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The Great Influenza, Revised Edition [Paperback]

John M. Barry
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 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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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 an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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 an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Great drama: deserves a better writer. May 22 2004
By KateMc
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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5.0 out of 5 stars The Great Influenza: The American Experience May 14 2004
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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5.0 out of 5 stars An great book 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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4.0 out of 5 stars Sobering look at a deadly pandemic... March 11 2004
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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Most recent customer reviews
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
5.0 out of 5 stars Business lessons
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. Read more
Published on Jan. 31 2008 by J. Estill
4.0 out of 5 stars Just the flu
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. Read more
Published on June 27 2004 by Atheen M. Wilson
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 yes, flawed!
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... Read more
Published on June 3 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 June 1 2004 by Kathy Phillips
3.0 out of 5 stars Almost Fantastic
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... Read more
Published on May 9 2004 by Monica M. Wood
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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