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Flu: The Story Of The Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus that Caused It

3.90  ·  Rating details ·  5,247 ratings  ·  319 reviews
In 1918 the Great Flu Epidemic killed an estimated 40 million people virtually overnight. If such a plague returned today, taking a comparable percentage of the U.S. population with it, 1.5 million Americans would die.

The fascinating, true story of the world's deadliest disease.
In 1918, the Great Flu Epidemic felled the young and healthy virtually overnight. An estimated f
Paperback, 352 pages
Published January 9th 2001 by Atria Books (first published 1999)
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3.90  · 
Rating details
 ·  5,247 ratings  ·  319 reviews

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Jeffrey Keeten
Feb 02, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
”This is a detective story. Here was a mass murderer that was around 80 years ago and who’s never been brought to justice. And what we’re trying to do is find the murderer.”--Jeffery Taubenberger, molecular pathologist

There are estimates that the 1918 Flu killed anywhere from 20 million to 100 million people dwarfing the number of people killed in World War One. Either number is horrifying, but as modern scientists start putting data together the larger number becomes more realistic. I’ve always
Ned Ryerson
Aug 04, 2008 rated it liked it
I love a good disease book. And I think the 1918 flu is just about as fascinating as you can get. But this book talks more about theories and old-timey labs than it does about the human side of this epidemic. Which, let's face it, is what's really interesting. Imagine all of a sudden having a common illness sweep through your community and kill young healthy people so fast that you don't even have time to bury them right. That's some serious shit. This book just didn't do it justice. I would lik ...more
Lynne King
This book was just excellent and that's all that needs to be said.

I recommend it to anyone who has an interest in medical history and likes Germ Theory. Why I didn't study science at university instead of the arts is beyond me.
Doreen Petersen
Sep 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: medical
Outstanding book with lots of scientific info. So much time and energy was spent by many, many people to find out the cause of the 1918 flu pandemic but alas not definitive answer has yet been found. Will it ever come? This was a really well written, extremely easy to understand and informative read. I recommend this one!
Jose Moa
Jan 22, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: meicine
A good book on the deadly, ill named, spanish flu because today nobody knows where exactly this pandemia begun.

The book is devoted to the history,epidemiology and investigation of this letal virus,that killed over 50 million humans arroun the world in the 1918 pandemia ,the most letal after the black dead,and its final reconstruction by means of frozen inuit lungs,dead by the disease, in the alaskan permafrost
Nov 17, 2015 rated it it was ok
Unfortunately I found the writing horribly awkward and clunky. And worst of all for me, extremely repetitive and long-winded. I'm fairly certain the book could have been at least a third shorter if the redundancies, unnecessary re-explanations, barely related tangents, and overly wordy sentences had been pruned. It brings to mind the way I was taught to write as a history major in college and so many dry history books I had to read: more words are always better, and it's good to restate the same ...more
Sep 17, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone interested in the Spanish Flu, virology, or pandemics
I really enjoyed this book. The book covers a range of time from the beginning of the 1918-19 flu right up to still lingering questions about what made that particular flu strain so deadly and why it affected the young and healthy as much as the elderly and very young.

I really learned a lot about the Flu and about the fight to determine its origins and genetic composition. Some of the things in this book mirrored [Book:The Great Influenza:The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History], altho
Jul 14, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: historical
The book was published in 1999, but it reads like it was written just a few weeks ago. The information Gina presents is so relevant to today that it's eerie. I am fascinated by the parts of history that our textbooks seem to forget, and the 1918 flu is probably one of the largest omissions in our historical texts. In it's two phases ( lighter spring outbreak, followed by the massively deadly fall outbreak) it managed to decrease the world population significantly and took out more lives than WW1 ...more
Dec 02, 2007 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: history buffs, those with science and microbiology and investigative interests
Recommended to Xysea by: me
Right now, I'm thoroughly enjoying this read by NYT reporter Gina Kolata - it does seem odd that with the impact of the 1918 flu we haven't heard more about it or how it changed American life as we know it.

