 5 stars The Great Influenza
Great book, well researched, provides perspective on 19th century medicine and how it grew into the scientific medicine of the 20th century struggling to deal with the massive... Read more
Published on Dec 10 2009 by Dr. Robin G. Bustin
3.0 out of 5 stars Dense with detail, full of melodrama
I read many reviews of this book, and finally had to buy it.
This is a book you can easily put down! Read more
Published on June 21 2004 by David R. Blane
5.0 out of 5 stars a mesmerizing book
This has just become one of my favorite books. It is a compelling read, like a real-life Stephen King novel. But it's built around a lot more than just plot and character. Read more
Published on June 7 2004
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but Flawed
The other reviews pretty much sum it up for me - a fascinating and little researched event spoilt by melodramatic inserts. Read more
Published on June 2 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding history of pandemic and medical history
Compliments the Kolata book; increases wonder that we didn't learn anything about this in school in the fifties and sixties. Read more
Published on May 31 2004 by Kathy Phillips
2.0 out of 5 stars Great drama: deserves a better writer.
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. Read more
Published on May 22 2004 by KateMc
5.0 out of 5 stars The Great Influenza: The American Experience
In The Great Influenza, John Barry has produced a massive and exhaustively researched description of one of the greatest disasters of human history. Read more
Published on May 14 2004 by Robin Wolfson
5.0 out of 5 stars subject matter is a must-read.
i believe this is the book i read in my "emerging and evolving pathogens" class. i may be wrong. if i'm wrong, i'm getting this book! Read more
Published on April 29 2004 by "swtrthnwn"
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