Tuesday, April 03, 2012

The Great Influenza

The Great Influenza. The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History. John M. Barry. 2004. Penguin. 546 pages. 

From the prologue: The Great War had brought Paul Lewis into the navy in 1918 as a lieutenant commander, but he never seemed quite at ease when in his uniform. It never seemed to fit quite right, or to sit quite right, and he was often flustered and failed to respond properly when sailors saluted him. Yet he was every bit a warrior, and he hunted death. When he found it, he confronted it, challenged it, tried to pin it in place like a lepidopterist pinning down a butterfly, so he could then dissect it piece by piece, analyze it, and find a way to confound it. He did so often enough that the risks he took became routine. Still, death had never appeared to him as it did now, in mid-September 1918. Row after row of men confronted him in the hospital ward, many of them bloody and dying in some new and awful way. He had been called here to solve a mystery that dumbfounded the clinicians. For Lewis was a scientist. Although a physician he had never practiced on a patient. Instead, a member of the very first generation of American medical scientists, he had spent his life in the laboratory.

While I'm not sure every reader will find The Great Influenza equally compelling, I must say that this one was quite the read for me! It was fascinating, challenging, and complex--complex in a good way. The Great Influenza is more than the story of the 1918/1919 influenza pandemic that spread around the world. It covers the background of medicine, how medicine is practiced, how doctors are trained and educated, how schools and laboratories are run, the need for excellence not just competence. (Though competence is a good place to start when there are no standards at all for who can practice medicine and call themselves a doctor.) It covers science, medicine, sociology, and even politics. Yes, The Great Influenza covers almost everything you could want to know. It follows the story of a handful of scientists in particular--exploring their personal and professional lives, presenting their theories and experiments, documenting their successes and failures. Most of this one, of course, does focus on the pandemic--tracing it throughout the spring of 1918 through most of 1919. It even follows up on how it continued to impact lives--months and even years later. How having this particular strain of influenza effected your brain and how it could continue to give you problems.

I really enjoyed this one! I found it completely fascinating. I loved all the details. 

Read The Great Influenza
  • If you are interested in World War I
  • If you are interested in science, history, sociology, politics, and medicine
  • If you are looking for compelling nonfiction; yes, this one may take almost a hundred pages to get to the influenza of 1918, but it's worth it. 
© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

1 comment:

Anna said...

Your review will be featured on War Through the Generations on May 18.