Review: The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History

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The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History
The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History by John M. Barry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a page-turner! Despite an occasional longwindedness that contributed to about a hundred pages’ worth of overwriting, this was an extremely engaging, informative read. The author weaves together medical science, history, statistics, and anecdotal descriptions of this horrifying episode very effectively. I found it most interesting that the author notes that very few people have written much about the 1918 flu epidemic. Having taken between 20 and 100 million lives worldwide, it was pervasive enough to have made a serious impact. Many people who were children at the time even remembered it as “the plague years” with little regard for the true nature of the disease. My great grandmother was orphaned when her parents died in this epidemic, so I can understand from my own family stories the impact on people’s lives. Perhaps it was too terrible to dwell upon or attempt to present as a narrative for the tens of millions of survivors.

Amazing tidbits I learned from this book: Oswald Avery was the man who discovered that DNA (a then unaccounted for compound within bacteria) carries genes. Rutherford B. Hayes was the first of only two presidents in US history to lose the popular vote and still become president – the second was George W. Bush. President Wilson was himself stricken with influenza, when in Europe negotiating the WWI-ending treaty, and some credit his difficult recovery with the poor outcome of those negotiations.

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Victor A. Davis has always loved reading and writing short stories. He is an avid hiker and even when away from the world of laptops and wifi, keeps a pocket paperback and a handwritten journal to keep him company on trail. He is the author of two short story collections, Grains of Sand and The Gingerbread Collection. Join his Mailing List for special announcements about upcoming works.