The Monday Book – The Great Influenza by John M. Barry

This week it’s Jack Beck’s turn to review –

I always knew vaguely that the flu epidemic of 1918 was massive and killed more than died in the Great War. But Barry’s book really brought it home, as well as drawing many parallels with the Covid 19 pandemic of the last three years.

There was no existing vaccine, it spread rapidly around the world, whole populations were paralyzed with fear, there weren’t enough coffins to bury the dead or hospital beds for the ill and dying.

But there were other similarities too – politicians using it cynically to bolster their support. Snake oil salesmen selling fake remedies, scientists scrambling to unravel what was happening, public health officials with no knowledge of public health appointed as a reward for political/financial support.

Among Barry’s conclusions is that, although plans had been put in place ahead of Covid 19 to deal with pandemics, the funding needed had been pared back by successive governments in the US and elsewhere. A combination of ‘we need to make savings somewhere’ and ‘it will never happen’. Much the same was true pre-1918.

I suppose the only difference is that instead of rumors and conspiracy theories spreading by word of mouth, this time we had Facebook and Twitter – –

The book is pretty dense in places and spent a lot of time on scientific background before finally beginning to actually get to the 1918 pandemic. Once there the graphic descriptions of symptoms and deaths are not for the squeamish!

His conclusions?

As ever – trust the scientists and don’t let politics get in the way – –

Although it took me a while to get through the book, I can definitely recommend it to anyone interested in how people, governments and scientists respond to such global health emergencies.

2 thoughts on “The Monday Book – The Great Influenza by John M. Barry

  1. I read that book during the 2020 lockdown. It was erie. Along with Camus’ The Plague and The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson. It seems that mankind will never learn.

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