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The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History

3.99  ·  Rating details ·  22,265 ratings  ·  2,312 reviews
At the height of WWI, history’s most lethal influenza virus erupted in an army camp in Kansas, moved east with American troops, then exploded, killing as many as 100 million people worldwide. It killed more people in twenty-four months than AIDS killed in twenty-four years, more in a year than the Black Death killed in a century. But this was not the Middle Ages, and 1918 ...more
Paperback, Revised Edition, 546 pages
Published October 4th 2005 by Penguin Books (first published February 9th 2004)
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Kaye Viking Press is the publisher under the Penguin Books imprint for the paperback edition and Penguin Audio for the audio version. (https://www.penguinr…moreViking Press is the publisher under the Penguin Books imprint for the paperback edition and Penguin Audio for the audio version. ( (less)

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Mario the lone bookwolf
Mar 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
Pandemics recur, just as history repeats itself, and it´s all simply a question of how much can be learned from it and how far technology has marched on.

They were at war, so they couldn´t tell that there were outbreaks, only the neutral Spain could say it without the danger of demotivating the population. Today there are mostly just trade wars anymore, but the rules have stayed the same and looking at the potential immense economical damage, the intuition of those trying to hide outbreaks was
Aug 14, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: medicine, history
“Epidemiological evidence suggest that a new influenza virus originated in Haskell County, Kansas, early in 1918. Evidence further suggests that this virus traveled east across the state to a huge army base, and from there to Europe. Later it began its sweep through North America, through Europe, through South America, through Asia and Africa, through isolated islands in the Pacific, through all the wide world. In its wake followed a keening sound that rose from the throats of mourners like the ...more
Oct 09, 2007 rated it did not like it
I am really surprised at the number of positive reviews this book got, both professional and consumer. I am currently a little more than halfway through and feel the need to write something in case I don't finish it and lose the desire.

Before critiquing Barry and his writing style, or lack thereof, his editor, Wendy Wolf deserves special mention. This is the first book I have ever read in which I have made special note of the editor and will refuse to read anything she works on in the future. I
Apr 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing
As the world is wrapped up in the COVID-19 pandemic, I thought that I would try to educate myself a little more on the general topic while forced to isolate with books. I have often wanted to know a little more about the Spanish Influenza of 1918-19, which was said to be one of the worst pandemics in modern times. As we are in something similar at present, I turned to John M. Barry’s book to permit me to speak with ease as it relates to the spread of infection and the reactions by the public and ...more
Sep 19, 2007 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
This book had promise, and is good in spots - but the overall product suffers greatly from lack of direction and editorial control. If I could rate the best third of the book, I would give it five stars. The other two thirds of the book suffers substantially from a lack of focus, inclusion of unnecessary information, and overly dramatic narrative. And, to add insult to injury, the footnotes are handled in such a fashion that they become nearly useless.

In the afterword, it becomes quite obvious t
May 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
This was a fascinating read about the 1918 flu pandemic, and a good overview of the history of medicine in America. I don't remember learning much about this topic in school — teachers seemed to treat it like more of a footnote to World War I, which was itself treated as a footnote to all the coverage of World War II.

But a friend had recommended this book to me more than a decade ago (he was always recommending big works of nonfiction), and it took the coronavirus outbreak for me to finally get
Nov 28, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: people who would skip their flu shots
Recommended to Mike by: Phyllis
This book took me a long time to read, for several reasons. First, it really is two books in one. The first book is a history of the men and women and institutions involved in the change to scientific medicine in this country around the turn of the century. The second is the story of the influenza plague of 1918-1922 itself, the horrors of it, the death rate, the physical symptoms, the psychological effects, and the rather interesting fact that it seems to have been largely forgotten as the hist ...more
Roy Lotz
People write about war. They write about the Holocaust. They write about the horrors that people inflict on people. Apparently they forget the horrors that nature inflicts on people, the horrors that make humans least significant.

