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The Great Influenza, Revised Edition Paperback – Oct 4 2005

4.3 out of 5 stars 31 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 560 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Revised edition (Oct. 4 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143036491
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143036494
  • Product Dimensions: 13.8 x 3 x 21.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 540 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars 31 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #6,029 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

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

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Paperback
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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Format: Hardcover
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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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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