Pandemic 1918: Eyewitness Accounts from the Greatest Medical Holocaust in Modern History

by Catharine Arnold

Ebook, 2018


St. Martin's Press (2018), 363 pages


"Before HIV or Ebola, there was the Spanish flu--this narrative history marks the one hundredth anniversary of an epidemic that altered world history. In January 1918, as World War I raged on, a new and terrifying virus began to spread across the globe. In three successive waves, from 1918 to 1919, influenza killed more than 50 million people. German soldiers termed it Blitzkatarrh, British soldiers referred to it as Flanders Grippe, but world-wide, the pandemic gained the notorious title of "Spanish Flu". Nowhere on earth escaped: the United States recorded 550,000 deaths (five times its total military fatalities in the war) while European deaths totaled over two million. Amid the war, some governments suppressed news of the outbreak. Even as entire battalions were decimated, with both the Allies and the Germans suffering massive casualties, the details of many servicemen's deaths were hidden to protect public morale. Meanwhile, civilian families were being struck down in their homes. The City of Philadelphia ran out of gravediggers and coffins, and mass burial trenches had to be excavated with steam shovels. Spanish flu conjured up the specter of the Black Death of 1348 and the great plague of 1665, while the medical profession, shattered after five terrible years of conflict, lacked the resources to contain and defeat this new enemy. Through primary and archival sources, historian Catharine Arnold gives readers the first truly global account of the terrible epidemic."--Dust jacket flap.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member jetangen4571
pandemic, war-is-hell, historical-research, historical-places-events, history-and-culture, historical-figures, horror

This volume presents a more extensive study of the transmission of this deadly opportunistic disease as it used the vector of war and also relates names of those who suffered it
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still familiar these hundred years later. This presentation also goes into greater detail regarding the rigors suffered by the victims and does examine it all from the British perspective. The publisher's blurb is quite respectable and ought to be interesting to the general public. I, on the other hand, represent different segments: became an RN in 1968, addicted to history, have read other books and theses on the subject, grandmother had the disease and it left heart damage, uncle had it and was told that Parkinson's was a late side effect.
The writer reminds that there was no way to visualize a virus or prove animal or avian hosting and mutation at that time, and everyone on each continent was so terrified that even historic remedies were tried.
I requested and received a free ebook review copy from St. Martin's Press via NetGalley.
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LibraryThing member Beamis12
Fifty million dead world wide, over a third of the worlds population dead in just one year. One could greet a friend in the morning, and find out that person died the next day. I can't even imagine that something, outside of a war could cause such a tragedy as this. Yet, it was the Spanish flu, the
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Spanish lady that would spread across the globe, leaving heartache and terror in its wake. This book describes how it was spread, where it was spread, but also includes letters, journal and diary entires, from those who were present at the time.

WWI and troop movements, trains, ports, all greatly helped the Spanish lady. A young Vera Brittain, a nurse in one of the British camps, was cheered seeing the healthy looking American troops arrive. Of course, she had no way of knowing they carried death with them. She would go on to write of her experiences in her, [book:Testament of Youth|374388]. Katherine Anne Porter lived through it and wrote [book:Pale Horse, Pale Rider|672222], chronicling her experience. Roosevelt and all he and Eleanor's children contracted the flu. Aided by one nurse, there being such a shortage of nurses and doctors, Eleanor nursed them through. A young man, underage and against his father wishes, joined the ambulance Corp. and caught the flu. He too would live, and become Walt Disney.

It was the children, and their experiences that effected me the most. The girls jumping rope to
"I had a little bird
Its name was Enza
I opened the window and
The young boy whose friend talked him into observing one of the daily funerals now taking place in their town. Watching, he never got over seeing the gravediggers dumping the bodies out of their coffins into a mass grave. Of course their was a shortage of coffins, shortages of everything. No one knew how to treat it, how to stop it. Mass panic and terror. It was a time that one can only hope never comes again.
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LibraryThing member schatzi
I've always found the Spanish flu fascinating, simply because we don't hear much about it. It had never been mentioned in any of my history classes in high school; it was only when I took a course in Twentieth Century European history that I heard of the Spanish flu for the first time.

This book is
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a good overview of the Spanish flu epidemic, and I definitely learned a few new things. It's based on people's personal experiences during the epidemic, so there's not an overarching organization to this book. It's more a loose collection of "what happened in this part of the world" chapters. I would have liked a bit more structure to the book.
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LibraryThing member BarbaraS2016
This book was incredible. It is estimated 20 million people died in WWI. Just as that terrible debacle was maybe slowing down a new killer rose up to take war's place. The Spanish flu. Spanish, not because it started there, because Spain was neutral in WWI and didn't have a news blackout. I have
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always wondered about that. I have also always wondered how 100 million people could die of the "flu" and people know nothing of it today in the COVID era. My great aunt Katie died in 1918 of the Spanish flu. She was 18 years old. This disease was cruel. Instead of the usual flu taking the old it took young people, in the prime of life. It took others too but it especially liked people in their teens and twenties and very healthy. The brilliance of this book is not the statistics but the voices speaking from that time as they talk again and are heard. They talk of the days leading up to the flu, the parades, and the innocence. They talk of having the disease and how painful it was, they talk of watching their loved ones die from it. They talk of running out of coffins, bodies stacked like wood, mass graves, and the smell. They talked of grief. One little girl told how she loved church bells until they became synonymous with funerals. The book talked about the heroism of the medical people who fought the disease, many of them dying also. I had to stop reading this book sometimes because of the sadness I felt for these people. People are so resilient because life goes on and they got on with it. I would like to thank Netgalley and the publisher for allowing me to read this book in exchange for a review.
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LibraryThing member janerawoof
Fascinating look at the course of the Spanish flu of 1918-19, or as it was anthromorphized in the press's cartoonish figure of the "Spanish lady", a female figure with a death's head, dressed in black flamenco-style dress and mantilla. The earliest mention of any widespread epidemic was made by
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Hippocrates in 412 BC and we have had epidemics and pandemics of different origins and symptoms ever since, including now. The author mentions theories as to its origin, from the possible to the conspiratorial, and much of the book is taken from the writings, letters, or memoirs of people who had either witnessed it in others or had recovered from it themselves. Katherine Anne Porter, the writer, who recovered, felt it was a turning point in her life. The world would probably be a different place if FDR or Mahatma Gandhi had not recovered from their severe bouts with the "Spanish lady". The book was very prescient concerning public health measures, which we are using today. No cure was found; the disease just burned itself out. Not until the 1990s was the genome found. Viruses were not even discovered until the 1930s. Health professionals' earlier thinking of a bacterial origin for the Spanish flu led them into blind alleys.

A little girls' jump rope skipping rhyme from that period:
"I had a little bird,
And its name was Enza.
I opened the window
And in-flew-enza."
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LibraryThing member mumoftheanimals
Inspired to read this after my step-mother said that her grandfather became anti-vax after the WW1 with the Spanish Flu. Couldn’t find anything in here about the movement at that time although a writer with no medical training in 1950s did claim it was caused by the Vaccination programme used on
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the troops in Texas. (Overlooking the overcrowded conditions, that plenty of unvaccinated people died from it and it did not,stem from there). I suspect a bit of retrospective justification going on here.
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LibraryThing member Anniik
Very haunting book that is eerily prescient for our current time.

Original publication date

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