Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

Pandemic 1918: The Story of the Deadliest Influenza in History

Rate this book
In the dying months of World War I, Spanish flu suddenly overwhelmed the world, killing between 50 and 100 million people.

German soldiers termed it Blitzkatarrh, British soldiers called it Flanders Grippe, but globally the pandemic gained the notorious title of 'Spanish Flu'.

Nowhere escaped this common in Britain, 250,000 people died, in the United States it was 750,000, five times its total military fatalities in the war, while European deaths reached over two million. The numbers are staggering. And yet at the time, news of the danger was suppressed for fear of impacting war-time morale. Even today these figures are shocking to many - the war still hiding this terrifying menace in its shadow.

And behind the numbers are human lives, stories of those who suffered and fought it - in the hospitals and laboratories. Catharine Arnold traces the course of the disease, its origins and progress, across the globe via these remarkable people. Some are well known to us, like British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, US President Woodrow Wilson, and writers Robert Graves and Vera Brittain, but many more are unknown. They are the doughboys from the US, gold miners in South Africa, schoolgirls in Great Britain and many others.

Published 100 years after the most devastating pandemic in world history, Pandemic 1918 uses previously unpublished records, memoirs, diaries and government publications to uncover the human story of 1918.

417 pages, Kindle Edition

First published January 11, 2018

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Catharine Arnold

12 books190 followers
Catharine Arnold read English at Cambridge and holds a further degree in psychology. A journalist, academic and popular historian, Catharine's previous books include the novel "Lost Time", winner of a Betty Trask award. Her London trilogy for Simon & Schuster comprises of "Necropolis: London and Its Dead", "Bedlam: London and Its Mad" and "City of Sin: London and Its Vices".

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
576 (22%)
4 stars
1,057 (41%)
3 stars
740 (29%)
2 stars
127 (5%)
1 star
37 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 368 reviews
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,737 reviews14.1k followers
January 13, 2019
Fifty million dead world wide, over a third of the worlds population dead in just one year. One could greet a friend in the morning, and find out that person died the next day. I can't even imagine that something, outside of a war could cause such a tragedy as this. Yet, it was the Spanish flu, the Spanish lady that would spread across the globe, leaving heartache and terror in its wake. This book describes how it was spread, where it was spread, but also includes letters, journal and diary entires, from those who were present at the time.

WWI and troop movements, trains, ports, all greatly helped the Spanish lady. A young Vera Brittain, a nurse in one of the British camps, was cheered seeing the healthy looking American troops arrive. Of course, she had no way of knowing they carried death with them. She would go on to write of her experiences in her, Testament of Youth. Katherine Anne Porter lived through it and wrote Pale Horse, Pale Rider, chronicling her experience. Roosevelt and all he and Eleanor's children contracted the flu. Aided by one nurse, there being such a shortage of nurses and doctors, Eleanor nursed them through. A young man, underage and against his father wishes, joined the ambulance Corp. and caught the flu. He too would live, and become Walt Disney.

It was the children, and their experiences that effected me the most. The girls jumping rope to
"I had a little bird
Its name was Enza
I opened the window and
The young boy whose friend talked him into observing one of the daily funerals now taking place in their town. Watching, he never got over seeing the gravediggers dumping the bodies out of their coffins into a mass grave. Of course their was a shortage of coffins, shortages of everything. No one knew how to treat it, how to stop it. Mass panic and terror. It was a time that one can only hope never comes again.
Profile Image for David.
1,630 reviews105 followers
September 20, 2021
Pandemic 1918: The Story of the Deadliest Influenza in History by Catharine Arnold presents a detailed account of this catastrophe that started in January 1918, as World War I raged on, a new and terrifying virus began to spread across the globe. In three successive waves, from 1918 to 1919, influenza killed more than 50 million people. World-wide, the pandemic gained the notorious title of “Spanish Flu." Nowhere on earth escaped: the United States recorded 550,000 deaths (five times its total military fatalities in the war), while European deaths totaled more than two million.

Amid the war, some governments suppressed news of the outbreak. Even as entire battalions were decimated, with both the Allies and the Germans suffering massive casualties, the details of many servicemen’s deaths were hidden to protect public morale; the opposite of how today's Covid 19 numbers are being reported. Casualties due to the Spanish Flu often exceeded casualties due to the war itself. Meanwhile, civilian families were being struck down in their homes. Philadelphia ran out of gravediggers and coffins, and mass burial trenches had to be excavated with steam shovels. Spanish flu conjured up the specter of the Black Death of 1348 and the great plague of 1665, while the medical profession, shattered after five terrible years of conflict, lacked the resources to contain and defeat this new enemy. Through primary and archival sources, historian Catharine Arnold gives readers the first truly global account of this terrible epidemic and the fight to contain it.
Profile Image for Jessaka.
888 reviews120 followers
April 21, 2019
The Spanish Flu Was a Form of the Bird Flu

“Who reads books like this? I asked myself as I was reading the first chapter of this book. Still, IO continued to read on. And when I finished reading the book, I realized that I read books like this.

It was just that the book was so boring and respective in the beginning, but then it suddenly became interesting, actually frightening. No wonder we all fear plagues, even the flu.

I had the Hong Kong flu back in 1968. My first husband had it too, and we were flat on our backs. We couldn’t take care of ourself, much less each other, and we never went to a doctor. It never dawned on us that we could die.

My current husband and I get flu shots every year and have had our pneumonia shots as well. I think of those in America who refuse shots, even for their kids. Little do they know what danger they are putting themselves into.

The information in this book was taken from diaries that people had kept as well as hospital records and ship’s logs. From time to time, I grew tired of listening to the deaths from all over the world.

Bodies piled up so much that there was no place to bury them. Coffins were used over and over again as grave robbers opened up the coffins and dumped the bodies out.

One third of the world had died off during this flu epidemic. I thought back to my 7th or 8th grade class when one of my teachers said that said that plagues and wars kept the population down; it was nature’s way. I would rather people just practiced birth control. We don’t need plagues or wars.

In 1918 some people wore gauze masks, but they didn’t work because the virus would creep in. We have better masks now, and I think of how I would love a large supply just in case. Like I said, this book was frightening.

There was a chapter on the church bells, how they rang beautifully throughout the day, and I thought of Mexico, of how in towns you could hear the church bells ringing during the day. How beautiful. But now, during the Spanish flu epidemic, the bells only went Bong, Bong, Bong, as another person had died.

It felt, when reading this book, that no one could get away from the flu, you couldn’t get far enough away. Could you hide in the country, become a hermit? Perhaps. But sorrow ran deep in this book, and in the end you learn of how they are trying to identify the Spanish flu by exhuming up bodies in Alaska and elsewhere. At least they know now that it came from how chickens were being raised in some countries.

And so I was left with the fear of what is next? Ebola? Chemical warfare?

Profile Image for Jolanta (knygupe).
826 reviews181 followers
August 15, 2020
Labai visiems rekomenduoju perskaityt šią knygą apie ispaniškąjį gripą.
Man ji pasirode daug puikiau parašyta, nei senesnė- The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History, kurios aš net neįveikiau.

Skaitant vis patirdavau déjà vu, kaip viskas ką mes išgyvenam šiomis dienomis jau buvo patirta prieš šimtą metų.

'Death Chart' showing the infamous first and second waves of Spanish flu in 1918 and 1919

Tiesos slėpimas, vyriausybių melavimas visuomenei (nors tada vyko karas, tai dar gal galima suprasti), neatsakingas valdžos požiūris, pačios visuomenės lengvabūdiškas požiūris, kaukiu dėvėjimo problemos (Amerikoje buvo užsimenama apie tai, kad jų dėvėjimas prieštarauja Konstitucijai), vėliau - kaukių "mada" (buvo fotografuojamasi su jomis, uždėus jas ir:augitiniams šunims; spaudoje pasirodydavo pranešimų, kad poros mylisi dėvėdamos tik kaukes).

Trendai ;)

Ir tada buvo skeptikų, kurie sakė, kad jų šeimoje sergančių nėra, tad ir pavojus gali būti išgalvotas ir t. t.

The songbook cover of 'Happy' Klark's dance hit "The Influenza Blues"

Nepaisant didelių mirčių skaičiaus buvo organizuojami ir lankomi vieši renginiai, žlugo verslai, žmones kamavo depresija, buvo žudomasi, laukiama antros, trečios bangos, kaltinami kinai, kuriamos versijos apie dirbtinį virusą...

Ispaniškasis gripas nusinešė apie 50 milijonų gyvybių.

Wilhelm Schulz's cartoon in the German satirical magazine shows the Angel of Pease being overtaken by a cat - faced 'Spanish Lady', 1918

Edvard Munch painted his "Self Portrait with the Spanish Flu" in 1919
Profile Image for Vivian.
2,839 reviews393 followers
October 30, 2018

This is a chronological retracing of the Spanish flu progression 1917-1918. Depends heavily on witness and survivor stories from medical records to diaries. Arnold uses these accounts to give voice to it, to take it out of the medical jargon and relay the human effect. The pandemic swept up victims indiscriminately from the rich and famous: Gandhi, Lloyd George, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Lillian Gish, who were all fortunate, to those who died without anyone to identify them listed in registries as Polish woman, girl.

In northern territories the frozen ground made burial impossible, so to keep them from predation they stacked them in cabins like corded wood, but '[s]ome corpses were wrapped in sheets and placed on rooftops, creating a vista of ghostly shrouds until they could be buried in the spring.'

