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The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History | [John M. Barry]

The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History

No disease the world has ever known even remotely resembles the great influenza epidemic of 1918. Presumed to have begun when sick farm animals infected soldiers in Kansas, spreading and mutating into a lethal strain as troops carried it to Europe, it exploded across the world with unequaled ferocity and speed. It killed more people in 20 weeks than AIDS has killed in 20 years; it killed more people in a year than the plagues of the Middle Ages killed in a century.
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Publisher's Summary

No disease the world has ever known even remotely resembles the great influenza epidemic of 1918. Presumed to have begun when sick farm animals infected soldiers in Kansas, spreading and mutating into a lethal strain as troops carried it to Europe, it exploded across the world with unequaled ferocity and speed. It killed more people in 20 weeks than AIDS has killed in 20 years; it killed more people in a year than the plagues of the Middle Ages killed in a century. Victims bled from the ears and nose, turned blue from lack of oxygen, suffered aches that felt like bones being broken, and died. In the United States, where bodies were stacked without coffins on trucks, nearly seven times as many people died of influenza as in the First World War.

In his powerful new book, award-winning historian John M. Barry unfolds a tale that is magisterial in its breadth and in the depth of its research, and spellbinding as he weaves multiple narrative strands together. In this first great collision between science and epidemic disease, even as society approached collapse, a handful of heroic researchers stepped forward, risking their lives to confront this strange disease. Titans like William Welch at the newly formed Johns Hopkins Medical School and colleagues at Rockefeller University and others from around the country revolutionized American science and public health, and their work in this crisis led to crucial discoveries that we are still using and learning from today.

Now with a new afterword.

©2004, 2005 John M. Barry; (P)2006 Penguin Audio, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., and Books on Tape. All Rights Reserved.

What the Critics Say

"Gripping....Easily our fullest, richest, most panoramic history of the subject." (The New York Times Book Review)
"An enthralling symphony of a book, whose every page compels." (Booklist)

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  •  
    Nancy West Cornwall, CT, USA 07-01-08
    Nancy West Cornwall, CT, USA 07-01-08
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Gripping and Gory"

    I thoroughly enjoyed this book, including the contextual detail that many others disliked, but I wouldn't recommend listening to it near mealtime, as the author dwells repetitively and graphically on the sensory (shall we say)"challenges" of those who beheld the victims in their various stages of death and dying. There were points where I wondered if I'd inadvertantly reset the narrative to a chapter I'd already listened to, so redundent was the story. However, the repetition accurately mirrored the relentlessness of the disease.

    From the contextual elements of this book, I finally learned why the hospital where I work insists that we come to work unless we're on our deathbeds. The nursing profession grew out of the military and its need to maintain healthy soldiers. Healthcare professionals were - and are - soldiers in the war against disease, and many died while caring for influenza patients. Also, I was told that the WWI generation had an unusually large number of "spinsters" who never married, because so many young men died in "the Great War." But, the flu disproportionately struck young men who happened to be soldiers lodged in crowded barracks that helped spread the disease. And, now I know why the Plague was called "the Black Death" (cyanosis turned the victims' bodies dark blue-black).

    Although the narrator's style is indeed grating at times, the book is fascinating and provides not just a history of the disease, but of the historical and political circumstances that perhaps allowed the disease to become so widespread before it was acknowleged and attempts were begun to control it. If I were reading the hard copy, I'd be up all night until I finished.

    26 of 27 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Tim Fremont, NE, United States 01-15-09
    Tim Fremont, NE, United States 01-15-09

    Computer Programmer and Worship Leader. Have enjoyed reading since my mom got me hooked on Nancy Drew and Agatha Christie prior to my teen years. My brother got me hooked on audio books after I started having a longer commute to work. Love a variety of genres.

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    "Great book but very disturbing..."

    Yikes! This one may cause you to lose some sleep. As one reviewer said, it's like a horror novel - but true.

    I had no idea that the epidemic actually had an impact on World War I! Also, the reason why it killed predominantly younger, healthier individuals was quite surprising.

    Wrapped in the horrifying story is the interesting history of medical research in the United States. While I was a bit put off by the anti-religious slant of some of this history, it still was very interesting.

    It was also interesting to learn why some sicknesses (especially the flu) can seem to come upon you so quickly. The book does a great job of explaining this phenomenon.

    There is also a lot of background material on Woodrow Wilson that I did not know.

    All in all - this is a must read! Having read well over 100 audiobooks (and reviewed almost 60), I would rank this in the top 10% of all I have listened to. Highly recommended!

    39 of 42 people found this review helpful
  •  
    John Vestavia Hills, AL, USA 11-11-08
    John Vestavia Hills, AL, USA 11-11-08 Member Since 2003
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Better than a Stephen King novel - only true."

