Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Pale Rider: The Spanish Flu of 1918 and How It Changed the World” as Want to Read:
Pale Rider: The Spanish Flu of 1918 and How It Changed the World
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Pale Rider: The Spanish Flu of 1918 and How It Changed the World

3.91  ·  Rating details ·  5,767 ratings  ·  942 reviews
In 1918, the Italian-Americans of New York, the Yupik of Alaska and the Persians of Mashed had almost nothing in common except for a virus--one that triggered the worst pandemic of modern times and had a decisive effect on the history of the twentieth century.

The Spanish flu of 1918-1920 was one of the greatest human disasters of all time. It infected a third of the people
...more
Hardcover, 332 pages
Published June 1st 2017 by PublicAffairs
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Pale Rider, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Pale Rider

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.91  · 
Rating details
 ·  5,767 ratings  ·  942 reviews


More filters
 | 
Sort order
Start your review of Pale Rider: The Spanish Flu of 1918 and How It Changed the World
Paul Bryant
Revived review as a public service during the current Coronavirus outbreak.

The Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918 is the gold standard of modern epidemics and this book is a solid account of what happened. It was really bad and it happened before medical science understood what was causing it. So should you be wondering what a REAL epidemic looks like, this was the big one.

Original review follows.


********************


This wasn’t the jolliest read, but heck, my friendly GR poppets, life is not all ha-ha
...more
Andy
Dec 21, 2017 rated it did not like it
Update (July 2020): Please see comment stream below for interesting discussion, especially given situation with COVID-19.

Nerd addendum (Jan. 2018):
After my review below, the NY Times gave this book a favorable review as a science book and even made it an overall weekly "Editors' Choice." People can have different tastes in literature, but for science non-fiction, factual accuracy must override the esthetics of the storytelling. The mistake I pointed out below is something that a reviewer with
...more
Emma
May 07, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: netgalley
Like so many others, I'm understandably drawn to pandemic literature right now. It is fascinating to compare how people have tackled, experienced, explained times similar to those we are presently living, whether that be through fiction or non-fiction. When it comes to the 1918 'Spanish' Flu, it seems incredible that a virus which killed between 50-100 million people worldwide can be so excised from cultural memory. Whatever the true count, it represents a near unimaginable number of deaths, esp ...more
Jeanette
It's a 3.5 star book. It's a 4 star book up until about page 250. I would have given it a solid 4 if she had ended it there with some summation of her research. But from "Melancholy Muses" onward- it was HER opinion, supposition, context correlations to possible cause and effects to epidemics of flu in the future and/or possible wild bird/ domestic bird/ domestic pig transfer of evolving viruses theories etc. And some of that was just about a 2 star. So I thought that the "fact" and the science ...more
Debbie Zapata
Apr 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2020printbooks
April 1 ~~ Review asap.

April 2 ~~ This is not exactly escapist reading these days, but I have had this book on my radar for months and naturally have become even more interested in the topic recently so I decided that I would risk virus overload and read it while I could compare in real time what was done then to what is being done now.

Each section of the book dealt with a different topic, such as a general history of influenza over the years, how we as individuals and as a society react to a p
...more
StMargarets
Published in 2017, this was an interesting look back (and forward) into the previous pandemic the world endured in 1918.

I was amazed at the similarities between our reaction in 2020 to Covid-19 and the world's reaction in 1918.

Newspapers and governments tried to downplay it.
People turned away from science and embraced more emotionally satisfying rituals (prayer, scapegoating to name two).
Because of WWI, the disease spread to all corners of the world, but the death rate varied wildly. There w
...more
Ellie
I generally prefer fiction to non-fiction but this work is a major exception. Spinney is also a novelist and, apparently, a good one if the smooth and engaging style of this book is an accurate example.

Ever since watching the (very) old series Upstairs, Downstairs in which a major character dies of the Spanish Flu, I have been interested in this (to me) unknown epidemic which apparently killed so many. Over the years, I have noted any references to it. But these references, according to Pale Rid
...more
Marta
Pale Rider is educational, about an interesting and very timely topic, but the writing is not very engaging and the organization of the book feels rather haphazard, so it was just a so-so for me.

This was our book club’s selection at what appears to be the last supper for a while, in mid March. The Covid virus was just emerging and we all were interested in the topic. I got it on audio, since I usually like to listen to non-fiction. However I lost steam about two-thirdth in, possibly due to Covid
...more
Jennifer
One of these days, I'm actually going to write a story about an epidemic that will justify all the reading I've done on the subject. But in the meantime, I just find it fascinating. This is one of the better books about the 1919 epidemic that I've read. Laura Spinney goes into the history of humanity's interactions with influenza before talking about the events of that particular epidemic, and the way it affected the modern world.

As an interesting side note, one of the people she mentions shares
...more
Joanne Clarke Gunter
Fascinating subject made boring by ponderous writing and an extreme reliance on speculation and anecdote.
Siobhan Johnson
I really enjoyed this! A very interesting and comprehensive study of an often overlooked period of history, the Spanish Flu of 1918(-1920, roughly), and how it impacted the world.