'When their lungs collapsed, air was trapped beneath their skin. As we rolled the dead in winding sheets, their bodies crackled - an awful crackling noise which sounded like Rice Crispies [sic] when you pour milk over them.'

[S]ix-year-old John Delano [...] lived down the block from an undertaker, and he began to witness coffins piling up on the sidewalk outside the morgue. As the piles of the coffins rose, he and friends played on them, jumping from one to another: 'We thought - boy, this is great. It's like climbing the pyramids. Then one day I slipped and fell and broke my nose on one of the coffins. My mother was very upset. She said, didn't I realize there were people in those boxes? People who had died? I couldn't understand that. Why had all these people died?'

Egon Schiele's portrait of wife Edith as she lay dying

He died a couple days after her.

[A] little boy who, feeling the pinch of hunger, went to ask the butcher for some meat. He then asked the butcher how to cook it. The butcher asked why his mother wouldn't be cooking it. The little boy replied that his parents had been asleep in bed for two days. The butcher accompanied the lad home to find that they were asleep permanently.

As might be expected, this had a profound effect on witnesses and survivors. Thomas Wolfe's Look Homeward Angel includes a vivid description of his brother's death. Katherine Anne Porter's short story Pale Horse, Pale Rider was inspired by her own near miss.

Fast and deadly, the round of flu that swept through the autumn of 1918 killed people within the day of falling ill. I spent most of the time that I was reading imagining the consequences in today's numbers, but the real 1918 numbers were frightful enough; Persia was estimated to have lost 10% of its population.

10%. TEN PERCENT. That's decimation.

If that were the US today that would 32.7 MILLION people.

This is powerful and terrifying to read. I thought Mozart's Requiem the perfect accompaniment, if morbid considering he died while writing it. If you want the human experience, then this is a good selection.

Soapbox Editorial: I recommend getting a flu shot, not because I think a pandemic is going to happen, but because herd immunity is important. They might not have gotten the virus cocktail 100% correct, but some inoculation is better than none. I actually had the best jab I've had in recent memory: in easy, no bruising, no swelling, no adverse reaction. And I've had bad jabs where the person administering did a horrible job and ended up with shoulder pain for 8 months--I still got one the next year, somewhere else.
Profile Image for Brandon.
902 reviews233 followers
July 9, 2021
Pandemic 1918 is the story of The Spanish Flu and the devastating effect it had during the early 20th century.

I received an advanced copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

This was a harrowing read. Aside from a passing mention in Dennis Lehane’s “The Given Day”, I’ve been exposed to very little of the devastation caused by the Spanish Flu. It was an absolute monster estimated to have killed upwards of 100 million people worldwide (between 3 and 5 percent of the total population) and dealing a lasting generational effect for years to come.

Catharine Arnold’s book acts as sort of an aggregator in that she compiles countless recollections from those that lived it - sort of like those “oral history” books that have been enormously popular recently. The difference here is that Arnold carefully guides the reader through much of the chaos in pointing out the glaring mistakes made by those with the power to help hinder the procession of the disease. Looking back, given that it struck during the dying days of the first World War, governments had to walk the line between lifting morale and keeping the population safe. It also did not help that many were in complete denial about the severity of the flu until it was too late. During the latter half of 1918, which is the bulk of the book, an even deadlier second wave decimated millions.

The stories of the soldiers trying to survive the lethal flu while also battling the horrendous injuries and conditions brought on by war were heartbreaking. Even before reaching the battlefield, the soldiers would have to risk catching the virus traveling from North America to Europe aboard steamships. One particular crossing was told in detail when nearly one hundred recruits died and over two thousand fell ill while traveling in the massive USS Leviathan. Bodies were tossed overboard, without ceremony, just to clear the ship of the dead.

It goes without saying that here in good ol’ 2018, we take for granted just how accomplished we’ve become as a society in treating and preventing illnesses (at least here in the first world). It was only one hundred years ago that researchers and doctors were scrambling to find an effective treatment as the corpses piled up around them. That isn’t to say that we’re well-prepared for a pandemic today, should one occur.* Near the end of the book, Arnold details the bird flu that struck China in the late 1990s and the near outbreak that occurred. Panic nearly caused preventative measures to go off the rails yet again - so it’s hard to predict if we’ll be ready today.

Pandemic 1918 is both an informative and terrifying read. The author notes that this particular chapter of human history has been more or less forgotten; which I suppose helps to explain why I barely knew anything about it. I highly recommend this one and although it took me the better part of a week to finish it, it was painful to have to put down.

