Book Review: The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History by John M. Barry

Given current events, I thought it would be appropriate to dig up my old copy of The Great Influenza. It was an amazing read when I read it for a college course. In thinking about our current state of world shutdown, I thought it would be a good review, and I realized I should tell the rest of you about it. If you’ve never read The Great Influenza, it is a must read. Not only did the author eloquently explain how the flu affects the body, how it can kill, and how it spreads, but the author also went into great detail on how that particular flu killed so many people. How it spread. How at that time the government made it worse and helped it spread.

Every part of this book holds key elements to the resulting number of deaths that occurred, including the state of medical science at that time. That is an important historical context to understand the entire catastrophe. While the information you might be really searching for doesn’t begin until chapter 14 or so, all the previous chapters provide the necessary background to really understand what occurred. There are a lot of characters in the book, and keeping track can sometime be a slight challenge. I recall in college when I first read this, I kept notes on who was who, (because I had to for a test). In the end, being able to reference those notes helped me navigate the book when the book returned to certain people of our history. Just a suggestion if you’re someone who struggles keeping track of who is who and who did what.

This is one those books that will change the way you think about the flu (and other infectious diseases). It will change how you think about what the flu really means. It will give you a deeper understanding of why the shutdowns are currently occurring. It doesn’t matter if COVID-19 is a real threat or not. What matters is that shutting things down is completely the opposite of what happened during the great influenza. Perhaps we do learn from history after all.

Definitely a worthwhile read. You’ll never think of flu the same way again.

Happy Reading,


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