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John M. Barry

The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History

Book Summary

Viruses may be lethal, but it is the deadly combination of powerful lies, ignorance and fear that eventually kills more people. The flu outbreak in the spring of 1918 rapidly became a pandemic that ended up killing more people in 24 weeks than the HIV virus has killed in as many years.

While the making of the virus was a natural phenomenon, the making of the flu pandemic of 1918 was entirely human. In his award-winning book, John M. Barry weaves a detailed and well-researched story of the deadliest pandemic to this day.

We will probably never know the true account of how many people died, 50 million or 100 million or even more, but every estimate has been revised higher in the last century. What was more horrifying than the terrible loss of life was the fact that between 8% and 10% of all young adults living then may have been killed by the virus.

In a gripping and insightful account, Barry explains how the American medical education and research went from one of the worst in the world to world-class in merely three decades. He goes on to describe how dedicated and determined scientists at John Hopkins University and Rockefeller Institute and other newly established medical universities advanced the science of medical discoveries.

Key Topics

  • What was the status of American medical science in the early 20th century?
  • How did medical research advance and “scientific medicine” take root?
  • What institutions played key roles in the advance of virology and immunology research?
  • Who were the leading scientists and what were their approaches in finding cure for the influenza?
  • What leads to the outbreak of influenza and what leads to the rapid spread of the disease?
  • What role did the army, media, public health officials, federal and local governments play in the rapid spread of the disease?
  • How did the U.S. army affect the spreading the disease worldwide?
  • Why was is so hard to find cures for the “filterable agent” and what were the scientific challenges?
  • What lessons can we learn from the rapid spread of the Spanish flu in 1918 and how we can prevent from becoming a pandemic again?
  • What happens to citizens when powerful people lie or mislead in the event of a disaster?

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