(p. A17) The Spanish flu began in the spring of 1918, infected 500 million people, and killed between 50 million and 100 million of them–more than both world wars and the Holocaust combined. Not since the bubonic plague of the mid-14th century–the Black Death–had such a fearsome pestilence devastated mankind.
Spanish-flu patients “would soon be having trouble breathing,” writes Laura Spinney in “Pale Rider,” her gripping account of the pandemic.
. . .
Ms. Spinney is at her best in trying to tease out the real origin of the pandemic. The first suspect was China, where pneumonic plague had erupted on the Manchurian border in 1910. The government, trying to curry favor with the Allies in World War I, had then sent tens of thousands of laborers, many infected, to dig trenches on the Western Front. Another theory put the initial outbreak at the British army’s mobilization base in Étaples in northern France. A third candidate was in the American heartland, at a U.S. Army staging base, Camp Funston in Kansas. The question is unsettled, but plainly the movement of troops in the Great War accelerated the flu’s spread.
. . .
The frantic search for the cause of the pandemic was nightmarish, too. A respected researcher persuaded himself and others that he had found the bacillus, and he persisted even though autopsies rarely turned up his pet suspect in the tissues of the dead. The microbe hunters couldn’t find their quarry because it slipped through the ultrafine strainers they tried to catch it with, and it was invisible to their microscopes. It was what the French bacteriologist Émile Roux called an “être de raison,” an organism whose existence could be deduced only from its effects. Eventually a virus–1/20th the size of a bacillus–was identified as the culprit. It was not actually seen until decades later with the invention of the electron microscope.
For the full review, see:
Edward Kosner. “BOOKSHELF; A World Of Sickness; The Spanish flu of 1918-19 infected 500 million people, killing between 50 and 100 million. Its cause was discovered only decades later.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, Dec. 11, 2017): A17.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date Dec. 10, 2017, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; Review: A World of Sickness; The Spanish flu of 1918-19 infected 500 million people, killing between 50 and 100 million. Its cause was discovered only decades later.”)
The book under review, is:
Spinney, Laura. Pale Rider: The Spanish Flu of 1918 and How It Changed the World. New York: PublicAffairs, 2017.