The Great Influenza: The True Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History (Young Readers Edition)

Viking. Apr. 2024. 240p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780593404690.
Gr 5 Up–Twenty years after his 2004 bestseller and only a few years after the world’s most recent pandemic, Barry has published a young readers edition of his original text. In five parts, he traces the development of public health and epidemiological research in the U.S., the role of the military and government in health policy as well as the failures of politics, propaganda, and economics that fanned the flames of the 1918 influenza pandemic. Barry delves into the state of American medical schools and the roles and backgrounds of several individuals involved in public health, immunology, and the pandemic itself. More intriguing are instances of a total lack of federal leadership, response or even acknowledgement of the outbreak, and how private organizations, such as Main Line Philadelphia families and the Red Cross answered the call that the government and the press would not. This is a scientific history leaning heavily on scientific theory, not a narrative history of the pandemic. Towards the end of the book, Barry describes a condition suffered by survivors of influenza that impacted them physically and mentally. Crucially, this may have included President Wilson at the Paris peace talks, perhaps forever affecting their outcome and contributing to the rise of Nazi Germany. The afterword concentrates on scientific, cultural, and governmental similarities and differences between influenza and COVID-19, and proves illustrative and informative. Back matter includes a timeline, key figures, endnotes, and bibliography. The lack of more visual resources is a drawback in terms of using the book for research purposes; readers may wish for maps and graphs to better understand the scale of the disaster.
VERDICT For a more encapsulated history with primary sources and first-person accounts, steer interested readers towards More Deadly Than War: The Hidden History of the Spanish Flu and the First World War by Kenneth C. Davis. For upper-level students, Barry’s longer original title, despite its length, will prove more accessible and authoritative.

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