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

3.91  ·  Rating details ·  7,066 ratings  ·  547 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
Paperback, 352 pages
Published January 9th 2019 by Atria Books (first published 1999)
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Average rating 3.91  · 
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 ·  7,066 ratings  ·  547 reviews

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Jeffrey Keeten
Feb 02, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
”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
Ned Ryerson
Aug 04, 2008 rated it liked it
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
Jeanette (Ms. Feisty)
Did not finish.
If you're looking for a book about what it was like to experience the 1918 flu pandemic, this is not the book you want. The title of this book should be The Search for the Virus That Caused the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918. It starts off with a little bit about the actual pandemic, and the rest of the book is long detailed histories of all the doctors and researchers who tried to figure out how the virus worked, where it came from, and if it had somehow survived for decades i
Doreen Petersen
Sep 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: medical
Outstanding book with lots of scientific info. So much time and energy was spent by many, many people to find out the cause of the 1918 flu pandemic but alas not definitive answer has yet been found. Will it ever come? This was a really well written, extremely easy to understand and informative read. I recommend this one!
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.
Apr 24, 2021 rated it it was ok
I think I chose the wrong book to read about the 1918 pandemic.

Journalist and science writer Gina Kolata takes us on a wild-goose-chase to find the virus behind the mysterious and deadly flu pandemic that killed from 20 million to possibly 100 million people worldwide. It was an interesting perspective from the pre-Covid world but not much in terms of science writing or history or anything much coming from this "investigation." The mysterious nature of the virus itself is never solved. If anyth
Nov 17, 2015 rated it it was ok
Unfortunately I found the writing horribly awkward and clunky. And worst of all for me, extremely repetitive and long-winded. I'm fairly certain the book could have been at least a third shorter if the redundancies, unnecessary re-explanations, barely related tangents, and overly wordy sentences had been pruned. It brings to mind the way I was taught to write as a history major in college and so many dry history books I had to read: more words are always better, and it's good to restate the same ...more
Kaethe Douglas
Jul 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Outstanding. I picked it up a second time because it's in my interests, without recognizing it. It was outstanding the second time through, so I finished it again.


Mar 12,

2020Came up today, since the '18 flu turned out to be H1N1. Good reading for perspective on science and outbreaks.
Apr 04, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The title is a little bit of a misnomer. It's not so much a history of the pandemic -- just a portion of the first chapter is devoted to that -- as a history of the efforts of scientists subsequent to the actual pandemic to understand where it came from and why it was so lethal. As many as 100 million killed worldwide. The book is also frustrating, because it ends without any resolution to those questions, but with a tease that results are just around the corner. It was published in 1999, so I'm ...more
Jose Moa
Jan 22, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: meicine
A good book on the deadly, ill named, spanish flu because today nobody knows where exactly this pandemia begun.

The book is devoted to the history,epidemiology and investigation of this letal virus,that killed over 50 million humans arroun the world in the 1918 pandemia ,the most letal after the black dead,and its final reconstruction by means of frozen inuit lungs,dead by the disease, in the alaskan permafrost
Nov 17, 2015 rated it it was ok
"Flu" is a quick, easy, read that skims over the 1918 Pandemic and introduces the reader to the current science of influenza.