I'll get the few problems I had with it out of the way first, just to be comprehensive.

Problem 1. There was too much focus on male voices for my liking. Granted, this is probably (as in, almost certainly) because that is the majority of evidence available. I still felt a little cheated, though - you can't open the book
...more
Lena
Mar 02, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, audio, medical
016268-C7-EB73-4-CF4-997-C-09-CFB3-A2-C2-B3
“Though there had never been a flu pandemic like 1918 before, once 1918 had happened, scientists realised that it could happen again.”

This was a well rounded look at the time period, science, literature, sociology, and emotion surrounding the Spanish Flu.

It also gave me a better understanding of H.P. Lovecraft’s world: a place where big cities and the Middle Ages lived side by side, where war, plague, and revolution tore through civilizations, where eugenics was mainstream, and death was t
...more
Peter
Oct 02, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I wanted to like this book but I struggled to stay interested. Here and there it had some interesting sections but it often wandered off into places that lost my interest. It tried to do too much. It reads more like a Spanish Flu reader, like a collection of essays on topics related to the event. Chalk full of speculation, only to pull back and admit it is full of speculation.
Chris Steeden
Sep 15, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I don’t think I have had proper flu. You know the one where they say you feel so ill that you just cannot get out of bed. I have had flu-like symptoms for sure. Tiredness, aching all over, chill, fever etc. The Spanish flu is on another level. Have a read of this: ‘The Spanish flu infected one in three people on earth, or 500 million human beings. Between the first case recorded on 4 March 1918, and the last sometime in March 1920, it killed 50– 100 million people, or between 2.5 and 5 per cent ...more
Cindy Leighton
Horrified to learn that Donald Trump's family got their wealthy start from an insurance policy on his German immigrant grandfather who died from the flu, his widow and son investing his life insurance in property . . . oh how the world might be different today if Donald Trump's grandfather hadn't died of the Spanish flu.

I have a strange fascination with disease history - evolving understanding about the causes, mechanisms and cures of disease - fascinating! I have read more than I would care to
...more
Jonny
The captains and lieutenants who died while serving with the British Army – Vera Brittain’s ‘lost generation’ – numbered around 35,000.6 But six times as many Britons died of Spanish flu, and half of those were in the prime of life – young, fit men and women whose promise also lay ahead of them. They may therefore be considered more deserving of the label ‘lost generation’, though the flu orphans, and those who were in their mother’s womb in the autumn of 1918, may lay claim to it too, for diffe ...more
Emma Sea
The "how it changed the world" part was mostly around the development of germ theory, epidemiology, and public health. There was very, very little on lived experiences of the flu, and I don't think (?) there was anything at all on its effect on labor markets.

Not the riveting read I was expecting, but very thorough if you're into public health issues. 2.5 stars
...more
Murtaza
Like many people, I suspect, over the past few months I've developed an interest in the history and nature of pandemics. The Spanish Flu was one of the great horrors of the 20th century, killing somewhere between 50 to 100 million people. Despite this, it stalks our collective consciousness far less than the wars, natural disasters and political crises that predominate historical memory and are easier to build narratives about. Mass outbreaks of serious infectious disease are serious business, b ...more
Susan O
Jan 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Pale Rider is a book that covers a topic that has emerged from our collective memory of WWI over the last 20 years or so. Although the flu pandemic of 1918 killed far more people than the war it is only recently that it has been talked about, written about and analyzed. In the final pages of the book, Spinney explains why we are just now beginning to understand this phenomenon - the lack of attention to the pandemic and to its wide consequences for the past, present, and future generations. We m ...more
Charles Haywood
Nov 26, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Since I am an apocalypse monger, but a practical one, I do not worry about alien invasions or the reversal of Earth’s magnetic field, but I do worry about pandemics. This book, Laura Spinney’s "Pale Rider," is a recent offering in the pandemic literature that has become popular in the past twenty years. It focuses on the only known pathogen likely to create a future pandemic, the influenza virus, through its greatest past outbreak, the Spanish Flu of 1918. I read books like these partially for h ...more
Alex Sarll

"Seven million people died in the great war
A bout of influenza quadrupled that score.
Why pimp to posterity?
Why should they admire us? All the heroes of Valhalla
Weigh less than a virus.”


Momus' ‘Morality is Vanity’ was one of the reasons I was keen to read this new account of an insufficiently remembered hecatomb, the not-actually-Spanish* flu of 1918. And no, I have no idea why it’s not coming out for next year’s centenary, instead mingling with all the books marking a century since the Russian R
...more
Charles
Wide ranging exploration of the devastating, nearly-forgotten H1N1 flu pandemic that broke out at the end of WWI.

This was an advanced/intermediate-level work on the 1918 flu pandemic. Having advanced education and a general knowledge of early 20th Century history, particularly the history of the aftermath of World War I would be needed to really leverage its contents.

