The Sassoon Family’s Rags-to-Riches-to-Rags Story

(p. 8) The rise and fall of the Sassoon family, who, at their height, traded in opium, tea, silk and jewels, is charted in delectable detail in “The Sassoons: The Great Global Merchants and the Making of an Empire,” by the historian Joseph Sassoon, a distant relative who seems just as pleased as anyone unrelated might be to uncover the grit and gains of a tribe of fascinating figures.

. . .

Rags-to-riches stories may all be the same, but it’s the way in which a fortune is lost that’s truly compelling. Sassoon’s detailed account of the decentralization of family power and the proliferation of descendants interested in spending but not making money is well paced and supremely satisfying. An observer of the clan notes that “nothing suppresses an appetite for commerce more than a diet of gentlemanly pursuits,” and readers are treated through the second half of the book to a slow-motion sputtering out of David Sassoon’s great machine. You find yourself feeling for them: While masters of the universe inspire little sympathy, knowing from the first page that this empire has crumbled allows you to mourn the sunset of a particular kind of existence, even as a part of you revels in it.

For the full review, see:

Adam Rathe. “BOOKSHELF; Dynasty.” The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, November 6, 2022): 8.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review was updated Oct. 25, 2022, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; The Rise and Fall of a Great Dynasty.”)

The book under review is:

Sassoon, Joseph. The Sassoons: The Great Global Merchants and the Making of an Empire. New York: Pantheon, 2022.

President Grover Cleveland Stuck with His Free Market Principles

(p. C7) Troy Senik, a former White House speechwriter, has written “A Man of Iron: The Turbulent Life and Improbable Presidency of Grover Cleveland” to rescue his subject from obscurity.

. . .

Mr. Senik says that Cleveland should be remembered as “one of our greatest presidents.”

. . .

He entered the White House favoring tariff cuts, the gold standard, limited government and the expansion of the civil service to reduce the power of patronage bosses. When he retired 12 years later, his principles were the same. He vetoed more bills in his first term than all 21 of his predecessors combined.

. . .

(p. C9) When Texas suffered a drought, he vetoed a bill to provide seeds to farmers, warily explaining: “Federal aid in such cases encourages the expectation of paternal care . . . and weakens the sturdiness of our national character.”

. . .

After triumphing in his first White House bid he declared, “Henceforth I must have no friends,” a rather monkish notion of virtue and a fitting template for how he governed. At the end of that term, he was advised not to push for tariff reform before his re-election but ignored the advice, observing: “What is the use of being elected or reelected unless you stand for something?”

“A Man of Iron” is a tribute to an incorruptible man, a rare politician who rose above partisanship.

For the full review, see:

Roger Lowenstein. “Oddly, Both Principled And President.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022): C7 & C9.

(Note: ellipses between paragraphs added; ellipsis within paragraph, in original. Bracketed word also added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date September 16, 2022, and has the title “‘A Man of Iron’ Review: Grover Cleveland, Honest to a Fault.”)

The book under review is:

Senik, Troy. A Man of Iron: The Turbulent Life and Improbable Presidency of Grover Cleveland. New York: Threshold Editions, 2022.

Gun Inventors Were “Inveterate Tinkerers”

(p. A17) Whenever I hear the name Smith & Wesson, I think of the scene in the film “Sudden Impact” when Clint Eastwood’s Inspector Harry Callahan confronts a group of would-be robbers. “We’re not just gonna let you walk out of here,” Callahan tells them. When one of the crooks asks, “Who’s we, sucker?” Callahan responds, in classic Dirty Harry fashion: “Smith, and Wesson, and me.”

In “Gun Barons: The Weapons That Transformed America and the Men Who Invented Them,” John Bainbridge Jr. chronicles the rise of America’s greatest gunmakers—among them Colt, Remington, Winchester and, yes, Smith and Wesson. Many of these American armorers began as inveterate tinkerers in small workshops along the Connecticut River during the mid-19th century, in a region that could be called early industrial America’s fertile crescent. While some of these inventors were focused on rifles and others on handguns, they all shared the same goal: to design a repeating firearm and a reliable, waterproof cartridge containing bullet, gunpowder and ignition device, making it possible to fire shot after shot without needing to reload.

. . .

