The best books about the Spanish flu

2 authors have picked their favorite books about the Spanish flu and why they recommend each book.

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A Death-Struck Year

By Makiia Lucier,

Book cover of A Death-Struck Year

Set in Oregon during the 1918 influenza pandemic, this historical young adult novel features a teen girl separated from her family as the illness spreads from the east coast of the US to the west. Like Lil, the main character from my book, Cleo in A Death-Struck Year grapples with moral dilemmas. I was drawn to Cleo’s struggle of wanting to help others, which will put her life at risk, and of desperately wanting to survive.

A Death-Struck Year

By Makiia Lucier,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Death-Struck Year as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Schools, churches, and theaters shut down. The entire city is thrust into survival mode-and into a panic. Headstrong and foolish, seventeen-year-old Cleo is determined to ride out the pandemic in the comfort of her own home, rather than in her quarantined boarding school dorms. But when the Red Cross pleads for volunteers, she can't ignore the call. As Cleo struggles to navigate the world around her, she is surprised by how much she finds herself caring about near-strangers. Strangers like Edmund, a handsome medical student and war vet. Strangers who could be gone tomorrow. And as the bodies begin to…

Who am I?

I'm the author of short stories and novels including my young adult debut, Pandemic, which continues to be a timely read about surviving a widespread deadly virus. After the H1N1 pandemic of 2009 (commonly called Swine Flu), I was fascinated with the idea of a global illness that could be much, much worse. I researched historical diseases, interviewed public health officials, and the idea for my novel was born. Written and published before COVID-19, some of the details are eerily predictive of coronavirus. Pandemic won SCBWI’s Crystal Kite Award the year after its publication, and a June 2022 reissue of the original novel includes updated resources and backmatter.


I wrote...

Pandemic

By Yvonne Ventresca,

Book cover of Pandemic

What is my book about?

Only a few people know what caused Lilianna Snyder's sudden change from a model student to a withdrawn pessimist who worries about all kinds of disasters. After her parents are called away on business, Lil’s town is hit by what soon becomes a widespread fatal illness. With her worst fears realized, Lil must find a way to survive not only the outbreak and its real-life consequences, but her own personal demons.

Moonstone

By Sjón,

Book cover of Moonstone: The Boy Who Never Was: A Novel

I confess to a huge writer crush on Sjon. I immediately fell head over heels for his vibrant, visceral prose in this magical moving story set in Reykjavik in 1918 (the same year I set my novella Lightning). There is nothing comparable to this author’s dreamy style (after discovering him I read his entire catalogue) and the journey of young queer Manni Steinn is unforgettable. I have to admit: I went so far as to reach out to the author on social media the year we were both nominated for a Lambda Literary Award and ask him to coffee. I did not expect an answer, but he wrote me saying he was not attending the NYC event but thanked me for the offer! Brilliant and approachable! 

Moonstone

By Sjón,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Moonstone as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The mind-bending miniature historical epic is Sjón's specialty, and Moonstone: The Boy Who Never Was is no exception. But it is also Sjón's most realistic, accessible, and heartfelt work yet. It is the story of a young man on the fringes of a society that is itself at the fringes of the world--at what seems like history's most tumultuous, perhaps ultimate moment.

Máni Steinn is queer in a society in which the idea of homosexuality is beyond the furthest extreme. His city, Reykjavik in 1918, is homogeneous and isolated and seems entirely defenseless against the Spanish flu, which has already…


Who am I?

Growing up gay in Missouri in the 1970s, it was LGBTQ novels that opened the door to the unraveling and discovery of my best self, my true queer identity. Initially potboilers with side gay characters (I hid my copy of Valley of the Dolls from the nuns in grade school) I soon discovered writers that unlocked worlds I did not know existed representing choices, loves, and adventures I would later make my own. As a writer, it was risk-taking, gorgeous LGBTQ novels that urged me along in my literary journey and helped me find and define my voice. 


I wrote...

The Butcher's Sons

By Scott Alexander Hess,

Book cover of The Butcher's Sons

What is my book about?

A Kirkus Reviews* Best Book, The Butcher’s Sons is a “brutal and lyrically gorgeous story” (Lambda) that “touches the heart of what it means to be human.”*

Bound by blood but separated by secrets, brothers—Dickie, Walt and Adlai—run a butcher shop for their father, whose broken spirit has isolated him from the world. When Dickie makes a rash decision involving an organized crime family a chain of events ensues that changes the brothers’ lives and forces them to come together—at first, with a sense of camaraderie, but ultimately, with something much fiercer, more brutal. A gritty, intimate portrait of three young Irish-American brothers whose lives irrevocably change during a heat wave in New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen, circa 1930.

Book cover of Stacking the Coffins: Influenza, War and Revolution in Ireland, 1918–19

The ‘decade of centenaries’ from 2013-2023 has seen a plethora of books published about events during the Irish Revolution of a hundred years ago or so. Most of them have a glaring omission in that they do not mention, or only barely mention, the great influenza pandemic (the Spanish Flu) of 1918-1919, despite the fact that infection rates and mortality rates were extremely high. Milne’s book tackles the subject head-on, and fills a gap in the narrative of the pivotal decade 1913-23 in Irish history. The high quality of the research is evident in the enormous level of detail throughout the book, and Milne has given a human voice to many of the victims’ families by including survivor memories passed down through the generations. A sombre, thought-provoking read!

Stacking the Coffins

By Ida Milne,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Stacking the Coffins as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The 1918-19 influenza epidemic killed more than 50 million people, and infected between one fifth and half of the world's population. It is the world's greatest killing influenza pandemic, and is used as a worst case scenario for emerging infectious disease epidemics like the corona virus COVID-19. It decimated families, silenced cities and towns as it passed through, stilled commerce, closed schools and public buildings and put normal life on hold. Sometimes it killed several members of the same family. Like COVID-19 there was no preventative vaccine for the virus, and many died from secondary bacterial pneumonia in this pre-antibiotic…

Who am I?

I’m an Irish writer and historian. I always enjoyed history, even in school, and I went on to study it at Maynooth University, receiving a BA. I became a history teacher and eventually head of the history department in Méanscoil Iognáid Rís. I began writing local history articles for the Dunlavin arts festival and the parish magazine. I went back to university and got a first-class honours MA from Maynooth, before being awarded a PhD from DCU. I’ve won the Lord Walter Fitzgerald prize and the Irish Chiefs’ Prize, and my students were winners in the Decade of Centenaries competition. Now retired, I continue to write and lecture about history!


I wrote...

An Irish Village: Dunlavin, County Wicklow

By Chris Lawlor,

Book cover of An Irish Village: Dunlavin, County Wicklow

What is my book about?

This book traces the history of the Dunlavin region from earliest times to the present day, but it is more than the history of a little-known County Wicklow village and its communities. It is the history of a nation in microcosm. This book explores the impact of national events on everyday life within a specific locality. In its pages you will read of Gaelic warriors, Viking raiders, Norman conquerors, English settlers, improving landlords, liberal loyalists, subversive radicals, rebellions, mass political movements, the Tithe War, the Great Famine, the Land War, political upheavals, social change and economic developments—viewed through the prism of one village and its environs. It should appeal to all Irish history enthusiasts. The book is now available exclusively from my website.

The Great Influenza

By John M. Barry,

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

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. 

The Great Influenza

By John M. Barry,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The Great Influenza as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

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 the Black Death killed in a century. But this was not the Middle Ages, and 1918 marked the first collision of science and epidemic disease. Magisterial in its breadth of perspective and depth of research and now revised to reflect the growing danger of the avian flu, "The Great Influenza"…

Who am I?

I divide my reading between works of imagination and historical nonfiction. All good fiction requires research to enhance it’s authenticity. Several years ago, I published a story set in the 1918 influenza epidemic. The research for the story was fascinating, and led me to John M. Barry’s book included in my recommendations. After editing a memoir for retired screenwriter and film director, Gerald Schnitzer (sadly now deceased), he invited me to co-author a novel set in the Four Corners featuring a virologist who combines science and spirituality to find a cure for a pandemic, which became Blood of the White Bear


I wrote...

Blood of the White Bear

By Marcia Calhoun Forecki, Gerald Schnitzer,

Book cover of Blood of the White Bear

What is my book about?

Images of White Bear Kachinas erupt from the dreams of virologist Dr. Rachel Bisette and invade her consciousness. Kachina calls for relief from a hantavirus epidemic in the Four Corners. Rachel rushes to the Southwest to lead the search for a vaccine. Only one survivor of the virus is known, but she is elusive. Eva Yellow Horn, an indigenous healer, carries the gift of immunity. As Rachel searches for Eva, she discovers this healer’s gift of healing beyond science. Eva also knows the truth about the deaths of Rachel’s parents years earlier, when her father investigated the Church Rock spill of radioactive waste. The pandemic is fiction, but the spill and its consequences are historical facts.  

Pale Horse, Pale Rider

By Katherine Anne Porter,

Book cover of Pale Horse, Pale Rider

After the 1918 flu pandemic killed an estimated 675,000 Americans, few novelists dared write about the tragedy. A survivor of the pandemic, Katherine Anne Porter took the plunge in 1939, ultimately winning a Pulitzer Prize for this short novel. The semi-autobiographical tale tells the story of a young newspaper writer who falls ill. As sickness overtakes her, the protagonist’s mind explores the past and the feared future. When the disease finally loosens its hold, she wakes to a new world, one which requires her to persevere in a society changed irreversibly by war and disease.

Pale Horse, Pale Rider

By Katherine Anne Porter,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Pale Horse, Pale Rider as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The classic 1939 collection of three short novels, including the famous title story set during the flu epidemic of 1918.

From the gothic Old South to revolutionary Mexico, few writers evoke such a multitude of worlds, both exterior and interior, as powerfully as Katherine Anne Porter. This sharp collection of three short novels includes “Pale Horse, Pale Rider,” Porter's most celebrated story, where a young woman lies in a fever during the influenza epidemic, her childhood memories mingling with fears for her boyfriend on his way to war. Also included is “Noon Wine,” a haunting story of tragedy and scandal…


Who am I?

I am a former white-collar crime federal prosecutor and California state court judge turned policymaker and author. Though I started in law, I joined the Department of Homeland Security mid-career where I ended up with an assignment that no one wanted: create the department’s first-ever climate adaptation plan. That experience showed me that climate change is a mounting risk affecting everything. I then joined President Barack Obama’s climate team in the White House, where I crafted policy to address catastrophic risks, including climate change and biological threats. Since then, I have become an author, media pundit, and frequent podcast guest, using my voice to call for action on climate.


I wrote...

The Fight for Climate After Covid-19

By Alice C. Hill,

Book cover of The Fight for Climate After Covid-19

What is my book about?

The Fight for Climate After COVID-19 draws on the troubled and uneven COVID-19 experience to illustrate the critical need to ramp up resilience rapidly and effectively on a global scale. Drawing on my years of working alongside public health and resilience experts crafting policy to build both pandemic and climate change preparedness, I expose parallels between the underutilized measures that governments should have taken to contain the spread of COVID-19—such as early action, cross-border planning, and bolstering emergency preparedness—and the steps leaders can take now to mitigate the impacts of climate change.

Pale Rider

By Laura Spinney,

Book cover of Pale Rider: The Spanish Flu of 1918 and How It Changed the World

I read this book as background reading for writing my own virus-based novel, and it was an absolutely fascinating study of the response to a pandemic that took place almost exactly a century ago. It covers everything from the role of the First World War troops’ demobilisation on spreading the virus, to the impact of poverty on infection rates, to why young, fit people were the most likely to die of the illness. And, of course, why it was called Spanish Flu in the first place (spoiler alert: not because it came from Spain!)

Pale Rider

By Laura Spinney,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Pale Rider as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Read the devastating story of the Spanish flu - the twentieth century's greatest killer - and discover what it can teach us about the current Covid-19 pandemic.

'Both a saga of tragedies and a detective story... Pale Rider is not just an excavation but a reimagining of the past' Guardian

With a death toll of between 50 and 100 million people and a global reach, the Spanish flu of 1918-1920 was the greatest human disaster, not only of the twentieth century, but possibly in all of recorded history. And yet, in our popular conception it exists largely as a footnote…


Who am I?

In my day job working for a charity, I work with emergency planners, examining how we can minimise the harm caused by disasters, including outbreaks of disease. I’m fascinated by the measures in place to deal with catastrophes, and how contingency planners respond on a practical and a human level. When writing my novel about a killer virus, I devoured both fiction and non-fiction books tackling pandemics ranging from the Black Death to Aids. I am confident I know the skills needed to survive when a pandemic reduces the world’s population to a small, doughty band of survivors. I am not confident I possess these skills.


I wrote...

The Health of Strangers

By Lesley Kelly,

Book cover of The Health of Strangers

What is my book about?

The Health of Strangers is the first book in a series of crime thrillers set in Edinburgh, against the background of a (fictional) pandemic. Written pre-Covid, the books accurately predict many of the civil liberties issues we’ve grappled with during the coronavirus crisis. The Health of Strangers introduces Mona and Bernard of the North Edinburgh Health Enforcement Team, who hunt you down if you miss your monthly compulsory health check.

Hampered by public indifference and limited resources, the team deals with corrupt politicians, religious cults, and illegal raves, and tries very, very, hard not to end up dead. 

As Bright as Heaven

By Susan Meissner,

Book cover of As Bright as Heaven

Alright, alright, alright, I get it: no one wants to read a pandemic book. Not here, not now. But Meissner’s novel, set in Philadelphia during the 1918 Spanish Flu, is a surprisingly uplifting tale. In addition to sisters, we also get to experience the time from the viewpoint of the girls’ mother. It’s a beautiful, resonating story that reminded me of the tricky balance that always exists—pandemic or no—between mitigating risk and living life to its fullest. 

As Bright as Heaven

By Susan Meissner,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked As Bright as Heaven as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the acclaimed author of The Last Year of the War comes a novel set during the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, telling the story of a family reborn through loss and love.

In 1918, Philadelphia was a city teeming with promise. Even as its young men went off to fight in the Great War, there were opportunities for a fresh start on its cobblestone streets. Into this bustling town, came Pauline Bright and her husband, filled with hope that they could now give their three daughters—Evelyn, Maggie, and Willa—a chance at a better life.

But just months after they…

Who am I?

I’ve always been a lover of all things history, so it’s no surprise I gravitated to the world of historical fiction for my profession. What moves me the most is how, across time periods and culture, the bonds of family (more specifically sisters), remain one of the most enduring and poignant themes with which almost all can identify. Growing up, my relationship with my own sister was complex and difficult. However, now that we are grown, I can fully appreciate just how much my connection with her shaped—and continues to shape—the person I am. Exploring family ties in literature (both writing and reading) is one way in which I celebrate our common humanity. 


I wrote...

If It Rains

By Jennifer L. Wright,

Book cover of If It Rains

What is my book about?

It’s 1935 in Oklahoma, and lives are determined by the dust. Fourteen-year-old Kathryn Baile is a spitfire born with a severe clubfoot. Once her beloved older sister marries, Kathryn’s only comfort comes from her favorite book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Then Kathryn’s father decides to relocate to Indianapolis, and only the promise of surgery to finally make her “normal” convinces Kathryn to leave Oklahoma behind.

Back in Boise City, Melissa Baile Mayfield is the newest member of the wealthiest family in all of Cimarron County. In spite of her poor, rural upbringing, Melissa has just married the town’s most eligible bachelor and is determined to be everything her husband—and her new social class—expects her to be. Melissa secretly defies her husband, risking her life to follow God’s leading.

Pale Horse, Pale Rider

By Katherine Anne Porter,

Book cover of Pale Horse, Pale Rider: Three Short Novels: A Library of America eBook Classic

During the flu pandemic of 1918, the author, Katherine Anne Porter, became deathly ill but recovered. Published over twenty years later, Pale Horse, Pale Rider is her fictionalized account about falling in love with a soldier during the war, then fighting to survive the influenza outbreak. I love that Porter drew from her own experience to write this short novel. (She disliked the term novella.) Pale Horse, Pale Rider is a beautifully written story about a devastating disease.

Pale Horse, Pale Rider

By Katherine Anne Porter,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Pale Horse, Pale Rider as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The classic 1939 collection of 3 novellas by the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winning author and journalist, including the famous title story set during the influenza epidemic of 1918

In Noon Wine? a family struggling to live on a farm in Texas is saved by the unexpected arrival of a mysterious stranger—only to have their world upended again by the arrival, nine years later, of a second stranger. The three parts of Old Mortality introduce the teenager Miranda and chronicle her journey of self-discovery, as she gradually realizes her family’s romantic nostalgia for her absent uncle and late…

Who am I?

I'm the author of short stories and novels including my young adult debut, Pandemic, which continues to be a timely read about surviving a widespread deadly virus. After the H1N1 pandemic of 2009 (commonly called Swine Flu), I was fascinated with the idea of a global illness that could be much, much worse. I researched historical diseases, interviewed public health officials, and the idea for my novel was born. Written and published before COVID-19, some of the details are eerily predictive of coronavirus. Pandemic won SCBWI’s Crystal Kite Award the year after its publication, and a June 2022 reissue of the original novel includes updated resources and backmatter.


I wrote...

Pandemic

By Yvonne Ventresca,

Book cover of Pandemic

What is my book about?

Only a few people know what caused Lilianna Snyder's sudden change from a model student to a withdrawn pessimist who worries about all kinds of disasters. After her parents are called away on business, Lil’s town is hit by what soon becomes a widespread fatal illness. With her worst fears realized, Lil must find a way to survive not only the outbreak and its real-life consequences, but her own personal demons.

The War Nurse

By Tracey Enerson Wood,

Book cover of The War Nurse

Based on a real-life WWI nurse, this novel is about Julia Stimson who supervised dozens of British nurses in Rouen, France. Horrific battle injuries and a deadly influenza that infiltrates their camp put Julia to the test, all while she tries to advocate for her nursing staff and navigate the egos of some of the male doctors. But when one doctor falls for her, she must decide how this relationship squares with her career aspirations. This book is a wonderful way to learn about this amazing woman who wants to put her career first.

The War Nurse

By Tracey Enerson Wood,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The War Nurse as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Any readers who enjoyed the mix of romance, intrigue, and medical accuracy of Call the Midwife will love The War Nurse."-New York Journal of Books
"[An] impeccably researched, well-drawn, based-on-a-true-story tale, written by a former RN...The War Nurse shines an important light on a woman whose story was, until now, lost to time."-Kristin Harmel, New York Times bestselling author of The Book of Lost Names
Based on a true story, The War Nurse is a sweeping historical novel by USA Today bestselling author Tracey Enerson Wood that takes readers on an unforgettable journey through WWI France.
She asked dozens of…


Who am I?

My mother went back to school for her PhD in Anatomy when I was a pre-teen. During the summers of my high school years I worked with her in her lab, and let me tell you, you see your mother in a new light when you see her dissect a rat. Though I didn’t go into medicine, anyone raised in our household learned an impressive amount of biology just sitting around the dinner table. Consequently, I’ve always loved fiction with a medical bent. My mother was also the one to introduce me to historical fiction, so perhaps I was fated to write a historical novel with a nurse protagonist.


I wrote...

The Sharp Edge of Mercy

By Connie Hertzberg Mayo,

Book cover of The Sharp Edge of Mercy

What is my book about?

Lillian Dolan is optimistic about her new job at the New York Cancer Hospital after dreaming for years of becoming a nurse. But she struggles to fit in, so when the confident surgeon Dr. Bauer takes a shine to Lillian, she is thrilled to be noticed.

Lillian has been warned not to get too close to the patients, but Mrs. Sokolova draws her in. When Mrs. Sokolova’s situation becomes dire, however, she puts Lillian in an impossible situation – all while the young nurse slowly loses control of her relationship with Dr. Bauer. Her decision to help her patient throws her life into chaos, and she must make a terrible choice: capitulate to Dr. Bauer’s demands or face possible arrest.

Life After Life

By Kate Atkinson,

Book cover of Life After Life

This story is about an upper-middle-class English family who is caught up in the events of WW2. The domestic details are fascinating including the kinds of puddings served. (I love puddings). Where this story differs is that Ursula, the heroine, has to keep reliving parts of her life until she ‘gets it right’. I could not stop thinking about Ursula for a long time. I was so impressed by how the story did not follow any normal pattern but demonstrated the power and flexibility wielded by the author. Kate Atkinson also attached a Pinterest page to her website. The visuals made a huge impact upon me so I added a Pinterest page to my stories.  

Life After Life

By Kate Atkinson,

Why should I read it?

11 authors picked Life After Life as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

What if you could live again and again, until you got it right?

On a cold and snowy night in 1910, Ursula Todd is born to an English banker and his wife. She dies before she can draw her first breath. On that same cold and snowy night, Ursula Todd is born, lets out a lusty wail, and embarks upon a life that will be, to say the least, unusual. For as she grows, she also dies, repeatedly, in a variety of ways, while the young century marches on towards its second cataclysmic world war.

Does Ursula's apparently infinite number…

Who am I?

I enjoy moving through time to visit places in different eras. How people lived in the past fascinates me. I am interested in us, the people on the ground floor, not kings and queens. My characters have travelled to medieval Yorkshire, followed the trail of Vikings, hid from Romans in Northern Britannia and soon will visit London in 1600. Because I love the concept of magic, my main characters are witches. Two cats in my stories are mind readers; a helpful skill when solving mysteries.


I wrote...

All the World's a Stage

By Maureen Thorpe,

Book cover of All the World's a Stage

What is my book about?

In All the World’s a Stage. Annie and her time-travelling friends take a vacation in 17th-century London to see the famous Globe theatre. London is bursting at the seams with the privileged, the poor and the rogues. A bag of silver coins brought by the time-travellers to purchase food and board becomes a sought-after prize from people who will stop at nothing to seize the bounty. In constant danger, Annie and her friends must create ingenious and wily scenarios along with a famous playwright to bring the London gangs to justice. 

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