Sarah's Reviews > The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History

The Great Influenza by John M. Barry
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's review
Jan 24, 2009

liked it
bookshelves: 2006, historical-non-fiction, medical, free-library
Read in January, 2006

** spoiler alert ** . i was so excited to read this book. i like shit like this. but i was pretty disappointed in most of the book.
the first part gives a background of american medical history and why it was shit leading up to a few years before the outbreak in 1918. interesting in a way, and it kind of related to the story at hand by setting the stage for why medicine was so unprepared for the flu. but damn. a chapter would have been sufficient. i didn’t need a dozen of them. and i didn’t need to know what the main players favorite colors were when they were children. i didn’t need that much background.
the middle part was okay. it talked about the outbreak and how and why it spread so quickly around the world. it talked about how quickly people died and how bodies piled up and how so many people died. a lot of the book focussed on philadelphia. which i loved. i think this was partly because philadelphia was the first big city hit and it was hit bad and also because since it was a city, that better records were kept about the events. it mentioned the mass graves dug many times, but it never gave a location for them. i think it was probably on the outer edges of the city as it stood then.
the end of the book also had a little too much background. about the personal goals of scientists, etc. etc.
and the book was repetitive. i don’t mind being reminded of important things, but i didn’t need to know more than once about katherine anne porter’s obit being written up before she (didn’t) die. that’s a trivial pursuit fact not worth mentioning more than once, let alone three times.
i think the author’s focus was too broad when he wrote the book. i think it should have either dealt solely with the scientists or soley with the epidemic and how people responded/reacted to it--the new journalism human part of it, you know? if i were his editor i would have advised cutting the book by at least 200 pages and sharpening the focus.
i did learn a little bit about WWI. mainly that woodrow wilson was an ass and propagandized everything in america during the war. i saw a lot of parallels between him and gw--the war is all that matters, at the expense of everything else. public health was not a concern. newspapers could not publish anything about the epidemic that might cause fear or lower morale. doctors and nurses were needed for the soldiers, so they were sent to military bases instead of small towns where everyone was dying. there were gasless sundays and meatless mondays and all sorts of other restrictions on war necessities. it seems like, besides the flu, it would have been horrible to live in america then, having to watch what you said and did for fear of being labeled unpatriotic and thrown in jail.
so i really liked parts of the book and disliked the rest. if you’re going to read it, read the middle sections and skim the first several and the last one.
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Joel How does that translate into 3 stars? This review reads like you really give it 1 or 2?

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