Like so many people nowadays, I have been scrambling to wrap my mind around the current pandemic. This led me, naturally, to the last major worldwide outbreak: the 1918 influenza. I have a distant connection to this disease. My great-grandfather (after whom I was na
Dr Appu Sasidharan
History is not only learning about the past but also learning from the past to shape our present and the future. This book in such a way is not only a compendium about the Spanish flu (1918 - 1920) but also a vivid description about the pattern of the current pandemic Covid-19 (Barry wrote this book in 2004) and also the pandemics that might happen in the future. Spanish flu is something every Medico might have studied during their Med school days. Still, this book gave me so much new informatio ...more
Joy D
Comprehensive look at the influenza pandemic of 1918-1920 that resulted in the deaths of an estimated 50 million people worldwide. The author starts with a history of medical science, describing the common thoughts of the time immediately preceding the pandemic, and documenting the improvements made by notable institutions and scientists of the day. He traces the origins of the disease, likely in Kansas, and the spread of the disease through transfer and deployment of American military personnel ...more
I read many of the reviews of The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History. Many reviews are on target, the book just doesn't meet expectations for what should be a powerful tale. Unless you already have the book, I wouldn't rush to get it. How can I characterize it? Pompous, pretentious, repetitive, bloated,...? It seems he is trying to write like Simon Winchester, bringing in various threads to make a colorful tapestry. Except it is threadbare, strained, frayed. Just ...more
Sherry Sharpnack
Jul 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
As an immunizing pharmacist who lived through the craziness of the early onset (October) of the swine flu pandemic of 2009, I have long been interested in the great influenza pandemic of 1918-19. What were the circumstances? Why did so many young people die, when usually it’s infants and the elderly?

I was hoping this book would answer those questions, and in part, it did. However, I really did not need a history of medicine in general (back to Galen?!), laboratory medicine in particular, and med
Aug 30, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: history, science
It was a book, only a book.

I have to keep telling myself this because even though author John M. Barry apparently felt like he was writing the tome to end all tomes about this chapter in world history – including the hideous phrase, "It was influenza, just influenza" over and over and over again – in the end, what he created was a terrific 200-page story of the world's deadliest pandemic wrapped in 250 pages of overwritten irrelevance.

Barry spent seven years working on this book, and it shows. B
A.L. Sowards
I thought this would be a history of the misnamed Spanish flu of 1918 (it originated in the US, but since Spain was one of the few countries not at war and not censoring information, it took that country’s name). This book included information about the epidemic, but also extensive details about the founding of Johns Hopkins and the Rockefeller Institute and the men (and at least one woman) involved in those organizations. I had been hoping for the story of the epidemic all over the world, but t ...more
Mike (the Paladin)
Nov 30, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
I hesitate to go 3 starts on this book, but for what it is it's a good book. The thing is (and I've seen other reviewers here say the same thing) it's not what I would call "primarily" about the 1918/1919 Influenza pandemic. That's what I was "primarily" interested in.

My grandparents and great grandparents lived through this time. My grand-aunt lived into her 90s and close to 100. She was one of those people (and most of us have known them) who seemed to have a "cast iron constitution". She was
Sara W
Apr 28, 2009 rated it it was ok
Getting a little boring, so I'm taking a break from it. I think I expected a social history (how everyday people dealt with the flu, how it affected communities, etc.), and instead it's a very detailed history of medicine at the time (and well, well before the time of the flu!). I think I made it through a good 1/4 to 1/3 of the book (or more) before the Spanish flu began to get mentioned. The focus is on the medicine and doctors (individuals and as a profession - you get the whole history of U. ...more
সালমান হক
Despite the writing being so poor(almost seemed like a first draft), this one hits home. 1920 and 2020. New century, new pandemic. We always thought that things cant get much worse, but reality surprises us. The researches, methods that was done back then may seem medieval , but it was what they had then.

Where are we with all this cutting edge technologies in 2020? I live in a country where students choose to read life science if they dont get into other disciplines(not talking about physicians
May 17, 2007 rated it it was ok
Like a poorly crafted pop song, this book is full of occasional flashes of intelligence and brilliance, but is brought down to the level of the two star by it's repetitive nature and bogged down by details.

Okay, the metaphor doesn't really work with the "bogged down by details" part, but other than that, it's apt.

In attempts to create a rhythm, and strike a melodic note with his writing, Barry uses phrases he thinks are poignant to the point of annoyance. It's honestly like that Debbie Gibson s
Susanna - Censored by GoodReads
Nov 27, 2018 rated it liked it
Recommended to Susanna - Censored by GoodReads by: Scott Henderson
Started reading a book purportedly about the Spanish Flu, but so far is actually about the history of medical practice in the United States. Also if he calls Johns Hopkins University "The Hopkins" a few more times I'm going to smack him. Or his book, which will be closer to me. (I'm having flashbacks to Sean Wilentz and his freaking "The Democracy.")

ETA: 40% in and we're finally starting to deal with the flu epidemic. That's a long set-up section!
Apr 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
There are still aspects to the 1918/19 "Spanish"flu pandemic that elude us. It likely originated in Kansas, not Spain. It killed more civilians than soldiers and was the 20th Century's most lethal pandemic except for AIDS. Even today, we are still dealing with its after-effects as it mutates and returns to attack human beings every few years, making vaccines only partially effective.