. . . there was the Volition Repeater, invented in 1847 by Walter Hunt, the creator of the household safety pin. Hunt’s rifle, in theory, could be loaded with up to a dozen cartridges underneath its long barrel. But the complex loading mechanism “never worked quite right,” so Hunt sold his patent and left it to others to perfect his idea. “With this would-be firearm, Walter Hunt had made the nation’s future but not his own,” Mr. Bainbridge tells us. “Among those who benefited from Walter Hunt’s genius were Oliver Winchester, Horace Smith, and Daniel Baird Wesson. None of these gun barons possessed the broadly inventive mind of Walter Hunt, yet all would eclipse Hunt while taking advantage of his pioneering work in weaponry.”

For the full review, see:

Mark Yost. “BOOKSHELF; Repeat Inventors.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, May 19, 2022): A17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the essay has the date May 18, 2022, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘Gun Barons’ Review: Repeat Inventors.”)

The book under review is:

Bainbridge, John, Jr. Gun Barons: The Weapons That Transformed America and the Men Who Invented Them. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2022.

Freedom of Speech Matters “Above All Liberties”

(p. C14) Today, Milton is best known for “Paradise Lost.” Long before writing that epic poem about the fall of man, however, he was a polemicist who participated in the political controversies of his day.

. . .

A bill in Parliament demanded that printers receive government approval for their publications, in part to guard against the supposed heresies of Milton and his fellow authors. For Milton, this licensing scheme was an illiberal outrage—and he said so in “Areopagitica,” which is now widely regarded as the world’s first important essay in defense of free speech.

The 1644 treatise takes its peculiar name from the Areopagus, a rocky mount just below the Acropolis in Athens. The ancient Greeks gathered there for debates and trials. It’s also the site of Paul’s sermon in Acts 17. Milton presented his essay in the form of a speech, though he never delivered it. That’s probably just as well: At nearly 18,000 words, it would have taken about three hours.

“Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties,” wrote Milton, in a line that has echoed across centuries.

. . .

A minor curiosity of “Areopagitica” is Milton’s brief mention of visiting “the famous Galileo grown old, a prisner to the Inquisition, for thinking in Astronomy otherwise then the Franciscan and Dominican licencers thought.” This is the only record of a meeting between the era’s greatest scribe and its greatest scientist, and it would have happened when Milton traveled to Italy in 1638.

For the full review, see:

John J. Miller. “MASTERPIECE; A Ringing Defense of Free Speech.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, May 07, 2022): C14.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 6, 2022, and has the same title as the print version.)

A recent edition of Milton’s book is:

Milton, John. Areopagitica and Other Writings. New York: Penguin, 2016.

When Defenders of Free Speech Gain Power, They Often Succumb to “Milton’s Curse”

(p. A17) A typical account of free-speech history will begin with John Milton’s 1644 attack on censorship, “Areopagitica.” To those who feared the publication of false and dangerous doctrines, Milton said, in essence, buck up: “Who ever knew Truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter?” A typical account will then note that Milton went on to write “Paradise Lost”: A great poet and a great defense of free speech make an appealing pair. What probably won’t be mentioned is that Milton, who wrote “Areopagitica” early in the English Civil War, served the victors as, among other things, a censor and propagandist. That’s not so appealing, particularly if we know that other, forgotten, champions of free speech, like the radical democrat John Lilburne, were imprisoned under the regime Milton supported.

In “Free Speech: A History From Socrates to Social Media,” Jacob Mchangama delivers the bad news about Milton. Indeed, a recurring theme in this expansive, atypical history is “Milton’s Curse,” a disease that afflicts defenders of free speech when they are exposed to power.

. . .

“Free Speech” is addressed especially to the well-meaning among would-be censors. They should know how rarely censorship goes as planned. Consider Russia, which early in the 19th century organized more than a dozen censorship units that “placed almost comically strict limits on what could be published and imported.” A cookbook that referred to “free air” in an oven was deemed subversive, but Marx’s “Capital,” later in the century, slipped the czar’s net. Hardly anyone, the censors reasoned, would read such a “colossal mass of abstruse, somewhat obscure politico-economic argumentation.”

. . .

. . ., Mr. Mchangama alerts well-meaning censors who wish to curtail only “hate speech” that illiberal governments have hidden behind that same wish. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1966, says that “advocacy of national, racial, or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law.” This provision—which can easily be abused to “justify [the] persecution of opinions” that a government doesn’t like, as Mr. Mchangama says—was a win for the longtime Soviet position. In 1989, when Libyan and Iranian delegates condemned Salman Rushdie’s “Satanic Verses” at the U.N., they invoked the standard of the 1966 covenant. “The real criminal,” Mr. Mchangama notes, “was Rushdie, not those who sought to kill him.”

