Review: The Great Influenza

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The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History
Published: 10/4/2005
Page Count: 546
Book URL:
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.…

I got this book just as the news of what we have come to know as COVID-19 was raging through China.  The news of massive quarantines and typical heavy-handed Chinese methods of containment and concealment were starting to come out.  A friend had read this book and I remember the descriptions of the sudden effects and the deadly results.  Descriptions of people almost literally dropping dead on the street and bodies quite literally piling up in morgues were shocking, but what was more shocking to me was that we’d apparently learned very little since 1918 when that flu epidemic killed so many.  Reading the accounts and descriptions in this book was disturbingly like reading current headlines.  People fought wearing masks and limiting contact then, too.  The cities that fared the best were the ones that acted quickly and decisively to protect their citizens.  Only cities that closed their borders early were untouched.
Yet, the did eventually find a vaccine and so I have hope that we will, too.

I won’t lie; this book was not an easy read at all.  It was a dense history that gave a deep perspective of not only the pandemic, but also of the state of medicine in the United States at the time.  The author does warn that he will give a very in-depth look at the events that led to the pandemic, and the reading is quite dry at times, but I absolutely came away from the effort better informed about both human nature and how our current situation might go.  I wish others in power had read this book as well, so that they might have saved us from some of the worst of the effects.

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