I had no idea Katherine Anne Porter's Pale Horse, Pale Rider dealt with this topic, nor Thomas Wolfe's Look Homeward, Angel, so I am going to now read these two books after this one with a different context and knowledge base - which I hope will give me a deeper appreciation for both.

I'll be
Jul 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Outstanding. I picked it up a second time because it's in my interests, without recognizing it. It was outstanding the second time through, so I finished it again.
Loring Wirbel
Dec 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
When I wanted to acknowledge the centennial of the worst pandemic in history (yes, far worse than bubonic plague), I didn't know two new books had been released in 2018 by Catharine Arnold and Jeremy Brown, on the 1918 global flu pandemic. It was difficult to find Alfred Crosby's 1989 historical work, so I settled on Kolata's 1999 popular account, since I like her breezy yet scientifically accurate style. Funny thing is, based on synopses of the Arnold and Brown books, our knowledge of the 1918 ...more
Lynn G.
I thought that this informative book about an interesting topic, the influenza epidemic of 1918, made some complex scientific processes approachable by the lay reader. The book reads almost like a biography of influenza; informing readers about previous epidemics/pandemics; similarities and differences between known influenzas; the attempts, both failed and successful, to identify and isolate the various molecular fragments of the viral genes. The focus, of course, was what differentiated the 19 ...more
Erica Hunsberger
For me this book had a really rough start. Gina Kolata's writing about the events of the 1918 influenza pandemic almost made me put this book down. The best way I can describe it was that it was choppy without proper transitions. I had to keep going back to re-read passages to see if I missed something. Since it is such an interesting topic for me I stuck with it, and I am glad I did.
I almost wish this was described more of a history of influenza book instead of a weird murder mystery thriller.
Dec 27, 2008 rated it liked it
An interesting look at a part of our history that can get glossed over sometimes. Unfortunately, this was focused more on the science that went into deciphering the flu rather than the history of the flu itself. While it was an enlightening read, and some of the people who worked on this project were extremely driven, fascinating people, mostly it just made me want to read a good old fashioned history book about the influenza pandemic.

My one real issue was the completely unnecessary pages of lis
Nov 17, 2015 rated it it was ok
"Flu" is a quick, easy, read that skims over the 1918 Pandemic and introduces the reader to the current science of influenza.

However, the book draws no solid conclusions, and has no real ending. It also leaves threads hanging at the conclusion. (We are never told from what virus strain (H?N?) the recovered RNA indicated the 1918 flu belonged. Finally, the chatty biographies of the books personalities were really annoying to have to wade through. (Does it really matter that Kirsty Duncan does Cel
Nov 02, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This was a fascinating look at the 1918 Influenza pandemic, but I always seem to run into the same problem with science books. The well-received and highly rated ones are often older, and by the time I get around to reading them, I wish for a more current look at the same topic. I would love to read about outbreaks we've had since 1999 when this was written, like SARS (which I know is not influenza) and the 2009 H1N1 flu.
Apr 16, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
It was on one of my trips to Goodwill that when I was browsing the book section, I stumbled upon Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus That Caused It by Gina Kolata. Unlike the other books that were visibly used and dog eared, this book seemed almost untouched. I bought the book for $1, still shocked about the condition of the book, this being the reason I picked up the book; that and the fact that I was immediately reminded of Rupert Holmes’ song “E ...more
Great book but I recommend first reading The Great Influenza by John Barry, which covers the 1918 pandemic in great detail, followed by Kolata's book which is more focused on post-1918 flu history. These two books dovetail perfectly together.
H. P. Reed
The author was able to convey the terror of the 1918 flu epidemic quite vividly in this take of how it seemingly transferred from one person to another, one city to another overnight.
When the plague came, on those chilly days of autumn, some said it was a terrible new weapon of war.