For the full review, see:

Jonathan Marks. “BOOKSHELF; How Dare You Say Such Things.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, Feb. 10, 2022): A17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date February 9, 2022, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘Free Speech’ Review: How Dare You Say Such Things.”)

The book under review is:

Mchangama, Jacob. Free Speech: A History from Socrates to Social Media. New York: Basic Books, 2022.

Spreading Smallpox Inoculation to Impress Voltaire

(p. A15) Dimsdale had been summoned by Catherine the Great to inoculate not only the empress herself but also her 13-year-old heir, the Grand Duke Paul.

. . .

As Lucy Ward dramatically relates in “The Empress and the English Doctor: How Catherine the Great Defied a Deadly Virus,” Catherine’s invitation was a high-stakes affair, a testament to Dimsdale’s writings on the methodology of smallpox inoculation and his reputation for solicitous care. His Quaker upbringing had encouraged a brand of outcome- rather than ego-led practice.

. . .

As devastating as smallpox was, for the empress herself and the grand duke who would succeed her to personally undergo inoculation was a risk to both patient and doctor. On the success side stood immunity from the disease, an almost holy example for Catherine’s people, and as-yet-untold riches for her nervous doctor. On the other side, not only the fact that all Russia would refuse the treatment if their “Little Mother” died, but also a disaster for Dimsdale and the son who had accompanied him. Geopolitics came into play too—if things went wrong, some would interpret it as a foreign assassination.

. . .

With a happy result for her and her less-robust son, Catherine sets about publicizing the success. Dimsdale receives the equivalent of more than $20 million and a barony. Bronze medals are cast of Catherine’s profile, reading “She herself set an example.” It helps that Catherine was competitive beyond reason: “we have inoculated more people in a month than were inoculated in Vienna in eight,” she wrote to Voltaire, determined to beat Empress Maria Theresa’s efforts.

For the full review, see:

Catherine Ostler. “BOOKSHELF; Inoculate Conception.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, June 23, 2022): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review was updated June 22, 2022, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘The Empress and the English Doctor’ Review: Inoculate Conception.”)

The book under review is:

Ward, Lucy. The Empress and the English Doctor: How Catherine the Great Defied a Deadly Virus. London, UK: Oneworld Publications, 2022.

Which Country’s National Anthem Ends by Questioning Its Citizens’ Bravery and Freedom?

(p. 9) Mark Clague knows everything about “The Star-Spangled Banner,” . . . .

. . .

The lyrics were composed by the lawyer, politician and amateur poet Francis Scott Key while held prisoner by the British in Baltimore Harbor during the War of 1812.

. . .

Clague even creates a detailed military map of the engagement to demonstrate how “perilous” that fight really was. The first verse, the only one now sung, ends, as every child knows, with a question:

“Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave/O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave?”

In the complete version, Key details his relief at finally seeing the flag, and rejoices in the promise of future victories. But those three verses are rarely sung, and leaving the question unanswered might be the secret to the song’s hold on the American public. It is not an anthem that, like “La Marseillaise,” calls for our enemy’s “impure blood to water our fields.” Rather, it’s a song for a country that is still in the fight, for its existence and its ideals, and it offers an invitation to any and all — the “you” of the first line — . . .

. . .

. . ., Clague has no patience for anyone who demands . . . reverence from others, . . . . But he reveres the anthem itself, and he makes the strongest case for the song in his detailed analysis of what he calls its most successful modern rendition, Whitney Houston’s performance at the 1991 Super Bowl.

Houston’s version, though, is transformed by artistry and personality and musical genius. She has changed the time signature to 4/4, and imbues the melody with the ornamentation of jazz, blues and, most important, gospel. By the time she gets that highest “FREEEE” she not only reaches but goes above it, expressing ownership of the word and the gesture. While the lyrics may remain as written, the meaning of a crucial word in the first line — “you” — has been wrenched from past to present to be addressed, at last, to all of us.

So: Does that star-spangled banner yet wave o’er the land of the free and home of the brave? Not yet, perhaps. But listening to a descendant of the enslaved claiming the song of a slaver, you want to believe it someday might.

For the full review, see:

Peter Sagal. “High Notes.” The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, July 3, 2022): 9.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review was updated June 22, 2022, and has the title “Our Flag Was Still There.”)

The book under review is:

Clague, Mark. O Say Can You Hear?: A Cultural Biography of “the Star-Spangled Banner”. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2022.

