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

3.85 of 5 stars 3.85  ·  rating details  ·  3,060 ratings  ·  218 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...more
Paperback, 352 pages
Published January 9th 2001 by Touchstone (first published 1999)
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Jeffrey Keeten
”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...more
Ned Ryerson
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.
Xysea
Oct 26, 2008 Xysea rated it 3 of 5 stars
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...more
Chelsea
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...more
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
Justin
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
Schnaucl
Sep 19, 2008 Schnaucl rated it 5 of 5 stars
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...more
Christie
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 terrib...more
Alan Marchant
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...more
Shannon
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
Tamara
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...more
Jennifer
Apr 12, 2007 Jennifer rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  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.
Sally
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...more
Caitlin
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...more
Angie
I think this book did a pretty good job of what is almost 100 years of history related to the flu, and to the advancements scientists have made in figuring out the flu and the 1918 flu in particular... which isn't to say they've actually Figured It Out, it's to say that scientists have managed to find out the code for that virus, but not how it spread, where it came from, where it went. So the mystery is still out there, and seeing as this book was published in 1999 I'm pretty curious as to the...more
Randy
Gina Kolata's telling of the story of the 1918 influenza pandemic reveals how modern medicine, basking in the success that the new germ theory of disease had brought, was utterly unprepared for, and therefore completely helpless in the face of, the pandemic that ravaged the world. This flu was unlike any flu encountered before: it was 25 times more lethal than ordinary influenzas, killing 2.5 percent of its victims, in contrast to the normally observed 0.1 percent mortality. Worldwide, possibly...more
Brigid Keely
"Flu: The Story Of The Great Influenza Pandemic Of 1918 And The Search For The Virus That Caused It," by Gina Kolata, is a pretty quick, well researched read. Published in 1999, the text mentions the scarcity of 1918 Influenza research-- apparently the situation has changed, because I've read a few other books and seen at least two documentaries that were solely about, or mentioned as a key thing, the 1918 Flu Pandemic. So that's a good thing, especially with our recent DEATH FLU scares.

Kolata i...more
Heidi
This was a fascinating look at the hunt for the flu virus of 1918 which killed an estimated 100 million people worldwide. The title is a little misleading--this is less a story of the pandemic than it is the story of later scientists who tried to study the virus.

Kolata explores the efforts to find the flu virus in the lungs of its victims, specifically those who were buried in permafrost and whose bodies might be preserved with the fragile virus still in their lungs. It's disheartening to see h...more
Nancy
May 18, 2009 Nancy rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone interested in the history of illnesses.
Fascinating account of the search for the virus that caused the 1918 Influenza pandemic. The author also covers some of what scientists have learned from flu outbreaks throughout the 20th century, including how influenza strains from pigs and chickens can be transmitted to humans (and vice versa), and how they can combine to form new, more violent, strains. She also covers the Swine Flu vaccination efforts of 1976 and the problems and lawsuits it caused for the government.

Because the book was pu...more
Babette
FLU has been on my to-read list for a very long time. I've always had a deep abiding interest in all things medical and health related and had read Kolata in the NYT for years. I also had a great-grandfather who died in the 1918 pandemic and another great-grandfather who was an undertaker during it.

It happened to be on the shelf here at the library on Saturday when I first heard the news from Mexico. It has been an invaluable read at this time. Kolata is an excellent writer, the story has the tw...more
Donna LaValley
“FLU The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus that Caused It”

The virus of the horrible 1918 Flu Pandemic is, apparently, still something of a mystery. Our history books give the pandemic precious little space although it killed 40 million people. More of our soldiers were killed by the flu than died in WW I. It killed healthy young adults in a matter of days. Why the counterintuitive deaths? Why did it appear everywhere so quickly? Why did it kill so fast? W...more
Samantha
The so called "Spanish flu" pandemic of late 1918/early 1919 is one that has seemingly fallen off the face of the earth. Out of all the American and World History classes I have taken in my life, I can't recall ever studying the 1918 flu. Not in any great detail, at any rate. Which, after having read this book, seems strange considering the massive impact the outbreak had on the entire world.

The number of people killed by the flu - conservative estimates have the number at 20 million, though som...more
Elmira
This book was told by an author with an obvious love of science in a sequence that was logical and exciting with the perfect amount of detail as to lab procedures for a lay audience. However, what kept his book back from being great was the overwhelming number of minor mistakes and errors. I almost put the book down after the first chapter because the author's errors made me doubt the accuracy of the larger points of the book. However, I am very happy that I persevered because the second half of...more
Jen
This book was, all in all, a disappointment. I had hoped for a more sociological approach to the flu of 1918 and how people dealt with the death it brought. Instead, I got a teaser of the flu of 1918 and a lot of the scientists studying it now. The subtitle, "The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus that Caused It" doesn't just promise the flu of 1918, but it indicates that it will get SOME face time. It just doesn't get as much as emo poetry writing scienti...more
Beverly
In 1918, the Great Flu Epidemic killed the young and healthy overnight with deaths reaching over forty million people. As many American soldiers were killed by the 1918 flu as were killed in battle during World War I. And no area of the globe was safe. Eskimos living in remote outposts in the frozen tundra were sickened and killed by the flu in such numbers that entire villages were wiped out. OK book, but there are better books on the 1918 epidemic.
Patrice
This book was fascinating. I'm not accustomed to thinking of Influenza as being particularly dangerous, but as the author pointed out the 1918 pandemic was one of the deadliest (by death toll rather than per capita unless perhaps you consider as a rate with respect to time) plagues in human history. That is even more unique in that the world seems to be collectively blocking it from memory rather than preserving it in record as it has with outbreaks of other infectious diseases. In twelve solid...more
Jo
Every once in a while I enjoy a good science book. This has all the ingredients of a page turner: a search for the cause and source of the 1918 flu pandemic. An estimated 40 million people died,more than in all the battles of World War I, felling the young and healthy almost overnight, and in some cases wiping out whole villages. Where did it come from? Why was it so deadly? And can we prevent such a pandemic in the future? Scientists have tried to get answers for decades, hampered by a lack of...more
Antigone
My father, who is slightly more paranoid than I am, recommended this book. I bought it and did the read/listen thing as I am usually doing these days now that I am back commuting for a living. Again, the books seemed good but I had a hard time finishing it as the reader was not ideal. I believe it would have received a whole star more had another reader been performing it.

Now, the topic was super cool and I love the "Hot Zone" style (though I attribute this to "The Coming Plague" actually. It is...more
RachelAnne
This is a mystery novel: a factual account of how a usually negligible seasonal virus suddenly turned lethal, killing 20-100 million people within a year before becoming once again the relatively harmless wintertime cough. I enjoy Gina Kolata's health reporting for the NYTimes, and I have a macabre fascination with deadly contagious diseases, so I thought this would be great to read on the plane. It didn't disappoint me. I find Kolata's style readable without sacrificing too many biological deta...more
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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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