Flu – Gina Kolata

The BookDepository

I discovered this book amongst my stock and decided to have a quick flick through it. I ended up being unable to put it down. I found it fascinating, given the current situation in the world at the moment. Ironically I think I managed to catch swine flu while reading it and I think this added to it’s relevance to me.

The book charts the progress of the 1918 flu and explains the devastation it caused. It goes on to explain about the more recent flu epidemics of 1957, 1968, 1976 and 1997 (I didn’t realise there had been so many!)

The book is incredibly readable, and looks at the flu from the perspective of individuals. Seeing the effect that it had on small families made it much more powerful, and the history seemed to come alive on the page.

Wolfe came home to a deathwatch. His brother was lying in a sick room upstairs while his family waited for what they feared was inevitable. Wolfe went upstairs to the “gray, shaded light” of the room where Ben lay. And he saw “in that moment of searing recognition,” that his beloved twenty-six-year-old brother was dying.

Despite being packed with facts this book never came across as dry. Everyone mentioned, from the scientists studying the flu, to the doctors treating it, were vividly depicted and it often felt like I was reading snippets of a great novel rather than a non-fiction book.

The book progresses to explain how scientists produced the vaccine for the virus and the efforts they went to trying to find intact pieces of infected tissue buried beneath permafrost in the Arctic Circle. The book tries to explain the biology of the flu in lay-mans terms, but I do think that people without a scientific background may struggle to understand some of the later sections. This doesn’t really matter though, as there is so much to be gained from the lessons learnt from earlier flu infections.

 There were many sections which contained scary parallels to the world today:

It infected people in the spring of 1918, sickening its victims for about three days with chills and fever, but rarely killing them. Then it disappeared, returning in the fall with the power of a juggernaut.

I really hope that the current swine flu doesn’t become as deadly as the 1918 one, but reading this book has reassured me that we are much better prepared for it than ever before, and with our improved levels of understanding the horrors of 1918 will never be repeated.

Recommended to anyone who is worried about flu, but make sure you read more than the first few chapters or you will be panicking!



There seem to be lots of books about the flu circulating at the moment. Have you read any of them?

Have you read any novels about the 1981 flu pandemic?

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  1. Violet says:

    This books sounds really good. I really want to put more non-fic in my reading, I love how the colors are so pretty considering its a book on a disease, yet so fitting :)

    Nice Review.

    1. Jackie says:

      I love the pretty cover too! I actually noticed how dull by sidebar looked when I removed it. The Other Hand is adding a bit of brightness to the sidebar now, but I am going to have to make sure I keep at least one colourful book there at all times otherwise it looks a bit dull – is it wrong to make sure every 5th book you read has a really nice cover – just so your blog looks nice?!!

      1. Violet says:

        Wrong? No way…I think everyone should do it. I even buy books based on their covers sometimes :)

        That red colored book with Krishna on the cover is very eye catching too…

        1. Jackie says:

          I think Cloudstreet is bringing it down. I think I’m going to have to read it quickly, so that it doesn’t have to stay on my sidebar for long!

  2. Nicole says:

    I haven’t read any of the flu books but I absolutely love it when non-fiction reads more like a novel and your really get to know the people and the subjects being discussed. I didn’t realize either that there were so many flu epidemics.

    1. Jackie says:

      I haven’t read many non-fiction books as I often find them a bit dry. I have now realised that a lot of them aren’t and am going to make an effort to read more of them.

  3. Sandy says:

    I hope you all are feeling better, speaking of flu! I think I would find this book interesting…I’ve always been intrigued with pandemics (let’s not forget The Stand and Outbreak!).

    1. Jackie says:

      If you like pandemic books then ensure you read Blindness by Jose Saramago – it is scary!

  4. JoAnn says:

    Sounds fascinating. I’ll definitely look out for this one.

    1. Jackie says:

      I hope you find a copy – it really is good!

  5. Beth F says:

    I own this one! I should make an effort to read it. It sounds even better than I thought it would be.

    1. Jackie says:

      Yes, read it as soon as you can – before you get too scared by the flu in the news. I found this book very reassuring.

  6. Jeanne says:

    Hmm, I was going to say that I’m already so panicked over H1N1 that I couldn’t read this book. But it’s reassuring? Really? (How?) I do find it reassuring that you had what could have been swine flu and it wasn’t that bad. But that’s this summer.

    1. Jackie says:

      This book explains how much medical care has advanced since the 1918 flu. We now have a much greater understanding of the virus and how to treat it. I found that now I know a lot about the subject I am not so scared. I spot mistakes in the news items and get annoyed by their continual scare tactics. This flu is no worse than seasonal flu and while it could mutate to a more dangerous form it is equally likely to mutate into a safer one. We have vaccines and tamiflu and much more knowledge about how to treat it. We shouldn’t be worried.

  7. Jenners says:

    I’ll admit .. I’m a bit intrigued after reading your review. And it kind of freaks me out that I didn’t realize how many flu epidemics there were in my lifetime. I must admit that I’ve never taken the flu too seriously — except when my son was born and there was flu shot shortage and I was panicky about getting one (but that was probably new mom craziness). Sounds like a book that everyone should read to understand the flu better.

    And it kind of reminds me a little of the book on the Ebola virus that was out a few years back … fascinating in the science aspects and it read like a novel. Can’t remember the name of it right now but it was really well done.

    1. Jackie says:

      I found the number of flu outbreaks quite reassuring – it shows that they are getting less serious, therefore less remembered than the terrible 1918 one. I haven’t heard of any ebola book, but I’ll remember to look out for one!

  8. Jeanne says:

    Okay then, I’m definitely looking for this one!

    1. Jackie says:

      Great! I hope you find it useful.


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