    Very comprehensive book that attempts to trace not just when and where but why the flu happened. The off shoot of this is to describe the state of medicine in the world at that time (mainly in the U. S.). It then describes the event. This is the horror part. It finally describes the current state of medicine - another frightening section. It could happen again.

    This book has stayed with me.

    23 of 25 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Sandra Philomath, OR, United States 04-26-06
    Sandra Philomath, OR, United States 04-26-06 Member Since 2002

    I like unabridged novels. When I first joined Audible, many were abridged. That has changed. Non-fiction, politics, bios are favorites

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "the great book"

    I thought that the history of the flu needed the detailed discussion of the history of the disease, the governments, and the researchers. I didn't think any of it un-necessary. The author and the reader were excellent. I usually enjoy Scott Brick-he makes most books a better listen than a read.

    15 of 16 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Carolyn Glen Mills, PA, USA 10-04-09
    Carolyn Glen Mills, PA, USA 10-04-09 Member Since 2008
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    "Fascinating Account, Relevant Today"

    As I write this review in the fall of 2009, I am struck by the relevance of what happened 90 years ago to the swine flu pandemic of today. I learned from this book that the H1N1 virus that is threatening us today is the same virus from the Spanish flu back then (the author also explains how the Spanish flu got its name). The relevance of this book may be diminished by next spring, should the swine flu pandemic this winter turn out to be a false alarm. But listening to this book will hopefully help prepare the reader in taking precautions to prevent infection. Medicine has made huge advances since the Great Influenza. Whether those advances can prevent humans suffering a repeat of the tragedies of 1918 remains to be seen.

    The book is quite lengthy, so if you have minimal patience and want to skip over the background of medical history to get to the influenza outbreak, I suggest you skip ahead to the 2nd part of the audio book. While you will be missing some interesting historical information, such information is not vital to the understanding of the influenza outbreak. The most important part of the book is how deadly the H1N1 virus is and what steps should be taken to prevent its spread. This information could be very important in the winter of 2009-2010.

    12 of 14 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Ralph Farmington, UT, USA 07-16-08
    Ralph Farmington, UT, USA 07-16-08 Member Since 2005
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    "The Great Infulenza"

    Excellent, absolutely excellent. It is both informative and frightening. Great information on the development of medical science in America, the biology of a disease, the stupidity & ignorance of politicians and what can happen if we are not careful; all rolled into a novel that is easily understood. Recommended for all and guaranteed to scare you.

    12 of 14 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jane Mcdowell Muncie, IN, United States 03-28-06
    Jane Mcdowell Muncie, IN, United States 03-28-06 Member Since 2000
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    "Required reading in 2006"

    I was interested in this story because my mother was born during the flu epidemic of 1918-19 and the doctor who delivered her died before he could sign her birth certificate. I was always curious about how a healthy person could die that quickly, with stories of bodies of flu victims being stacked "like cord wood" because there weren't enough healthy people to bury the dead. This book is so much more than a story about that pandemic.

    It is a remarkably well-researched history of medicine starting with Hippocrates. Making medicine into an empiric science and transforming medical education were occurring just prior to this epidemic. We learn about how the flu affected the role of laboratory science, epidemiology, bacteriology, virology, public health and military medicine. Mr. Barry does an incredible job of explaining immunological and pathological concepts for the lay audience. He gives us much food for thought about the present influenza worries.

    This audiobook is highly recommended for the general audience. I would really like to see it as required reading for medical students.


    16 of 19 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Roger South Orange, NJ, United States 01-15-08
    Roger South Orange, NJ, United States 01-15-08 Member Since 2004
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    "Excellent"

    This is an excellent work. It is meticulously researched and carefully presented in its context. As both the author and several other reviewers have noted, the influenza pandemic is frequently missed by the history books, being overshadowed by World War I and the Russian Revolution. Yet the pandemic killed more people, and its effects touched every corner of the world.

    The context, which itself is scary on many counts, is necessary to understand how the disease killed so many so fast, as well as the effects the disease had on contemporary societies and the medical, political, military and popular responses to all that death and destruction.

    Because flu is still a regular killer and is always a threat to become another scourge, the context of the pandemic, as well as the responses to it, are critical to our understanding of the current threat.

    9 of 11 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Bradley Orange, CA, USA 11-14-08
    Bradley Orange, CA, USA 11-14-08
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Very good."

    A tad bit overdone in the middle with the constant telling you about how many people died, but overall a compelling and somewhat frightening story to listen to. It motivated me to get a flu shot that's for sure.

    5 of 6 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Elisabeth New Orleans, LA, USA 07-03-07
    Elisabeth New Orleans, LA, USA 07-03-07
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    "Great public health"

    The facinating thing about this book is that we didn't learn about this in school and that our parents and grandparents didn't talk about it. John Barry weaves a story about the social, medical, political and human side of this great epidemic. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and learned a great deal - much of it still relevant to our present situation and our approaches to infectious disease.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
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