The Great Influenza

By John M. Barry,

Book cover of The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History

Book description

At the height of WWI, history's most lethal influenza virus erupted in an army camp in Kansas, moved east with American troops, then exploded, killing as many as 100 million people worldwide. It killed more people in twenty-four months than AIDS killed in twenty-four years, more in a year than…

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Why read it?

6 authors picked The Great Influenza as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

The 1918 flu killed millions, including 675,000 in the United States. It rapidly killed young people. The president of the United States never spoke of it.

The United States was at war, and officials claimed speaking of the flu would undermine the war effort. Not speaking of the flu fit well with widespread suppression of speech, which officials also justified by pointing to the war. Civil rights and liberties claims linked to that pandemic as it did in COVID-19.

Mr. Barry’s sprawling story includes many actors. Mr. Barry argues that managing a pandemic requires trust. In the COVID-19 pandemic, trust…

This brilliant non-fiction work by John M. Barry is fascinating for its scholarship and engaging prose. We learn about the source of the H1N1 influenza virus in birds through its mutations to a deadly pandemic engulfing the globe and responsible for killing an estimated 50 million people. In addition to writing layman’s course in virology, Mr. Barry focuses on individuals who perished and those who searched unceasingly for a vaccine. This is the most timely of books for readers who have endured the twenty-first century coronavirus pandemic. 

From Marcia's list on pandemics, historical, or fictional.

Unfortunately, the Great Influenza is no longer “the deadliest pandemic in history,” but Barry’s nonfiction book does an excellent job bringing history to life. After setting the stage of American medicine in the early twentieth century, he depicts the progression of the pandemic, showing its effect on public health and society as a whole. I was fascinated with how people communicated (colored crepe on the door, for example, to indicate a death) without our current technology. 

From Yvonne's list on on pandemics published pre-COVID.

In the winter of 1918, at the height of World War 1, influenza virus infection arrived and killed over 50 million and perhaps up to 100 million people worldwide. It killed more people in six months than the Human Immunodeficiency Virus or Covid killed since their discoveries. The cause, lessons learned in terms of this pandemic are subjects of this book and offer insights into what can be done for and during future pandemics.

From Michael's list on understanding how viruses cause disease.

It’s “just the flu” right? WRONG. Influenza has been and continues to be a real killer. Barry’s book is an incredible read about the great influenza pandemic of 1918, which has striking parallels to today’s COVID19 pandemic. Those who don’t learn from history are forced to repeat it.

A wonderfully researched and written account of both the Influenza of 1918-1919 and of America's entry into the Great War. Barry included the only mention I had come across about the catastrophic illness of President Wilson on the eve of the Versailles treaty negotiations. We can only wonder what might have been, had Wilson caught influenza just a few weeks later.

Want books like The Great Influenza?

Our community of 9,000+ authors has personally recommended 100 books like The Great Influenza.

Browse books like The Great Influenza

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in pandemics, the Spanish flu, and influenza?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about pandemics, the Spanish flu, and influenza.

Pandemics Explore 30 books about pandemics
The Spanish Flu Explore 21 books about the Spanish flu
Influenza Explore 12 books about influenza