Very, Very, Very Dreadful: The Influenza Pandemic of 1918 by Albert Marrin. January 9, 2018. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 208 p. ISBN: 9781101931479. Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 1040.
From National Book Award finalist Albert Marrin comes a fascinating look at the history and science of the deadly 1918 flu pandemic–and the chances for another worldwide pandemic.
In spring of 1918, World War I was underway, and troops at Fort Riley, Kansas, found themselves felled by influenza. By the summer of 1918, the second wave struck as a highly contagious and lethal epidemic and within weeks exploded into a pandemic, an illness that travels rapidly from one continent to another. It would impact the course of the war, and kill many millions more soldiers than warfare itself.
Of all diseases, the 1918 flu was by far the worst that has ever afflicted humankind; not even the Black Death of the Middle Ages comes close in terms of the number of lives it took. No war, no natural disaster, no famine has claimed so many. In the space of eighteen months in 1918-1919, about 500 million people–one-third of the global population at the time–came down with influenza. The exact total of lives lost will never be known, but the best estimate is between 50 and 100 million.
In this powerful book, filled with black and white photographs, nonfiction master Albert Marrin examines the history, science, and impact of this great scourge–and the possibility for another worldwide pandemic today.
Potentially Sensitive Areas: War, Violence
Booklist starred (October 15, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 4))
Grades 9-12. Acclaimed for incisive explorations of America’s bleakest moments, from the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire (Flesh & Blood So Cheap, 2011) to WWII-era Japanese internment camps (Uprooted, 2016), Marrin homes in on the “most deadly disease event in the history of humanity.” Raging from early 1918 to mid-1920, the influenza pandemic, aptly dubbed the “devil virus,” crescendoed in three lethal waves, spanned continents, and claimed an estimated 50- to 100-million lives worldwide. In six riveting chapters, Marrin examines the virus’s precursors, including past plagues and prior medical breakthroughs, its aftermath, and its festering backdrop—the congested trenches and training camps of WWI. While the pandemic’s scope is broad and undiscerning, Marrin’s approach is the opposite. With razor-sharp precision, he carefully presents genetic mutations, coffin shortages, the disease’s devastating grip on colonized Africa, the direct correlation between women working as nurses and the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, and much more. Marrin’s conclusion, too, pulls no punches; after all, when it comes to future pandemics, it’s not a matter of if one will occur, but when. Fusing hard science and “jump-rope rhymes,” first-person accounts and crystalline prose, cold reason and breathtaking sensitivity, Marrin crafts an impeccably researched, masterfully told, and downright infectious account—complete with lurid black-and-white photos throughout. This is nonfiction at its best.
Kirkus Reviews (October 15, 2017)
A comprehensive history of the influenza pandemic of 1918, the worst global killer that humankind has experienced. Historian Marrin (Uprooted, 2016, etc.) begins four years earlier, at the beginning of World War I. Liberally referencing research, partial statistics, diaries, medical records, newspaper articles, art, photographs, poetry, song, and literature, Marrin works to give an accurate depiction of the circumstances and ill-timed incidents that led to the global catastrophe, which killed at least three times as many people as the war worldwide. The author does not neglect the squalor around the globe: ill soldiers in trenches and overcrowded barracks, suffering families, orphaned children, hunger and undernourishment, and deaths so numerous that bodies are stacked upon bodies. Marrin reveals how scientists and doctors knew little about influenza a century ago, as surgeons and physicians didn’t practice routine hygiene or quarantine and were often rendered helpless; in fact, he argues (albeit briefly) that nurses turned out to be most useful against influenza, for they provided supportive care. He then brings the eye-opening narrative to the present, detailing the search for the origins of influenza; recent scientific breakthroughs; the emergence of the H5N1 strain; and how, without intending to, scientists have brought the virus to a risky, imminent pandemic. Not one to shy away from unnerving details, Marrin relays what researchers and scientist express today: another influenza pandemic will unquestionably strike again. (notes, bibliography, further reading, picture credits, index) (Nonfiction. 12-18)
About the Author
Albert Marrin is an award winning author of over 40 books for young adults and young readers and four books of scholarship. These writings were motivated by the fact that as a teacher, first in a junior high school in New York City for nine years and then as professor of history and chairman of the history department at Yeshiva University until he retired to become a full time writer, his paramount interest has always been to make history come alive and accessible for young people.
Winner of the 2008 National Endowment for Humanities Medal for his work, which was presented at the White House, was given “for opening young minds to the glorious pageant of history. His books have made the lessons of the past come alive with rich detail and energy for a new generation.”
His website is www.albertmarrin.com.
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