Africans Sometimes Sold Other Africans Into Slavery

(p. C1) Records from the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, directed by historian David Eltis at Emory University, show that the majority of captives brought to the U.S. came from Senegal, Gambia, Congo and eastern Nigeria. Europeans oversaw this brutal traffic in human cargo, but they had many local collaborators. “The organization of the slave trade was structured to have the Europeans stay along the coast lines, relying on African middlemen and merchants to bring the slaves to them,” said Toyin Falola, a Nigerian professor of African studies at the University of Texas at Austin. “The Europeans couldn’t have gone into the interior to get the slaves themselves.”

The anguished debate over slavery in the U.S. is often silent on the role (p. C2) that Africans played. That silence is echoed in many African countries, where there is hardly any national discussion or acknowledgment of the issue. From nursery school through university in Nigeria, I was taught about great African cultures and conquerors of times past but not about African involvement in the slave trade. In an attempt to reclaim some of the dignity that we lost during colonialism, Africans have tended to magnify stories of a glorious past of rich traditions and brave achievement.

But there are other, less discussed chapters of our history. When I was growing up, my father Chukwuma Nwaubani spoke glowingly of my great-grandfather, Nwaubani Ogogo Oriaku, a chief among our Igbo ethnic group who sold slaves in the 19th century. “He was respected by everyone around,” he said. “Even the white people respected him.” From the 16th to the 19th centuries, an estimated 1.4 million Igbo people were transported across the Atlantic as slaves.

Some families have chosen to hide similar histories. “We speak of it in whispers,” said Yunus Mohammed Rafiq, a 44-year-old professor of anthropology from Tanzania who now teaches at New York University’s center in Shanghai. In the 19th century, Mr. Rafiq’s great-great-great-grandfather, Mwarukere, from the Segeju ethnic group, raided villages in Tanzania’s hinterland, sold the majority of his captives to the Arab merchants who supplied Europeans and kept the rest as laborers on his own coconut plantations. Although Mr. Rafiq’s relatives speak of Mwarukere with pride, they expunged his name from family documents sometime in the 1960s, shortly after Tanzania gained independence from British colonial rule, when it was especially sensitive to remind Africans of their role in enslaving one another.

. . .

The Zambian pastor Saidi Francis Chishimba also feels the need to go public with his family’s history. “In Zambia, in a sense, it is a forgotten history,” said the 45-year-old. “But it is a reality to which history still holds us accountable.” Mr. Chishimba’s grandfather, Ali Saidi Muluwe Wansimba, was from a tribe of slave traders of the Bemba kingdom, who moved from Zanzibar to establish slave markets in Zambia. He grew up hearing this history narrated with great pride by his relatives.

In 2011, he decided to see the place of his ancestor’s origin and traveled with his wife to Zanzibar, an island off the coast of Tanzania. As they toured a memorial in what used to be one of the world’s largest slave markets, the photos of limbs amputated from runaway slaves and the airless chambers that once held dozens of slaves at a time shocked him into silence. “It brought a saddening in my heart that my own family lines were involved in this treatment,” he said. “It was so painful to think about.”

. . .

(p. C3) . . ., my father does not believe that the descendants of those who took part in the slave trade should now pay for those wrongs. As he points out, buying and selling human beings had been part of many African cultures, as a form of serfdom, long before the first white people landed on our shores. And though many families still retain the respect and influence accrued by their slave-trading ancestors, the direct material gains have petered out over time. “If anyone asks me for reparations,” he said sarcastically, “I will tell them to follow me to my backyard so that I can pluck some money from the tree there and give it to them.”

Mr. Chishimba takes a similar view. “Slavery was wrong, but do I carry upon my shoulders the sins of my forefathers so that I should go around saying sorry? I don’t think so,” he said. Mr. Duke doesn’t believe that Africans should play much of a part in the American reparations conversation, because the injustices the descendants of slaves suffer stem primarily from their maltreatment and deprivation in the U.S. “The Africans didn’t see anything wrong with slavery,” he said. “Even if the white man wasn’t there, they would still use these people as their domestics. However, because the white man was now involved and fortunes were being made . . . that was when the criminality came in.”

For the full essay, see:

Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani. “THE SATURDAY ESSAY; When the Slave Traders Were African.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, September 20, 2019): C1-C3.

(Note: ellipsis within the last quoted paragraph was in the original; other ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the essay was updated Sept. 20, 2019, and has the same title as the print version.)

Ronald Reagan, a Cuban, a Mormon, Me, and the Deauville

I recently ran across a front-page story in the New York Times about the disrepair, and likely demolition, of Miami’s famous Deauville Hotel. It brought back memories.