THE GREAT INFLUENZA is a fascinating book, not lacking in detail. It is unlikely that the death count would have
Feb 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: wwi
The Great Influenza by John Barry is an important book that is equal part history and equal part science discussing the 1918 Flu. The book is written almost exclusively about the American impacts towards and from the flu. The book spends more than half the pages discussing immunologists and their groundbreaking work on infectious diseases, especially influenza and pneumonia. As a result it took Barry a few hundred pages to hit the meat of the book.

We learn that the deadly strain of 1918 influenz
Kimba Tichenor
Mar 29, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: american-history
The title is a bit of a misnomer. Although the Great Influenza of 1919 was a pandemic, the author focuses exclusively on its history in the United States. As several other reviewers have noted, this book could have benefited from a good edit. A significant share of the book focuses on the history of medicine in the United States prior to the Great Influenza, providing biographical information on medical researchers both who would play a role in trying to find an effective treatment for the disea ...more
Apr 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Solid read (and timely I suppose). Fascinating some of the parallels with the US's political response (read mismanagement/lies) between the 1918 pandemic and the 2020 COVID19 pandemic. Selfish political interest coming before public health, a sad pattern we see too often.

There are also some interesting potential parallels between these two virus pandemics regarding the issue of cytokine storms: an over-reactive immune response being a central issue in causing severe disease (and in some people
Apr 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: own
A must-read book for the times we live in.
Starts out with maybe just a little too much background on some of the doctors involved in the 1918 flu research but still interesting info on the state of medicine at that time.
Got really interesting with the info on the start of the flu and the effect on the population.
In researching my family background, I discovered my grandparents' first child died in Oct 1918 of the Spanish Flu at just 12 days old. So in some small ways, this history still touches
Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly
The 1918 Flu Pandemic coincided with the First World War and it killed more than both the military and civilian casualties of the conflict yet while the war generated an avalanche of literature (poems, songs, music, fiction, films, biographies and autobiographies) not much serious work had been done about this pandemic until this book published in 2004.

I read this a few years back and I’ve disposed of my copy already but since it was a gripping, unforgettable read, I could still recall some tidb
Camelia Rose
Apr 11, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, audio
A detailed book on the 1918-1919 Influenza pandemic-how it started (from Kansas, US), how it spread all over the world (through US army participating in WWI), how the US government, army, scientific society and general public dealt with the pandemic, and its lasting impact.

The book is very dry to read. The writing is repetitive and it drags on and on. Part 1 is the development of American medical science (public health study, John Hopkins Medical School etc...). Part 2 is mostly US politics (Wo
Dec 31, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Beyond five stars. How many books are entertaining, important, engaging and edifying? I can only think of one, this one. I thought this was going to read like a thriller by Michael Crichton or Dan Brown following a plucky single doctor who fights hard for his patients, makes a breakthrough, and saves the day. That's not this book because that's definitely not what happened.

The book starts off with a history of medicine. I had a vague idea about this beginning with Hypocrites and then jumping t
Mar 05, 2009 rated it really liked it
John Barry is in love with science and we are the beneficiaries in this comprehensive account of the influenza epidemic that came at the end of WWI. Some of his prose is quite lyrical when he praises the scientific method and the virtue of rational thinking combined with imagination in some of the researchers he covers.

But there are villains as well as heroes here as we enter an earlier time where government did almost nothing while private initiatives and funding allied with individual effort t
Feb 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is a very frightening book. We usually consider the flu to be a non life threatening disease. Not true in 1918. The disease killed millions in a worldwide pandemic. The actual number of fatalities can never be known because medical systems were so overwhelmed that many people were dying at home without ever seeing a medical professional. The grisly details of how ordinary people suffered are in this comprehensive book. Also covered are scientific descriptions of bacteria and viruses that a ...more
Bryan Alkire
Apr 13, 2020 rated it liked it
Turned out to be ok, but given my high expectations for the book, ultimately disappointing. Before I get talk about the book itself, I’d like to say a few words about the peril of popular historical analogy. Really, this current Corona virus and the 1918 flu are not equivalent. Different diseases different times different responses. For starters, 1918 was a war economy. If people had chirped about lack of toilet paper or individual rights to be out and about, they would have been swiftly muzzled ...more
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John M. Barry is an American author and historian, perhaps best known for his books on the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 the influenza pandemic of 1918 and his book on the development of the modern form of the ideas of separation of church and state and individual liberty. His most recent book is Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul: Church, State, and the Birth of Liberty (Vikin ...more

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  Tech pioneer, co-founder of Microsoft, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and author Bill Gates is an avid reader who has ...
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“Influenza killed more people in a year than the Black Death of the Middle Ages killed in a century; it killed more people in twenty-four weeks than AIDS has killed in twenty-four years.” 9 likes
“The foundation of morality is to have done, once and for all, with lying.” 5 likes
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