*Update July 9th, 2021: we weren't.
Profile Image for Jeanette.
3,275 reviews558 followers
February 3, 2019
This book is highly anecdotal. It moves from place to place and tells you the happenstance of the dozens and dozens of tragedy epidemic situations (of the exact title) that occurred in 1918-1919. Most usually it was in 3 waves per location (not just national in wave but continental in wave) during that ending of WWI year.

If you want eye witness and name associations in every continent, place/ time of eruptions, than you'll like this book. Because that's about 90% of what's in it. It calls the Spanish Flu, by its Spanish Lady or Dark Spanish Lady colloquial. And it also has a feature of naming those who you would recognize their names of living through and recovering from this terrible infection. Steinbeck and Walt Disney come to mind.

As a reader this one truly left be quizzical. Because it is so outside the scientific arena for explanation or deductions. And to me, it was a dire reciting which actually went pretty "all over the place" and not within any logical organizational form or over riding explanations for its presentation. In a couple of cases it made some wide generalizations that I believe are not true. (One of them was about pregnant women stats, live birth stats of "after" within victims.)

I almost gave it 2 stars for that aspect alone. Because this book doesn't claim the science. It is like looking at and describing occurrence and outcomes without any critical observation to the analysis of a biologic beyond a naming of it as a virus with a common tag nomenclature.

If I hadn't read another book just this last month which nailed Influenza, quite in its real forms too, but beyond that into the biologic, "eyes" for treatments in its history, development of its progressions, and epidemiology (past, present, future) plus witness "eyes" and differences of outcomes; I would have appreciated this book far more. That Brown written is a 5 star example of logical continuity in the telling and forms of composition, as well.

Just a much, much better book upon Influenza itself, this 1918-19 period and all the others (it's been around both before and after) in its masquerading and mutating forms: Influenza: The Hundred-Year Hunt to Cure the Deadliest Disease in History by Jeremy Brown.

You get an entity picture beyond the anecdotal. You'll get specifics. And also how/ why/ when governmental agencies have planned, what they've done several times etc. to recognize and contain.

A few times in this book I felt that it was super negligent not to tell the "whole" story of burial location retrieval for 80 or 90 year old viral material from victims of the specific H1N1 of 1918. Especially in the Alaskan locations where only 2 people lived out of 90 or 110 in a village. This book let you off "easy" for the reality of after death circumstances and also the medical research procedural then, now and all the time in between, IMHO.

I was especially interested because I had the 1976 (swine intersect) version, had Last Rites, and I don't remember about 3 or 4 days during that time at all.

Pandemic 1918 was so scattered in form that I found myself not wanted to return to the read, that's how much my own interest waned. Because Arnold told this more within the feeling and death agony descriptions/ aftermaths/ orphan house tear strains of desperation. (And not that that is wrong or didn't exist in full measure-all that emotion, effusion!) But very least in the scientific and specific of viral reality nature as it exists here, and isn't that the true core of this Holocaust? The epidemiology of any exactness is nearly omitted. 2.5 stars rounded up for the quotes of witness. IMHO, she (Arnold the author) doesn't even describe a virus correctly.
Profile Image for Betsy.
984 reviews145 followers
September 15, 2021
Just reading this book about the tragedy of 100+ years ago is frightening. After 18 months of COVID-19, can we still understand what those people went through in 1918-1919? Well in the morning, dead by nightfall--horrible, especially on top of of 4 years of the most savage war the world had yet seen.

The book mainly relies on the stories of those who survived and those who didn't. One who didn't was Sir Mark Sykes (famous for the Sykes-Picot Agreement) in 1919. His body was preserved and used in research to determine what exactly they were dealing with in those tragic years. Speculation about it really being plague caused much fear. It took nearly a century to confirm its influenza nature.

I know COVID has been and is devastating, but we do have modern science to help. When people do their best to learn the truth and not undermine us all by irrational ideas, we can survive this. I'm sure many of those alive in 1918-1919 did not have that reassurance. The young and healthy were struck down in droves, and with the war dead, it must have seemed that the world they knew was coming to an end. Still, they celebrated on November 11, 1918; they celebrated and more died from the contagion.