However, the book draws no solid conclusions, and has no real ending. It also leaves threads hanging at the conclusion. (We are never told from what virus strain (H1N1) the recovered RNA indicated the 1918 flu belonged. Finally, the chatty biographies of the books personalities were really annoying to have to wade through. (Does it really matter that Kirsty Duncan does Cel
Victor Sonkin
There are two critical remarks about this book. First, it does not tell the story of the 1918 disaster, or at least deals with it in an extremely brief manner; which is, in my opinion, a good thing, because there are several books which do exactly that, with lots of (actually, too much of) details, and adding to that is probably unnecessary. Second, it was written in 1999 or so, and it stops short of telling what the heck happened with the found samples, whether the 'Spanish Flu' could be revive ...more
Sep 17, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 05, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
This book has received mixed reviews, because the title is something of a bait and switch. The great influenza of 1918 is covered in Chapter One. The rest of the book is about how the memory of that worldwide pandemic has affected modern epidemiology. It discusses some of history’s great epidemics, the search for the 1918 virus after it had disappeared from the population, and the way it influenced decision making in later years when virulent strains appeared and a response had to be developed t ...more
Loring Wirbel
Dec 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
When I wanted to acknowledge the centennial of the worst pandemic in history (yes, far worse than bubonic plague), I didn't know two new books had been released in 2018 by Catharine Arnold and Jeremy Brown, on the 1918 global flu pandemic. It was difficult to find Alfred Crosby's 1989 historical work, so I settled on Kolata's 1999 popular account, since I like her breezy yet scientifically accurate style. Funny thing is, based on synopses of the Arnold and Brown books, our knowledge of the 1918 ...more
Jul 14, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: historical
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
Dec 02, 2007 rated it liked it
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
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
Erica Hunsberger
For me this book had a really rough start. Gina Kolata's writing about the events of the 1918 influenza pandemic almost made me put this book down. The best way I can describe it was that it was choppy without proper transitions. I had to keep going back to re-read passages to see if I missed something. Since it is such an interesting topic for me I stuck with it, and I am glad I did.
I almost wish this was described more of a history of influenza book instead of a weird murder mystery thriller.
Apr 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
A lot of people asked me why I was reading this book, right now, with Covid-19 being a thing right now. Wasn't I scared? For me, it was to help me create a basis in understanding what we may or may not be dealing with, how it affects the world, and what we've learned from the past. I was also sick of seeing/reading news about Covid-19 that misinterprets facts or blatantly just spews out false information.

For the first few chapters, I honestly felt like I would not get into this book. I realize
Dec 27, 2008 rated it liked it
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
Nov 02, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This was a fascinating look at the 1918 Influenza pandemic, but I always seem to run into the same problem with science books. The well-received and highly rated ones are often older, and by the time I get around to reading them, I wish for a more current look at the same topic. I would love to read about outbreaks we've had since 1999 when this was written, like SARS (which I know is not influenza) and the 2009 H1N1 flu. ...more
Apr 16, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
It was on one of my trips to Goodwill that when I was browsing the book section, I stumbled upon Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus That Caused It by Gina Kolata. Unlike the other books that were visibly used and dog eared, this book seemed almost untouched. I bought the book for $1, still shocked about the condition of the book, this being the reason I picked up the book; that and the fact that I was immediately reminded of Rupert Holmes’ song “E ...more
Dec 28, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well, that was a bad idea.

Oct 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
Very, very interesting!!! Would give it 4.5 stars if I could!
Robin Mandell
May 14, 2021 rated it really liked it
Well-researched and organized. Clearly written.
Reading a book on pandemics written over twenty years ago while living in a pandemic was a bit surreal.
Paul Coletti
May 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was excellent to read in the time of COVID-19. It's ironic to read how encouraged the author's tone was about scientific advances in virology. An example is in the very last sentences of the book: "Perhaps... a new plague is now gathering deadly force. Except this time we stand armed with a better understanding of the past to better survive the next pandemic." Reading this in April/May 2020 had me questioning, do we actually stand such armed?

The author is a journalist and at times, th
Ashley  Jacobson
Fascinating! It got a little slow toward the end, but then all came together. This is not just about the 1918 flu epidemic. We are taken on a journey from then to now, stopping along the way to talk about other epidemics that I didn’t know about, but which helped scientists learn more about what may have happened in 1918. It was interesting to see how the government, doctors, and scientists reacted to new findings or threats of new outbreaks. We also got a look into how scientists are able to pr ...more
Jul 05, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This should be required for college microbiology students ... and probably for all college students and most high school students. It's a timely read; today's pandemic smoothly follows the conclusion of this book. Everyone who scoffs the 'stay at home' orders should be required to read this, which should help them understand the reasoning behind the decisions. (True. It was written over 20 years ago, but it's still relevant today.)

p 22: At Camp Sherman in Ohio, 13,161 men — about 40% of those a
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 ter
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Science and Inquiry: May 2020 - Flu 21 132 May 19, 2020 08:21PM  

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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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When it comes to whiling away the dog days of summer, nothing is better than a good book. Or two. Or three. Let’s say ten! We’re getting...
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“But as the program got going, the smallest details became issues, even the very name of the disease. Pig farmers complained to the Centers for Disease Control that the name “swine flu” might frighten people away from eating pork. They asked, to no avail, that the flu’s name be changed to “New Jersey” 1 likes
“The 1918 epidemic came in two waves, a mild flu in the spring of 1918 followed by the killer flu in the fall.” 1 likes
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