From National Book Award finalist Albert Marrin comes a fascinating look at the history and science of the deadly 1918 flu pandemic--and its chilling and timely resemblance to the worldwide coronavirus outbreak.
In spring of 1918, World War I was underway, and troops at Fort Riley, Kansas, found themselves felled by influenza. By the summer of 1918, the second wave struck as a highly contagious and lethal epidemic and within weeks exploded into a pandemic, an illness that travels rapidly from one continent to another. It would impact the course of the war, and kill many millions more soldiers than warfare itself.
Of all diseases, the 1918 flu was by far the worst that has ever afflicted humankind; not even the Black Death of the Middle Ages comes close in terms of the number of lives it took. No war, no natural disaster, no famine has claimed so many. In the space of eighteen months in 1918-1919, about 500 million people--one-third of the global population at the time--came down with influenza. The exact total of lives lost will never be known, but the best estimate is between 50 and 100 million.
In this powerful book, filled with black and white photographs, nonfiction master Albert Marrin examines the history, science, and impact of this great scourge--and the possibility for another worldwide pandemic today.
A Chicago Public Library Best Book of the Year!
Marrin (Uprooted) presents a gripping analysis of "history's worst-ever health disaster," the so-called Spanish Flu of 1918, which infected 500 million people worldwide ("one-third of the human race at the time") over an 18-month period. Moving easily through relevant background, from the development of urban centers to contemporary medical practices, he identifies two primary factors: the wretched and overcrowded conditions of WWI battlegrounds, hospitals, and training camps, combined with ignorance of the cause of and best ways to contain influenza. Modern transportation methods, prioritizing war over health, a weakened civilian population, and a virulent mutation of the virus all contributed to the staggering death toll (estimated at between 50 million and 100 million). An engrossing chapter addresses the U.S. response, uncoordinated efforts to combat the pandemic that were often essentially "worthless." Much of the current understanding of the contagion derives from research done since the 1930s; Marrin's lucid presentation of it concludes with a sobering assessment of the risks of a similar pandemic, perhaps involving a mutated strain of the H5N1 bird flu virus as "the ultimate terrorist weapon." Archival photos, notes, and reading suggestions are included. Ages 12 up.