This is a disturbing and interesting book. As I mentioned before it is frightening to read about those days. It makes you think about what history will say in another 100 years or even in 10 years about the way our present tragedy was handled. The brave people who cared for the sick of the Spanish Flu Pandemic were heroes, just as those who care for the sick today are.
Profile Image for Jonny.
126 reviews66 followers
June 3, 2018
During 1918, while the final stages of the First World War were being thrashed out, the world at large faced a plague of Biblical proportion.
The book follows the progress of the flu's two waves across the world, giving description of the disaster as it unfolds in a near Medieval way and medical science attempts to isolate and provide, if not a cure, then at least some form of preventative measure. Similarly the steps governments took to protect their populations (or in some cases, helped spread the more deadly second wave) are laid out - all given through a number of first hand accounts, or nicely researched vignettes. The chapter out sui given over to the hell of the voyage of the U.S. Army troopship Leviathan is particularly horrific, as are the descriptions of the progress of the disease through New Zealand.
You'll hear about the great (or eventually to be great) and the not so great, all with their stories to tell - sadly so many of them come across like passages from a history on the Black Death. If I was going to quibble, I'd say the book was a little too centred on the USA, and lacked a bit of clinical comment, but really that's minor. A good book on a centenary we're unlikely to see remembered.
Profile Image for Doreen Petersen.
719 reviews110 followers
October 11, 2020
You would think we would have learned lessons from the past but we have not. With today's current pandemic we have learned nothing and that is the true tragedy!!!
840 reviews17 followers
November 11, 2018
From Spring 1918 through 1919, influenza killed an estimated 100 million people, beginning while the world was convulsed with war.

Some few medical professionals, with experience with earlier pandemics, recognized that the disease represented a threat not seen in centuries, spreading rapidly with the movement of vast numbers of military personnel and the dislocation of civilians and with the usual deleterious effects of prolonged war on a previously unknown scale. Those professionals instituted life-saving protocols, such as quarantine, but too many people were complacent.

One problem was that medical professionals did not know what they were facing, mistakingly believing the pandemic was a bacterial infection, with the existence of viruses just beginning to be suspected and the virus responsible in the 1918 pandemic not identified until nearly 100 years later.

Arnold has accumulated the documentary history, from medical journals, newspaper accounts, diaries, novels and memoirs, and teased out the few clues afforded those determined to find the cause of the pandemic. While it may have faded from the memory of the general public, some have been haunted by the possibility, even probability, of a recurrence.

The not too distant Ebola scare gives rise to concern--less than effective protocols, not understood or implemented by medical personnel; conflicting information disseminated to the general public; and defiance of civil authority. The latter to my mind was unconscionable, given that two nurses and a doctor were out in the general public while infected. Grandstanding, if at all necessary, was for a later date. It does not give me confidence should a pandemic arrive.

Nit: p. 175 ¶ 2 line 10: "years" should be "months".
Profile Image for Stephen.
520 reviews152 followers
April 8, 2020
This had haunting parallels with what is happening just now - the difference that social distancing makes and the terrible after effects of mass gatherings (including celebrations to mark the end of the war) plus even the prime minister (Lloyd George) being ill with the virus. The main differences now are that we have better medical care and scientific knowledge (in 1918, they didn't know what a virus was as they didn't yet have microscopes powerful enough to view them). Also the fact that it hit a world already badly damaged by the First World War just as it was coming out of that. Otherwise all very similar and we really should have been better prepared just by looking back at what had happened in history...

Found the book a bit frustrating as it kept dotting between different places and times. Also in the end, I didn't really know what made the pandemic stop and the virus go away which was what I really wanted to know. Worth a read but I am sure that there are better books about the 1918 pandemic out there.

Profile Image for Asuka.
267 reviews
October 11, 2018
I was very excited to get this book, so was left highly disappointed after several chapters. Instead of reading like eyewitness accounts as the title suggests, it reads like a very long and dry list of statistics. I heard the History Extra BBC radio podcast with the author and that interview was very engaging and intriguing. So I am surprised how dry the book is. I suppose I prefer narrative history in the style of Mr. Dan Jones.
Profile Image for Jane.
1,537 reviews173 followers
December 3, 2020
Fascinating look at the course of the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-19, or as it was anthromorphized in the press's cartoonish figure of the "Spanish lady", a female figure with a death's head, dressed in black flamenco-style dress and mantilla. The earliest mention of any widespread epidemic was made by Hippocrates in 412 BC and we have had epidemics and pandemics of different origins and symptoms ever since, including now. The author mentions theories as to its origin, from the possible to the conspiratorial, and much of the book is taken from the writings, letters, or memoirs of people who had either witnessed it in others or had recovered from it themselves. Katherine Anne Porter, the writer, who recovered, felt it was a turning point in her life. The world would probably be a different place if FDR or Mahatma Gandhi had not recovered from their severe bouts with the "Spanish lady". The book was very prescient concerning public health measures, which we are using today. No cure was found; the disease just burned itself out. Not until the 1990s was the genome found. Viruses were not even discovered until the 1930s. Health professionals' earlier thinking of a bacterial origin for the Spanish flu led them into blind alleys. No, it did not originate in Spain; the world learned of it through the uncensored Spanish press.
"I had a little bird,
And its name was Enza.
I opened the window
And in-flew-enza."

A little girls' jump rope skipping rhyme from that period.

Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Giovanna.
11 reviews1 follower
January 10, 2019
I typically enjoy reading scientific histories but the grammatical errors and repeated phrases were distracting to me. The author referenced and individual named “Underdown” and within the same paragraph called him “Underwood”. The repeated statements and explanations left me wondering if this book had been edited. I had previously read several descriptive accounts of the Spanish Flu, one being from the Smithsonian, and felt that most of the information in this 300 page book could be summarized in a shorter format. I understand that she was using personal accounts of the flu, which I appreciate, but it was difficult to follow who she was referring to as the people were introduced very briefly and then brought up later. I also appreciate that the author worked so diligently in her research; this is apparent by the number of references she has. All in all, this book is not the page-turning detective thriller it was describe to be.
Profile Image for Literary Redhead.
1,624 reviews494 followers
July 3, 2019

The Spanish Flu killed my great aunt, who left behind a heartbroken husband and three young boys. That tragic event has echoed through generations of my family, so I snatched up PANDEMIC 1918 as soon as it appeared on NetGalley. This is a gripping read, one that needs to be shared in every history class across the land. We learn through eyewitness accounts of the world’s greatest medical holocaust, observing its 100th anniversary. I’ll let the publisher’s note describe this magnificent book by historian Catharine Arnold, while awarding it 5/5 stars.

“In January 1918, as World War I raged on, a new and terrifying virus began to spread across the globe. In three successive waves, from 1918 to 1919, influenza killed more than 50 million people. German soldiers termed it Blitzkatarrh, British soldiers referred to it as Flanders Grippe, but world-wide, the pandemic gained the notorious title of “Spanish Flu”. Nowhere on earth escaped: the United States recorded 550,000 deaths (five times its total military fatalities in the war) while European deaths totaled over two million.

Amid the war, some governments suppressed news of the outbreak. Even as entire battalions were decimated, with both the Allies and the Germans suffering massive casualties, the details of many servicemen’s deaths were hidden to protect public morale. Meanwhile, civilian families were being struck down in their homes. The City of Philadelphia ran out of gravediggers and coffins, and mass burial trenches had to be excavated with steam shovels. Spanish flu conjured up the specter of the Black Death of 1348 and the great plague of 1665, while the medical profession, shattered after five terrible years of conflict, lacked the resources to contain and defeat this new enemy.

Through primary and archival sources, historian Catharine Arnold gives readers the first truly global account of the terrible epidemic.”

Pub Date 28 Aug 2018  

Thanks to St. Martin's Press and NetGalley for the review copy. Opinions are fully mine.

#Pandemic1918 #NetGalley
Profile Image for Freya.
570 reviews118 followers
July 8, 2019
A terrifying and fascinating read. The descriptions from first hand accounts of the 'Spanish Influenza' are grim and the numbers who died are mind-boggling and hard to visualise. Definitely makes you want to take flu a bit more seriously, not knowing when the next pandemic is going to come along.

I think Sir Tony Robinson's quote on this book says it all, "A coherent, well-researched and sanitary reminder that another pandemic could be just around the corner".
Profile Image for Alice Chau-Ginguene.
212 reviews7 followers
April 3, 2020
Wonderful book with great research on Spanish flu. Great read especially during the covid-19 pandemic, it helps us to compare what we did 100 years ago and some of the same mistake we are making now.
The scary thing is some of the lies are word by word 100 years fast forward. “It’s nothing to worry about” “everything is ok”.
It’s unbelievable how we don’t learn from our mistakes in the past.
Profile Image for Kirsty.
91 reviews19 followers
May 1, 2020
Published just two years ago, there hasn’t been a more important book for what are collectively living through at the moment. Instead of issuing fines for people breaking the lockdown rules, by sunbathing in the park, they should simply be given this book. A very sobering but well informed read.
Profile Image for Nele.
475 reviews30 followers
March 1, 2021
This book is SO fascinating!
Coming from a reading slump, I can't believe that I read it in a week.
And then I pushed the copy into my mom's hands. 'Here, read this!'
CAUTION! Long review

I had a little bird
And its name was Enza
I opened the window and

In no way does this review underestimate the damage that I know covid-19 is causing.
It's real, it kills, I get that.
However, so do other diseases. So does fear.

It doesn't hurt to get another perspective. Don't believe everything you see in the media. Get your own opinion.
I do follow the measures in place. F.e. I wear my mask to the store (20 minutes of wearing it will not kill me), but I do think of my mental health as well.
Since we are social beings, we need social contact. We need touch. It's our life line.
Be cautious, for sure; but don't go mad.
And for f* sake, please don't think that we'll never shake hands again because of this pandemic.
They wore masks in 1918-19 to prevent the Spanish flu from spreading, they avoided contact with their loved ones.
Guess what, that physical contact came back!

