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Flu: The Story Of The Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus that Caused It

3.88  ·  Rating Details  ·  4,307 Ratings  ·  261 Reviews
In 1918 the Great Flu Epidemic killed an estimated 40 million people virtually overnight. If such a plague returned today, taking a comparable percentage of the U.S. population with it, 1.5 million Americans would die.

The fascinating, true story of the world's deadliest disease.
In 1918, the Great Flu Epidemic felled the young and healthy virtually overnight. An estimated f
Paperback, 352 pages
Published January 9th 2001 by Touchstone (first published 1999)
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Jeffrey Keeten
Mar 25, 2013 Jeffrey Keeten rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
”This is a detective story. Here was a mass murderer that was around 80 years ago and who’s never been brought to justice. And what we’re trying to do is find the murderer.”--Jeffery Taubenberger, molecular pathologist

There are estimates that the 1918 Flu killed anywhere from 20 million to 100 million people dwarfing the number of people killed in World War One. Either number is horrifying, but as modern scientists start putting data together the larger number becomes more realistic. I’ve always
Ned Ryerson
Aug 04, 2008 Ned Ryerson rated it liked it
I love a good disease book. And I think the 1918 flu is just about as fascinating as you can get. But this book talks more about theories and old-timey labs than it does about the human side of this epidemic. Which, let's face it, is what's really interesting. Imagine all of a sudden having a common illness sweep through your community and kill young healthy people so fast that you don't even have time to bury them right. That's some serious shit. This book just didn't do it justice. I would lik ...more
Lynne King
This book was just excellent and that's all that needs to be said.

I recommend it to anyone who has an interest in medical history and likes Germ Theory. Why I didn't study science at university instead of the arts is beyond me.
Jose lana
Jan 22, 2016 Jose lana rated it really liked it
Shelves: meicine
A good book on the deadly, ill named, spanish flu becuse today nobody knows where exactly this pandemia began.

The book is devoted to the history,epidemiology and investigation of this letal virus,that killed over 50 million humans arroun the world in the 1918 pandemia ,the most letal after the black dead,and its final reconstruction by means of frozen inuit lungs,dead by the disease, in the alaskan permafrost
Sep 19, 2008 Schnaucl rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone interested in the Spanish Flu, virology, or pandemics
I really enjoyed this book. The book covers a range of time from the beginning of the 1918-19 flu right up to still lingering questions about what made that particular flu strain so deadly and why it affected the young and healthy as much as the elderly and very young.

I really learned a lot about the Flu and about the fight to determine its origins and genetic composition. Some of the things in this book mirrored [Book:The Great Influenza:The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History], altho
Jul 31, 2009 Justin rated it really liked it
Shelves: historical
The book was published in 1999, but it reads like it was written just a few weeks ago. The information Gina presents is so relevant to today that it's eerie. I am fascinated by the parts of history that our textbooks seem to forget, and the 1918 flu is probably one of the largest omissions in our historical texts. In it's two phases ( lighter spring outbreak, followed by the massively deadly fall outbreak) it managed to decrease the world population significantly and took out more lives than WW1 ...more
Oct 26, 2008 Xysea rated it liked it
Recommends it for: history buffs, those with science and microbiology and investigative interests
Recommended to Xysea by: me
Right now, I'm thoroughly enjoying this read by NYT reporter Gina Kolata - it does seem odd that with the impact of the 1918 flu we haven't heard more about it or how it changed American life as we know it.

I had no idea Katherine Anne Porter's Pale Horse, Pale Rider dealt with this topic, nor Thomas Wolfe's Look Homeward, Angel, so I am going to now read these two books after this one with a different context and knowledge base - which I hope will give me a deeper appreciation for both.

I'll be
Mar 03, 2009 Chelsea rated it liked it
An interesting look at a part of our history that can get glossed over sometimes. Unfortunately, this was focused more on the science that went into deciphering the flu rather than the history of the flu itself. While it was an enlightening read, and some of the people who worked on this project were extremely driven, fascinating people, mostly it just made me want to read a good old fashioned history book about the influenza pandemic.

My one real issue was the completely unnecessary pages of lis
Lynn G.
I thought that this informative book about an interesting topic, the influenza epidemic of 1918, made some complex scientific processes approachable by the lay reader. The book reads almost like a biography of influenza; informing readers about previous epidemics/pandemics; similarities and differences between known influenzas; the attempts, both failed and successful, to identify and isolate the various molecular fragments of the viral genes. The focus, of course, was what differentiated the 19 ...more
May 06, 2016 Vivien rated it liked it
Kolata is a journalist- and it shows, she has here catch phrase throughout the book and it ultimately made it tedious. She also has a bit of hero worship for Jeffery Taubenberger- which centered this book around the virology pathway twists and turns and ended up concentrating on the blow by blow nastiness of getting your scientific paper published first.

