Top positive review
Great scholarship about a massive yet mostly forgotten tragedy
Reviewed in the United States on February 9, 2020
I recently asked half a dozen people in their twenties if they'd heard of the 1918 H1N1 influenza pandemic and none of them had. Globally it killed more people than WWI and possibly more than died in WWII. But hardly anyone knows about it. Yet it could happen again. If you can handle understanding the scale of a threat that could possibly kill tens of millions or more people then read this book. Crosby does an excellent job of sketching out how it played out in such diverse locations as Alaska, troop transport ships heading to Europe San Francisco, Samoa (where a quarantine by US Navy officers kept it out of American Samoa while a foolish New Zealand officer did little to stop it in Western Samoa resulting in a high death toll), And other locations.
Crosby explains the story of how confused biologists were about the cause of influenza up until the early 1930s and how the puzzle was solved.
At the time of this writing we are waiting to see if the Coronavirus outbreak that started in Wuhan China will go global and whether it will kill millions of people or will it even kill tens of millions like the 1918 flu pandemic. I wish more people appreciated the potential scale of the death toll that is possible from a virus that has recently jumped a species boundary into humans. We are not doing enough to protect ourselves from a threat of this type and I expect we will have to learn the hard way that we need to.
Crosby wrote before the isolation and sequencing of the H1N1 virus from buried victims frozen in Alaska permafrost and he makes no mention of the cytokine storm which this virus caused, damaging the body by immune and inflammation response. So you need to read a later book to get a deeper understanding of how this particular virus caused so much damage. But as a story about the events of the pandemic it is quite good.