The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History

The flu season the U.S. has just gone through (in 2018) doesn’t hold a candle to the great Spanish Flu epidemic in 1918, and “The Great Influenza” is a stunning account of that scary season.

Millions of deaths worldwide, a generation lost, all comes down to one Army camp in Kansas. How and why it happened is postulated throughout, as well as the sad stories of some victims, and authorities who failed to act.

A lot of this book focuses on the medical men and women who fought the disease. So much so that the entire first section of the book is pretty much a history of American health care. It helps set the stage for the rest of the book, but it felt overly long to me.

The meat of the book is how the epidemic spread and the enormous damage it caused. Anecdote after anecdote leveled me. Sad story after sad story was a lot to take, but it fell in line with how devastating this epidemic was.

Also sad was the flat-footedness of medicine, doctors and science in general. To some extent, they didn’t know what they had, and when they did know, they didn’t believe it. The persistent belief in “miasmas” as opposed to viruses slowed the responses. And, of course, more died.

Eventually, the 1918 part of the book wraps up and we’re left shaking our heads … and then the book continues for another section, on what happened to the medical personnel introduced in the first section of the book.

In other words, the book could lose the front and back sections and still be a brisk history. I kind of tired out at the end.

All in all, a great piece of history, almost perfect.