Most of these books build their foundations on Crosby's book about the flu and focus on the science to nail it down or the ineptitude of civil
Feb 11, 2015 dejah_thoris rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, history
Starting with history and moving towards modern science, this is a great book for anyone interested in understanding influenza. Although the 1918 pandemic isn't discussed frequently, I really enjoyed learning about it not only because of its virulence but also because it explains what the designations H1N1 etc. actually mean, why we need so many flu vaccines every year, and why so many new strains of flu are discovered in China. Definitely fascinating with very light descriptions of the genetic ...more
When the plague came, on those chilly days of autumn, some said it was a terrible new weapon of war.

In 1918, a pandemic hit the world and killed millions of people from China all the way out to the most remote outposts of the Alaskan wilderness. A world already reeling from the disastrous effects of the first World War had to deal with their young people dropping dead from a terrifying illness that cost more American lives than WWI, WWII, Korea, and Vietnam combined. But what caused this terri
Alan Marchant
Jul 26, 2009 Alan Marchant rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Get sick, Get well, Hang around the inkwell.

First the good. This timely and credible treatment of influenza fills a critical void. The book is very readable. Although concentrating on historical vignettes to the exclusion of scientific explanations, the book provides a helpful background for the consideration of risk, public policy, and personal preparation that arise from confusing, contradictory, and incomplete news items about flu outbreaks and related public health initiatives.

Kolata clearly
Aug 04, 2010 Shannon rated it really liked it
This was on the shelf at the library when I went to get The Great Influenza so I picked it up too. I read this one first---it was shorter. While the basis of the book was the 1918 Influenza, the real story was what happened in science and medicine afterward. While influenza was a known disease, the cause was not yet understood. There were no microscopes powerful enough to see a virus, and by the time anyone thought that might be the cause, the flu was gone, seemingly lost forever. The bulk of th ...more
Dec 18, 2015 Elizabeth rated it it was ok
Unfortunately I found the writing horribly awkward and clunky. And worst of all for me, extremely repetitive and long-winded. I'm fairly certain the book could have been at least a third shorter if the redundancies, unnecessary re-explanations, barely related tangents, and overly wordy sentences had been pruned. It brings to mind the way I was taught to write as a history major in college and so many dry history books I had to read: more words are always better, and it's good to restate the same ...more
Jun 13, 2009 Tamara rated it really liked it
A fascinating book about the 1918 "spanish" flu pandemic that swept the globe, killing an estimated 20 million to more than 100 million people worldwide. The virus was most deadly to adults aged 20 to 40 - a portion of the population not usually as vulnerable to infectious disease. The death toll was so high that in the United States the average life expectancy dropped by 12 years.

The book explores the spread of the virus and the search for it remnants in tissue samples to discover why it was so
Nov 17, 2015 Charles rated it it was ok
"Flu" is a quick, easy, read that skims over the 1918 Pandemic and introduces the reader to the current science of influenza.

However, the book draws no solid conclusions, and has no real ending. It also leaves threads hanging at the conclusion. (We are never told from what virus strain (H?N?) the recovered RNA indicated the 1918 flu belonged. Finally, the chatty biographies of the books personalities were really annoying to have to wade through. (Does it really matter that Kirsty Duncan does Cel
Florence Millo
Jul 18, 2015 Florence Millo rated it liked it
I honestly didn't finish this book. It started off very interesting but then just got too bogged down.
Chuck Tulloh
Jun 10, 2015 Chuck Tulloh rated it really liked it
Good book, provides a well done procedural a la the "police" procedural, discussing the unraveling of the 1918 flu's timeline. Would like a bit more science, and the tantalizing discussion of the possibility that this bug preexisted its catastrophic emergence left me hanging. This is a huge subject so I shouldn't criticize. The personal side was absent and I'm told those truly interested should read Pale Horse Pale Rider as well as Crosby's book America's Forgotten Pandemic to fill in the gaps. ...more
Feb 14, 2015 Nolan rated it really liked it
Shelves: nls-audio
When the 24-hour news channels developed a morbid fascination with the Ebola virus last summer, I must admit, I did, too. Being an ardent believer in the premise that we best deal with an uncertain future if we better understand our past, I got to digging around and found this fascinating book.

Essentially, Kolata presents you with a highly readable account of the 1918 flu pandemic that killed millions of people worldwide, including millions of American young adults.

