Friday, June 12, 2015

Sneezing on Death's Door

Yes, I am bouncing around a bit in terms of numbering, but I'm hunting down the last handful of books and so I must read out of order until then. 

#38 - The Great Influenza – John M. Barry
Recommended by: KD

I actually loaned this book out the minute I finished reading it. The dental hygienist who had just finished my daughter’s appointment was really interested, so I handed it right off, totally forgetting that I usually refer back to books when I review them. Ah well. Instead of a first sentence, I will give you part of the book blurb:

It killed more people in twenty-four months than AIDS killed in twenty-four years, more in a year than the Black Death killed in a century. 

Another quote:
One cannot know with certainty, but if the upper estimate of the death toll is true as many as 8 to 10 percent of all young adults then living may have been killed by the virus.

Influenza, just influenza single-handedly lowered the life expectancy rate by a full decade. The mind boggles. It really does. In the span of a few weeks, it absolutely decimated Philadelphia. The city went from vibrant to a ghost town in the span of 24 hours. The streets were empty. School, church, any type of public meeting and all shopping districts were closed. People who were perfectly healthy at dawn were dead by dusk. Can you imagine the terror of waking up and wondering if you and everyone you loved would be dead by bedtime? And doing it over and over again, every single day, week after week? This book was horrifying.

Was it well written? Eh. It kept me interested in the human side of the battle, but I was far less interested in the specifics of the search for the cure, but I think others would find their interests switched. Apparently, some people are claiming the science isn’t perfectly explained or correct, but I think anyone who can pick that up isn’t the intended audience. This book is for the civilian, not the scientist. It is a really neat look at what caused the great influenza outbreak, who was trying to fight it, who was making it worse, and what the long-range side effects of it were. This is not the book for the germaphobe. It is not for the hypochondriac. It is a good book about a really terrifying time in our history that is almost completely ignored. (Oh, and also, it highlights how insane the pro-WW I effort became in terms of completely eradicating our civil liberties.) 

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