• The Great Influenza

  • The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History
  • By: John M. Barry
  • Narrated by: Scott Brick
  • Length: 19 hrs and 25 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Release date: 03-08-06
  • Language: English
  • Publisher: Penguin Audio
  • 4 out of 5 stars 4.1 (1,870 ratings)

Regular price: $28.00

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Publisher's Summary

No disease the world has ever known even remotely resembles the great influenza epidemic of 1918. Presumed to have begun when sick farm animals infected soldiers in Kansas, spreading and mutating into a lethal strain as troops carried it to Europe, it exploded across the world with unequaled ferocity and speed. It killed more people in 20 weeks than AIDS has killed in 20 years; it killed more people in a year than the plagues of the Middle Ages killed in a century. Victims bled from the ears and nose, turned blue from lack of oxygen, suffered aches that felt like bones being broken, and died. In the United States, where bodies were stacked without coffins on trucks, nearly seven times as many people died of influenza as in the First World War.
In his powerful new book, award-winning historian John M. Barry unfolds a tale that is magisterial in its breadth and in the depth of its research, and spellbinding as he weaves multiple narrative strands together. In this first great collision between science and epidemic disease, even as society approached collapse, a handful of heroic researchers stepped forward, risking their lives to confront this strange disease. Titans like William Welch at the newly formed Johns Hopkins Medical School and colleagues at Rockefeller University and others from around the country revolutionized American science and public health, and their work in this crisis led to crucial discoveries that we are still using and learning from today.
Now with a new afterword.
©2004, 2005 John M. Barry (P)2006 Penguin Audio
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Critic Reviews

"Gripping....Easily our fullest, richest, most panoramic history of the subject." ( The New York Times Book Review)
"An enthralling symphony of a book, whose every page compels." ( Booklist)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
5 out of 5 stars
By Nancy on 07-01-08

Gripping and Gory

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, including the contextual detail that many others disliked, but I wouldn't recommend listening to it near mealtime, as the author dwells repetitively and graphically on the sensory (shall we say)"challenges" of those who beheld the victims in their various stages of death and dying. There were points where I wondered if I'd inadvertantly reset the narrative to a chapter I'd already listened to, so redundent was the story. However, the repetition accurately mirrored the relentlessness of the disease.

From the contextual elements of this book, I finally learned why the hospital where I work insists that we come to work unless we're on our deathbeds. The nursing profession grew out of the military and its need to maintain healthy soldiers. Healthcare professionals were - and are - soldiers in the war against disease, and many died while caring for influenza patients. Also, I was told that the WWI generation had an unusually large number of "spinsters" who never married, because so many young men died in "the Great War." But, the flu disproportionately struck young men who happened to be soldiers lodged in crowded barracks that helped spread the disease. And, now I know why the Plague was called "the Black Death" (cyanosis turned the victims' bodies dark blue-black).

Although the narrator's style is indeed grating at times, the book is fascinating and provides not just a history of the disease, but of the historical and political circumstances that perhaps allowed the disease to become so widespread before it was acknowleged and attempts were begun to control it. If I were reading the hard copy, I'd be up all night until I finished.

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48 of 50 people found this review helpful

4 out of 5 stars
By Annie M. on 07-30-13

A fascinating medical who-dun-it

Would you listen to The Great Influenza again? Why?

I bought this book to help me do research, and have read it through twice. The first time, I read it for the story. The second time, I read it for the details that I needed to note for my project. I have enjoyed it both times.

It is a brilliant retelling of a true modern-day pandemic and the scientists who tried to corral it. If you liked THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS, you will find this an exceedingly satisfying use of a credit.I love that Barry incorporates so many details of everyday life.

A great example of this is his exploration of the limited options available to women back then and how, because of the desperate need for nursing care, the flu actually opened up a new--and respected--path for women who wanted and/or needed to work. Prior to this, a women's choices were limited pretty much to domestic work, marriage, or prostitution. Barry explains how the flu pandemic changed all that.In addition to little details such as women's roles, Barry takes us on a compelling trip through the history of medicine. Here is just one sample of the type of thing you'll learn here: that up to the turn of the last century, many highly respected, so-called med schools would cheerfully award diplomas to students who had never even had a single hands-on interaction with a patient, or even a cadaver. I'm not in the medical field, but I do like history. This is one of the best in the genre.

What did you like best about this story?

I am just so impressed when a writer can turn history into something lively and compelling. That is exactly what happened here. Mr. Barry took a thousand strands of storyline and wound them together in a captivating tale that made me want to know more.

What aspect of Scott Brick’s performance would you have changed?

I am one of the few people left on the planet who does not love, love, love Scott Brick. I would have loved it had Arthur Morey narrated this book. Mr. Brick's narration, while suitable, is the only reason I gave this book four stars, instead of five.

I first heard Scott Brick years ago when he was hired to voice Nelson DeMille's John Corey series. I found him serviceable in that role, and God knows, he is everywhere. Recently, I heard him read a Harlan Coben book, SIX YEARS, which I could barely get through because of his excessive emoting.

So I have to admit, I came into this book with a little bit of an, ahem, attitude. I have to say that I think Mr. Brick did a solid job with THE GREAT INFLUENZA. There were opportunities to mess it up. He didn't. He mostly stayed in a professional, newsman-style, non-fiction mode.

If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

Where were you when the outbreak began?

Any additional comments?

My great-grandfather died in 1918 from the flu. He was the love of my great-grandmother's life and it had a huge impact on her. Add to this the fact of The Great War/The War to End All Wars/The First World War. The world was truly changing back then on a daily basis, and the flu was just one of the many causes. This is a great visit back into a unique time in American and world history.

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12 of 12 people found this review helpful

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