I read with horror about death
Madeleine Bousquet
Nov 26, 2014 Madeleine Bousquet rated it really liked it
Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus that Caused It by Gina Kolata presents a comprehensive history of the 1918 epidemic, starting from the days of the epidemic and going up to modern attempts to understand the virus’ genome. The author constructs the book as detective story and manages to stick to the theme pretty well. I enjoyed that the book did not just focus on the epidemic itself, but also covered future events to understand why the epidemic h ...more
Apr 12, 2007 Jennifer rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: non-scientists, people who forget things easily
she is so damn repetitive and rambling i can't stand it! she also tries to hard to mention names of specific scientific methods, then doesn't explain them, which is aggravating (i would assume) for those who don't know what they are.
the story has so many dead endings, im sure she could have found some better stuff to write on, or else write a book about something else.
anyway, i didn't like it. but somehow i did finish it, so thats why it got two stars.
Nov 28, 2014 Slingshot rated it liked it
I thought this was a fascinating look at a subject that I didn't know enough about. The chapters each had a theme and the writing was clear with technical and scientific situations explained well.

I had two issues with the book: (1) It could have used tighter editing as some chapters had a lot of repetition, specifically with phrases. (2) One of the chapters described a scientist who organized an expedition as having "doe eyes" and "undeniably attractive to some of the men on her team". The descr
Jul 08, 2015 Florence rated it really liked it
This is a frightening story. The influenza epidemic of 1918 killed 100 million people worldwide. Could it happen again? Some dedicated researchers spent years trying to resurrect and study the deadly virus in order to answer that question. Their project took them to an Alaskan village where most of the 80 residents succumbed to the virus and to Arctic reaches of Norway to exhume the frozen corpses of seven unlucky sailors; all this to find a piece of frozen lung tissue from which the virus could ...more
Jan 23, 2016 Denise rated it really liked it
This book landed into my hands on a off notice of the 1918 Flu in some little article I read - I had never heard of it before. This was my first book in my now on going study. This book was a page turner of information on the science side of the pandemic and the mystery behind it. I felt myself feeling the love of the science through Ms Kolata writing. As noted in other reviews the human factor was not as detailed as far as the life while the flu happened, human factor was a huge play for at lea ...more
Anna Engel
Dec 08, 2014 Anna Engel rated it liked it
"Flu" is a surprisingly accessible medical history. Kolata brings the past horror of the 1918 flu to life, then describes the hunt for the virus and what made it so deadly.

It hasn't been quite 100 years since the 1918 flu. There have been scares since then, but we've become rather complacent because there aren't very many people left who remember the 1918 epidemic. No one was untouched. I don't think the world is much better equipped to respond to a communicable disease of a similar scale, desp
Jul 16, 2014 Kaethe rated it it was amazing
Outstanding. I picked it up a second time because it's in my interests, without recognizing it. It was outstanding the second time through, so I finished it again.
Jen Lamoureux
Oct 24, 2015 Jen Lamoureux rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Parts of this book are really good. It's very informative, and following the emergence of modern day protocols for influenza was fascinating. Kolata's book seems very well researched to me. The parts I didn't enjoy were centered around Duncan's expedition. I just feel like the author goes out of her way to make Duncan sound like a fame-whoring ridicaloo. Maybe she was, but I think that section could have trimmed down a bit without losing that message. Still, the rest of the book and the stories ...more
Apr 18, 2014 Caitlin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science, history
I found this really quite interesting, as the most I had ever really come across the 1918 flu previously was part of a documentary.

The author describes the science fairly well, without getting too bogged down in it (though since I already knew some of the information, it could make less sense to someone else) and had a very easy to read writing style. Some parts of it seemed a bit America-centric, but that's only to be expected and didn't really affect it. I enjoyed reading about the various ass
Clare O'Beara
I enjoyed this study of the 1918 influenza pandemic, and how the search for the causative virus was continued through the generations of medical scientists to present day.

If you are not used to reading medical texts, there will appear to be a lot of deaths, autopsies, slivers of lung issue, viruses and transmissions. You may want to read it over a few sessions, as I did, not to get the full depressing force of the pandemic, and to allow yourself to adapt to the content. Once you're past the ini
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Kolata graduated from the University of Maryland and studied molecular biology at the graduate level at MIT for a year and a half. Then she returned to the University of Maryland and obtained a master’s degree in applied mathematics. Kolata has taught writing as a visiting professor at Princeton University and frequently gives lectures across the country. She lives in Princeton, New Jersey, with h ...more
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