In 1918, a pandemic hit the world and killed millions of people from China all the way out to the most remote outposts of the Alaskan wilderness. A world already reeling from the disastrous effects of the first World War had to deal with their young people dropping dead from a terrifying illness that cost more American lives than WWI, WWII, Korea, and Vietnam combined. But what caused this terri
Alan Marchant
Jul 26, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Get sick, Get well, Hang around the inkwell.

First the good. This timely and credible treatment of influenza fills a critical void. The book is very readable. Although concentrating on historical vignettes to the exclusion of scientific explanations, the book provides a helpful background for the consideration of risk, public policy, and personal preparation that arise from confusing, contradictory, and incomplete news items about flu outbreaks and related public health initiatives.

Kolata clearly
Aug 04, 2010 rated it really liked it
This was on the shelf at the library when I went to get The Great Influenza so I picked it up too. I read this one first---it was shorter. While the basis of the book was the 1918 Influenza, the real story was what happened in science and medicine afterward. While influenza was a known disease, the cause was not yet understood. There were no microscopes powerful enough to see a virus, and by the time anyone thought that might be the cause, the flu was gone, seemingly lost forever. The bulk of th ...more
Jun 13, 2009 rated it really liked it
A fascinating book about the 1918 "spanish" flu pandemic that swept the globe, killing an estimated 20 million to more than 100 million people worldwide. The virus was most deadly to adults aged 20 to 40 - a portion of the population not usually as vulnerable to infectious disease. The death toll was so high that in the United States the average life expectancy dropped by 12 years.

The book explores the spread of the virus and the search for it remnants in tissue samples to discover why it was so
May 06, 2016 rated it liked it
Kolata is a journalist- and it shows, she has here catch phrase throughout the book and it ultimately made it tedious. She also has a bit of hero worship for Jeffery Taubenberger- which centered this book around the virology pathway twists and turns and ended up concentrating on the blow by blow nastiness of getting your scientific paper published first.

Most of these books build their foundations on Crosby's book about the flu and focus on the science to nail it down or the ineptitude of civil
Feb 09, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, non-fiction
Starting with history and moving towards modern science, this is a great book for anyone interested in understanding influenza. Although the 1918 pandemic isn't discussed frequently, I really enjoyed learning about it not only because of its virulence but also because it explains what the designations H1N1 etc. actually mean, why we need so many flu vaccines every year, and why so many new strains of flu are discovered in China. Definitely fascinating with very light descriptions of the genetic ...more
Jan 20, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: science, ww1
Very interesting story of the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918, seriously undercut by the fact that the content of the story is 180 degrees different from what the author said it would be at the outset. She starts out by listing all the places the flu virus would be found in the course of the book, then goes on to explain in the individual chapters that no researcher has managed to find it anywhere. WTF?
Mar 20, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science, epidemiology, bm
Kolata weaves history, global politics and forensic epidemiology together into a gripping and informative narrative. Unlike many single-topic books, it does not secretly wish it were a New Yorker article. There is enough information and drama easily to sustain a reader for several hundred pages.
Jun 29, 2009 rated it liked it
my biggest issue was that it was written in 1999 so it didn't cover the last few years of scientific work. I guess I need to read a newer book on this topic!
May 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
History and science, written like a mystery novel. Learning more about the individual players in the story made it even more interesting. Would definitely recommend.
Florence Millo
Jul 09, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
I honestly didn't finish this book. It started off very interesting but then just got too bogged down.
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Kolata graduated from the University of Maryland and studied molecular biology at the graduate level at MIT for a year and a half. Then she returned to the University of Maryland and obtained a master’s degree in applied mathematics. Kolata has taught writing as a visiting professor at Princeton University and frequently gives lectures across the country. She lives in Princeton, New Jersey, with h ...more
“But as the program got going, the smallest details became issues, even the very name of the disease. Pig farmers complained to the Centers for Disease Control that the name “swine flu” might frighten people away from eating pork. They asked, to no avail, that the flu’s name be changed to “New Jersey” 1 likes
“Instead, the dean had said, “Take a look at the person sitting to your left and to your right. Chances are that person will not be there four years from now.” Every” 0 likes
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