I wanted to read the book before I watched the TV series in the hope that the book would be a better source of information and wouldn't have the dramaI wanted to read the book before I watched the TV series in the hope that the book would be a better source of information and wouldn't have the dramatization that the TV series is bound to have. I was pretty disappointed. This book is filled with strange foreboding sentences that don't mean anything. The writing is bad. "If you have visited Africa in childhood, it becomes a part of you". URM, WHAT NOW?
The story that it tells is pretty gripping and is told in a lucid fashion. It's an easy read. I am going to watch the TV series now. If you are trying to decide, just watch the HBO series....more
In 1918, just as World War I was ending, (2 months before the armistice was signed), a pandemic started. The disease was influenza, only influenza. ThIn 1918, just as World War I was ending, (2 months before the armistice was signed), a pandemic started. The disease was influenza, only influenza. That's what everyone thought. All the conditions at that particular point in time led to a pandemic that killed nearly 60 million people (according to all estimates) This book gives you all the information you need to understand how the human race sat around while something of this magnitude swept through the world. Remember: It was only influenza. Not deadly AIDS or SARS.
There are several things to unpack in this book. One book review will never cover everything and I don't intend to do that anyway. I am going to enlist three things that I learned from this book that were absolutely important revelations.
1. The truth is important. Especially, during war.
A lot of the book is about how newspapers across the US wouldn't print anything that would "affect the war effort" or "affect morale adversely". It also shows how people in public administration weren't willing to take the most basic precautions because it would spread panic and affect morale. It also shows how the army was turning a deaf ear to all the doctors in the administration who were telling them to stop moving soldiers across the country and across the Atlantic. Anything but the truth (half truths, lies) will only adversely affect the collective ability of people to fight a crisis.
2. Good science needs the right combination of people, time, money, luck and state of mind.
Paul Lewis and Avery were very similar. They were well respected and old. They each had a particular problem on their mind and they spent much of the time after the pandemic solving it. Avery came out of it with the discovery that DNA contains genetic material. Lewis came out of it with an obsession to win back the respect of the two people whom he respected the most. Eventually, this obsession killed him / he killed himself in a foreign land. He succumbed to the very virus he was investigating. (yellow fever)
3. Documentation is important. Especially, during a crisis.
This last point really resonated with me. What one must understand is that the crisis will blow over. During a crisis, it's often to become frustrated with the apparently unnecessary paperwork when one is facing problems that question the very existence of the human race. Having the perspective to look past a crisis into the future and understanding what can be learned from this horrible thing that so many people suffered through and died in, is the most important quality in every bureaucrat and politician out there. It's often very easy to be short sighted and deal only with the problem right in front of your face and not care about anything else until it is solved. (Or worse, say "Let's take care of everything else after this particular problem is solved")
Apart from these, there are a lot of things I have learned from this book (I have nearly 20 pages of notes). I plan to condense those into more bullet points and publish them on my blog soon.
That community is already in the process of dissolution where each man begins to eye his neighbor as a possible enemy, where non conformity with the accepted creed, political as well as religious, becomes a mask of disaffection; where denunciation, without specification or backing, takes the place of evidence; where unorthodoxy chokes freedom of dissent. -- Learned Hand