Literature Annotations


Barry, John M.
The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History


Genre History (465 pp.)
KeywordsCatastrophe, Death and Dying, Epidemics, History of Medicine, History of Science, Infectious Disease, Medical Education, Medical Mistakes, Medical Research, Medical Testing, Pneumonia, Public Health, Science, Technology, War and Medicine
SummaryAfter a brief prologue, the book opens with a summary history of the development of medicine in the United State at the turn of the 20th century. The author introduces the reader to the characters—the physicians, the researchers, the officials of both military and civilian life, who will direct and mold the tale of the influenza pandemic of 1918. The story is developed generally along chronological lines with flashbacks where appropriate into the chains of command and the development of the great research institutes of America prior to World War I. The limitations of science going into the epidemic are explored; the struggles the researchers undertook to solve the mysteries of etiologic agent and mode of transmission, and the search for prevention and treatment dominate the exploration of this modern day pandemic. The Afterword opens the questions of when and where the next pandemic will surface and the possibility of learning from the horrors of The Great Influenza of c 19l8.
CommentaryThis large study contains an enormous amount of detail, particularly about the institutions and their leaders attempting to grapple with this tremendous assault on the otherwise young and healthy of the world.  Although the causative agent was not clearly identified during the height of the pandemic, the author shows the run-up to its ultimate discovery.  There are moments in the work when the language becomes redundant in an apparent effort to stress a point: “It is influenza, only influenza.  Do not fear”—the rhetoric of the public officials attempting to quell panic.  These dramatizations aside, the book is a grand attempt to sort out the failures and the successes of a fledgling health care system fighting an unknown assailant.   This comprehensive work is likely an essential to anyone studying the history of plagues, the machinations of scientific research, and the early heroes of American medicine.
PublisherPenguin Books
Edition2005
Place PublishedNew York
Annotated by Willms, Janice L.
Date of Entry 10/31/06