At this moment, what scares me the most, is what I hear on the radio, on tv, on the internet.
If I reduce that, my mental health is better.
A century ago, they got scared because everybody around them got sick. Like, everybody on your street. People dropped dead(!) in the street. And most of them were young people.
They went from being healthy to being dead in 6 hours. And they didn't understand what was going on. They didn't know about viruses.
That was scary.
And so were the symptoms:
"Bleeding started from the nose, the lungs and sometimes the rectum"
Wait, what?!

"They called it influenza but it seemed to us to be some frightful plague"

You can say that since the time of the Spanish flu, our way of life has indeed improved. Medicine has improved, we understand how viruses works, how disease spreads. Our infrastructure is better.
All true.
But when you read the numbers and think about them... compare them... you get a different perspective.
1/ More people died of the Spanish flu than in the first World War
2/ Estimated deaths of Spanish flu: about 100 million worldwide. I just googled what the world population was in 1918: about 1.8 billion.
We're over 7 billion today.

I want comparisons, I want things to be put in perspective.
Should we be cautious? Of course. I don't want anybody dying. Even more because we don't get to say goodbye properly.
But it should all be within reason.
Don't make the people so afraid. Fear weakens the immune system.

And I loved that they made the distinction in the book of dying with influenza, and dying with pneumonia.
That means a lot to me, because being from Belgium: they count every death as a corona-death.
And I would like that they made the distinction: dying of corona, and dying with corona.
I'm all about detail ;-)
Profile Image for Marty.
1,025 reviews30 followers
May 5, 2022
I read this book several years ago before I was on goodreads and still recall many parts.
Profile Image for Sue.
613 reviews24 followers
February 21, 2021
"Those who will not learn from history are doomed to repeat it." A vicious illness about which little is known, doctors shouting an early warning that is largely ignored, a president hesitant to make hard decisions for fear of political backlash, some cities faring better than others based on their leaders' willingness to embrace closures and "lockdown," and most citizens willing to wear masks while a selfish few refuse -- does any of this sound familiar? If it does, rest assured it would also have sounded familiar to your forebears.

I am a history nerd through and through, so I had planned on reading this book PRIOR to 2020. Once I found myself caught up in the events of our own century's pandemic crisis, well, it seemed to become required reading. Clearly, there are parallels here to our own time, but there are also great differences -- wonderful differences. From patient zero to the last recorded death from the "Spanish flu" in the summer of 1919 was probably just under 3 years. As I sit and type this, it is just over a year since the first case of Covid-19 was identified in the USA, and I am fully vaccinated. THANK YOU modern medicine!! There is already a "light at the end of the tunnel" for us that was unimaginable for our ancestors.

Another great difference between the "Spanish flu" of 1918 and "the 'Rona" of our own time is its choice of typical victim. Covid-19 is deadliest to the elderly and those with compromising medical conditions. The pandemic of the early 20th century most often attacked the young and fit. In fact, it so decimated the numbers of young men (and women) in the workforce that, when combined with the loss of young men on the battlefields of WWI, it was indirectly one of the driving factors in raising the wages of the working class in the 1920's. The "Spanish flu" also killed more quickly (first symptom in the morning, often dead by nightfall), however, I suspect that if we were living in a world without ventilators and supplemental oxygen, a much higher percentage of the victims of the coronavirus would have died quickly, too. We are just so lucky, folks!

Finally, I will leave you with a story that simultaneously makes me feel both very old and personally connected to the stories in this book. My grandmother was 16-years-old when the pandemic of 1918 was rampant in the US. Her adored older brother Will -- who had been drafted and was scheduled to be shipped out to the battlefields of WWI -- became critically ill with the "Spanish flu." He was not expected to live, and so he was left behind in a hospital where my grandmother stayed with him night and day as his personal nurse. (Then, as now, hospitals in the midst of pandemic were critically short of staff.) To everyone's amazement, he did survive, though by the time he was fully recovered, the war was nearly over, and he was discharged from the army. Therefore, it could be said that contracting the "Spanish flu" may actually have saved Will's life by keeping him off the battlefield. My grandmother would tell this story when she wanted to point out that things are not always as bad as they seem -- a truth in Will's life, for sure!
Profile Image for Vince Snow.
200 reviews21 followers
March 9, 2021
I always feel bad giving books a low rating on goodreads, just in case their author comes and reads all the reviews.
I just could not get into this book. I was very bored by it. I became interested in the Spanish Flu in 2018, before Covid hit, but it was the current pandemic that inspired me to finally read this.
There is so so much that fascinates me about the Spanish Flu and I think a remarkable book could be written on world history in 1918. The narrative in this book was just all over the place, and I just couldn't ever connect with any of the stories.
There were bits and pieces that were interesting, I found it interesting that we're dealing with the same problems today as people were back then. People not taking the health crisis seriously, people not wearing masks.
It did give me comfort that as bad as Covid is, it is not nearly as horrific as the Spanish Flu was.
All in all I could not recommend this book, and my search for a really good book on the Spanish Flu continues.
Profile Image for Brandon Forsyth.
891 reviews146 followers
April 24, 2020
This wasn’t a particularly well written book (and some of the other reviewers have rightly call out some of the more bewildering sentences), but there’s a kernel of a good idea about a sort of people’s history of the last major global pandemic that carried me through. If nothing else, it did make me feel better about the covid-19 outbreak in the starkly different ways citizens, scientists, businesses, and governments are responding to this pandemic. Probably not worth your time, but interesting.
Profile Image for Neil.
Author 2 books46 followers
December 24, 2020
I read this for two reasons, first because I'm the kind of person who copes with tragedy by delving deeper into it to find catharsis, and second, because being that kind of person, I was looking to develop a library program of dramatic readings from primary source material from the Spanish Flu year. Too many of the people who would have needed to help to pull off that program found the idea too depressing in the midst of our COVID year, so that never happened, but I did enjoy the book. It was the second I've read on the subject, after Gina Kolata's Flu, and I would recommend that book slightly more. The focus here is more global, exploring in broad terms how the flu expanded and played out in different parts of the world. Since we're going through COVID now, and I was trying to get more of a sense of how the daily lives of individuals were affected (I read this a few months ago and have been slow to get to the review), I was probably after something different than this broad overview, but that isn't this book's fault.

