Feeling feverish, tired, or achy? Listening to Gina Kolata’s engrossing account of the 1918 Influenza epidemic is sure to give you the chills.
When we think of plagues, we think of AIDS, Ebola, anthrax spores, and, of course, the Black Death. Influenza never makes the list. But in 1918 the Great Flu Epidemic felled the young and healthy virtually overnight. An estimated forty million people died as the pandemic raged. More American soldiers were killed by the 1918 flu than were killed in battle during World War I. And no area of the globe was safe. Eskimos living in remote outposts in the frozen tundra succumbed to the flu in such numbers that entire villages were wiped out. If such a plague returned today, taking a comparable percentage of the U.S. population with it, 1.5 million Americans would die, which is more than the number killed in a single year by heart disease, cancers, strokes, chronic pulmonary disease, AIDS, and Alzheimer’s combined.
Scientists have recently discovered shards of the flu virus in human remains frozen in the Arctic tundra and in scraps of tissue preserved in a government warehouse. In Flu, Gina Kolata, an acclaimed reporter for The New York Times, unravels the mystery of the lethal virus with the high drama of a great adventure story. From Alaska to Norway, from the streets of Hong Kong to the corridors of the White House, Kolata tracks the race to recover the live pathogen and probes the fear that has impelled government policy. A gripping work of science writing, Flu addresses the prospects for a great epidemic recurring, and considers what can be done to prevent it.