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

Category: Medicine
Author: John M. Barry
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by greenyoda   2018-01-23
The most amazing thing I learned from this book is just how primitive medical practice and training were in the U.S. at the turn of the 20th Century: there were no requirements for doctors to have science education or clinical training. Many doctors had to go to Europe to get better educations. This started changing shortly before the big flu epidemic, and the people - doctors and philanthropists - who brought about the changes were also instrumental in the battle against the flu epidemic. The book is as much a biography of the key players as a history of the events.

Also, the book explains how huge numbers of deaths were caused by politicians and bureaucrats. The political machine in one city (Philadelphia, I think) refused to shut down a popular parade, as urged by the health authorities, to stop the spread of the flu. Lots of people needlessly got infected and died. The military packed excessive numbers of WWI recruits into camps designed for a fraction of the number of people, also against the advice of doctors; huge numbers of healthy young men caught the flu and died.

And the scientific detective story of how researchers tried to find a cure for the flu was very interesting, with ongoing controversy over what the infectious agent was (virus? bacteria?). We know the answer today, but it wasn't so clear back then.

It's a very good read on many levels.

Here's a link to the book on Amazon: