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

Catharine Arnold. St. Martin’s, $27.99 (368p) ISBN 978-1-250-13943-6
Arnold’s grim compilation of accounts of the Spanish flu that killed upwards of 100 million people in 1918–19 vividly evokes the tragedy. Starting with a potential “Patient Zero,” Pvt. Harry Underdown, Arnold tracks the relentless march of the virus across the globe. It struck healthy young men and women in an “innocuous” first wave in the early spring of 1918; this was followed by a stunningly virulent second wave in the fall, its spread aided by mass WWI troop gatherings and movements. Katherine Anne Porter and Thomas Wolfe wrote of the destruction in fiction; New Yorker editor William Maxwell bemoaned the death of his mother and newborn sibling as a time when “there was a sadness which had not existed before”; the horrified commander of a sickened regiment aboard a troop ship heading for France called the illness “a true inferno” that “reigned supreme.” Arnold recounts how the flu devastated Philadelphia, where more than 7,000 died in two weeks of October 1918, creating a shortage of undertakers and caskets. “There were no medicines, no doctors, nothing people could do to heal themselves,” one desperate survivor recalled. This well-researched and often overwhelming history serves as a stark warning of the threat of pandemic flu. Agent: Andrew Lownie, Andrew Lownie Literary. (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 07/02/2018
Release date: 08/28/2018
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