I have a keen interest in epidemiology. In pursuing that interest I’ve read several books on the mis-named Spanish flu of 1918. Sp
...more
Aly
I don't read many nonfiction books, but with the pandemic the world is going through now, this felt very relevant. It's been 100 years since the Spanish Flu and even though we learned a lot scientifically, in some ways we make the same mistakes again. Many people thought the Spanish Flu wasn't as big of a deal as it was, or didn't think precautions were necessary. Unfortunately this is happening now, especially in America. We also know that many of the people dying are poor or POC, likely due to ...more
Marks54
Nov 17, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a book about the Spanish Flu of 1918 to 1920. The author provides an international perspective on the great epidemic and its spread around the world, as well as an update on current research on this mother of all epidemics. It compares well with and complements John Barry’s book on the Great Influenza (2004), although it lacks Barry’s truly terrifying descriptions of the havoc caused by the disease as it spread through the US.

The Spanish Flu got its name because it was reported on openly
...more
Diana
Re-read 2019

While not my favorite book on the Spanish Flu epidemic, I do like that it looks at how the disease affected more than Europe. It dedicates a few chapters on the flu in Asia and Australia.


This book about the Spanish Flu tried to do what other books on the disease haven't done. It discusses the effect of the Flu on countries in Eastern Europe and Asia. Most books on the disease focus on Canada, The United States, and Western Europe. In adding Eastern Europe and Asia to the discussion
...more
Bernie Gourley
May 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Before the present-day COVID-19 pandemic, the Spanish Flu of 1918 seemed to be a largely forgotten historical footnote. It was overshadowed by its more explosive, if less lethal, co-event, World War I – the war that was fallaciously believed to hold the promise of ending all wars. Furthermore, Spanish Flu never achieved the mystique of the Black Death. In fact, among the fascinating questions this book examines is why such a world-changing event isn’t more diligently studied. Of course, these da ...more
K.
Trigger warnings: pandemic, lots and lots and lots of death, mentions of war.

I've been interested in this since it came out, so I was very excited to discover that my local library had a copy of it. Medical history is my jam and I'd never read anything about the Spanish Flu, so reading this was pretty freaking eye opening.

Let's be real here: the bulk of what we hear about the Spanish Flu and its death toll is about Europe and North America, yes? That's where we all assume the bulk of the death
...more
Alisha
Dec 21, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I did learn some interesting things from this book, but ultimately it wasn't what I was looking for regarding a social history of the Spanish flu.
The author fairly warned her audience at the beginning that she was going to circle around and around the topic instead of telling about it in a linear format. Unfortunately, that made the book feel fragmented and superficial. I wanted a thought-provoking social history about how governments and individuals responded the the threat of the flu, the rest
...more
Emily
Oct 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Given the events of The Great War (WWI) that overshadowed the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 many people don't even know that it existed. I myself was unaware of this occurrence until it was brought to my attention by Downton Abbey. (RIP Lavenia, but not really because Matthew and Mary are OTP) So when I recently read a book on a dozen different epidemics that the world has seen I was intrigued when the Spanish Flu came up. As I went looking for books on it I was surprised to see there weren't man ...more
Yibbie
Oct 03, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
“For now, all we can do is sketch out the terrain and raise some hypothesis.” – Laura Spinney, Pale Rider, chapter 21
That quote sums up this book. Whatever she is writing about, that is how she treats every facet of this story. She explains the big picture of what is happening in a country or city, focuses in on the experiences of a handful of people in that location, then speculates on how it got there, why it was more or less virulent there than elsewhere, and what the effects have been sinc
...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »

Readers also enjoyed

  • The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History
  • Flu: The Story Of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus That Caused It
  • Pale Horse, Pale Rider
  • Pandemic 1918: The Story of the Deadliest Influenza in History
  • The Rules of Contagion: Why Things Spread - and Why They Stop
  • Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic
  • A Bookshop in Berlin
  • Certain Woman of an Age
  • Don't Be Evil: How Big Tech Betrayed Its Founding Principles -- and All of Us
  • Very, Very, Very Dreadful: The Influenza Pandemic of 1918
  • The Sun Dog
  • Oligarchy
  • The Greater Freedom: Life as a Middle Eastern Woman Outside the Stereotypes
  • The Nature of Life and Death: Every Body Leaves a Trace
  • All Blood Runs Red: The Legendary Life of Eugene Bullard-Boxer, Pilot, Soldier, Spy
  • Sorry for the Dead (Josephine Tey #8)
  • American Pandemic: The Lost Worlds of the 1918 Influenza Epidemic
See similar books…

News & Interviews

The beauty of a paperback novel is multidimensional. Allow me to explain: The format allows you to catch up on some of 2020's biggest books...
80 likes · 7 comments
“What the Spanish flu taught us, in essence, is that another flu pandemic is inevitable, but whether it kills 10 million or 100 million will be determined by the world into which it emerges.” 3 likes
“Cordon sanitaire. Isolation. Quarantine. These are age-old concepts that human beings have been putting into practice since long before they understood the nature of the agents of contagion, long before they even considered epidemics to be acts of God. In fact, we may have had strategies for distancing ourselves from sources of infection since before we were strictly human.” 2 likes
More quotes…