I would love to see a treatment of this history like Erik Larson's treatment of the Galveston hurricane in Isaac's Storm, or David McCullough's book about The Johnstown Flood, in which we see the flu epidemic through the eyes of several different individuals, not knowing until we read on which of them survive the catastrophe and which become its victims. Or any good first person accounts that are descriptive of the disruption to everyday life, not just of the medical catastrophe. If you've found such accounts, please share them in the comments!
Profile Image for A Reader's Heaven.
1,592 reviews26 followers
January 5, 2019
(I received a free copy of this book from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.)

Before AIDS or Ebola, there was the Spanish Flu — Catharine Arnold's gripping narrative, Pandemic 1918, marks the 100th anniversary of an epidemic that altered world history.
In January 1918, as World War I raged on, a new and terrifying virus began to spread across the globe. In three successive waves, from 1918 to 1919, influenza killed more than 50 million people. German soldiers termed it Blitzkatarrh, British soldiers referred to it as Flanders Grippe, but world-wide, the pandemic gained the notorious title of “Spanish Flu”. Nowhere on earth escaped: the United States recorded 550,000 deaths (five times its total military fatalities in the war) while European deaths totaled over two million.
Amid the war, some governments suppressed news of the outbreak. Even as entire battalions were decimated, with both the Allies and the Germans suffering massive casualties, the details of many servicemen’s deaths were hidden to protect public morale. Meanwhile, civilian families were being struck down in their homes. The City of Philadelphia ran out of gravediggers and coffins, and mass burial trenches had to be excavated with steam shovels. Spanish flu conjured up the specter of the Black Death of 1348 and the great plague of 1665, while the medical profession, shattered after five terrible years of conflict, lacked the resources to contain and defeat this new enemy.
Through primary and archival sources, historian Catharine Arnold gives readers the first truly global account of the terrible epidemic.

In short, this book is about the Spanish Flue and the devastating effect it had during the early 20th century. But it is so much more than that.

While this could have just been all about the facts, the author has allowed the voices of the time speak, and that makes it so much horrific and harrowing a read. It lets the words from diaries and medical records speak and convey the staggering costs. The stories of soldiers trying to stave off the flu while injured just broke my heart. So many lives - approximately 100 million - were lost. Horror in anyone's language.

A must-read for anyone interested in our medical history. A recommended read for anyone interested in our history in general.

Profile Image for Lissa.
1,105 reviews113 followers
January 16, 2019
I've always found the Spanish flu fascinating, simply because we don't hear much about it. It had never been mentioned in any of my history classes in high school; it was only when I took a course in Twentieth Century European history that I heard of the Spanish flu for the first time.

This book is a good overview of the Spanish flu epidemic, and I definitely learned a few new things. It's based on people's personal experiences during the epidemic, so there's not an overarching organization to this book. It's more a loose collection of "what happened in this part of the world" chapters. I would have liked a bit more structure to the book.
Profile Image for Jo.
3,293 reviews119 followers
April 17, 2020
During the last year of the First World War, a new strain of influenza swept the globe killing around 100 million people. Known as the Spanish Flu or Spanish Lady, it didn't care about gender, skin colour, wealth or status, and killed healthy individuals who would not have usually succumbed to a virus. Arnold looks at how it began, how it spread and how different governments and organisations dealt with the crisis. This was an interesting book, very well-written, and highlights some parallels with the events of 2020.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 368 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.