14 December 2014
Book Review: The Great Influenza
New York : Penguin Books, 2005.
The Great Influenza focuses on both the actual pandemic of 1918 and the problems associated with it as well as the science and doctors who fought, and in some cases died, to understand and stop this pandemic. Most of the material is drawn from the US, with some mention of events in other parts of the world. The book contains photographic plates as well as an extensive bibliography.
I approached this book with some apprehension, fearing that it would be a dry recitation of statistics about deaths, illness, etc. Instead, I found a book that both gave the important statistics and clearly set them in context regarding science, society, and history. The writing was well done -- perhaps not the best prose, but not dry nor tedious.
If there was a criticism to make it would be the last few chapters, where some of the biographical information about the researchers seemed to far from the topic. Additionally, I would have liked to see a more thorough discussion of how viruses mutate -- this perhaps would have been best as an appendix, but it was a key point in the book (as the flu came in waves after each mutation).
Overall, this was a very good book and one that I highly recommend to others interested either in epidemics or in science circa 1920. ( )