Book Club: The Great Influenza

Alright book clubbers, what did you think of this month’s read, The Great Influenza?  I have to admit, reading this book was quite an undertaking for someone trying to balance a full-time job, blog and a host of other commitments.  I imagine you felt the same.  While John Barry’s The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History was quite lengthy, it did offer some valuable and surprising insights into the history of medicine and perhaps our future as well.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I flipped open the cover of my Kindle to start reading this month’s pick.  It had been recommended to me so I hadn’t done much prior research on the read.  Immediately, knew I would be a bit behind in publishing this post when I discovered the book was over 500 pages!  But, my hesitancy began to subside as I clicked through the first pages.  I knew I was in for an interesting education.

The influenza pandemic of 1918, the worst in history, killed as many as 100 million people worldwide. This number represents more people than AIDS has killed in twenty-four years and more than Black Death killed in a century.  Hospitals and morgues became overwhelmed, the scene representing famed plagues of the middle-ages.  In Philadelphia, 4,597 people died in one week alone, bodies piling up in the streets only to be transported to mass graves.  In the face of war, the U.S. government’s efforts to stop the plague were paltry and misdirected.  Barry states that a “climate of fear threatened to break society apart”.

Barry begins The Great Influenza by delving into the history of medicine.  At the time, medicine was a little respected field without a backbone in solid science.  At the end of the 19th century, a few key researchers were just beginning to change this notion when the influenza pandemic hit.  Barry provides an vivid picture of how science, public health, medicine and the U.S. government responded during this trying epidemic.  He leaves us with the unsettling inkling that a similarly devastating pandemic could recur.

Overall, The Great Influenza is a worthwhile read for medical professionals.  It gives us insight into the history of our practice and forces us to think critically about our future.  Yes, the book is slow in spots and takes a few pages to get into, but it offers a valuable medical and public health perspective.

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Next month we’re going for balance with a light, easy fiction selection for the ThriveAP Book Club.  May’s book club will feature Oxygen by Carol Cassella.  National bestseller Oxygen tells the story of Dr. Marie Heaton, an anesthesiologist, who finds herself mixed up in a malpractice suit.



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