2000 - 2007 Non Fiction

Flu – Gina Kolata

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?