Toastmasters International was going to have its annual convention in Miami immediately following the Republican Convention there in 1968. My father was an officer of Toastmasters, eventually the international president. We went down early since a friend of my father was able to get us tickets to a day of the Republican Convention. We heard a speech by Senator Everett Dirksen of Illinois, a well-known orator.

My father was supporting Richard Nixon. In an act of minor rebellion, at age 16 I asked him if I could go to the Ronald Reagan headquarters at the Deauville Hotel and volunteer for a day. He said OK.

I reported to the head of Youth for Reagan, Dan Manion. My first job was to attend a rally to greet Reagan’s arrival at the Deauville. I remember Reagan smiling and waving as he exited his limo, while we chanted: “Give a yell, give a cheer, Ron-ald Rea-gan is here!”

For most of the day, Manion assigned me to work with a Cuban and a Mormon to haul cases of cheap wine from somewhere in Miami to the California delegation at the Deauville. (The Cuban had a pickup truck.) We were a diverse trio. I do not remember the details of our conversation, but I remember its warmth and camaraderie.

Reagan lost the nomination to Nixon, but he did not give up, and we did not give up either.

Over half a century later, I still smile when I remember that day. Dan Manion became a federal judge; I talked with him at my father’s funeral in April 2000. I never saw the Cuban or the Mormon again, and would not recognize them if I ran into them. But I hope that life has been good to them and that they remember that day as fondly as I do.

The article that I mentioned above on the decline of the Deauville Hotel is:

Patricia Mazzei. “A Historic Miami Beach Hotel Falls Prey to Neglect and Time.” The New York Times (Tuesday, January 19, 2022): A1 & A11.

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Jan. 20, 2022, and has the title “A Grand Miami Beach Hotel, and Its History, Might Be Torn Down.”)

Warren Harding Fostered Economic Growth by Reducing Government

(p. A15) Poor Warren G. Harding, burdened with the distinction of being America’s pre-eminent presidential bottom-dweller. In surveys on White House performance, Harding invariably ranks dead last, with almost no prospect that he will ever climb the rankings as others have done—Dwight D. Eisenhower, for example, or Ulysses S. Grant.

Historians have variously described Harding as “a prime example of incompetence, sloth, and feeble good nature,” “the most inept president” of his century, “lazy,” “a black mark in American history” and “quite the bumbler.” Is this an accurate appraisal? Ryan S. Walters answers with a defiant no. In “The Jazz Age President: Defending Warren G. Harding,” the author even indulges in a few flights of outrage at what he considers the “rumors, lies, smears, and innuendo” that have been “used to wreck” Harding’s reputation.

. . .

When Harding became president in 1921, the nation was struggling through one of its greatest crisis periods, beset by soaring inflation followed by debilitating deflation, bloody racial and labor strife, ominous episodes of domestic terrorism, and the fallout from Woodrow Wilson’s harsh wartime assaults on civil liberties. Harding’s first priority was the economy—the gross national product was down 17%, stock values were cut nearly in half, unemployment was at 12% and farmers were devastated by plunging prices. Harding reduced government spending, slashed individual taxes (the marginal rate had reached a high of 77%), increased tariff rates, and shrank the size and intrusiveness of the federal government.

All this flouted the progressivism that had dominated American politics since Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency of 1901-09. But Harding’s efforts worked, setting in motion a decade of economic expansion unequaled in American history. The economy grew at an average of 7% a year between 1922 and 1927, and the nation’s wealth soared to $103 billion in 1929 from $70 billion in 1921.

. . .

Harding was a man of little intellectual sophistication, with a gentle nature, hardly any pretense and almost no guile—in other words, the kind of man who is often underestimated and easily ridiculed. But he harbored serious convictions and a degree of common sense that served him well.

For the full review, see:

Robert W. Merry. “BOOKSHELF; A President Revisited.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, April 4, 2022): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date April 3, 2022, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘The Jazz Age President’ Review: Correcting the Record.”)

The book under review is:

Walters, Ryan S. The Jazz Age President: Defending Warren G. Harding. Washington, D.C.: Regnery History, 2022.

Johan Hultin Self-Funded Trip to Find 1918 Flu Virus in the Permafrost

(p. B9) Dr. Hultin’s quest to find victims of the 1918 flu was sparked in 1950 by an offhand remark over lunch with a University of Iowa microbiologist, William Hale. Dr. Hale mentioned that there was just one way to figure out what caused the 1918 pandemic: finding victims buried in permafrost and isolating the virus from lungs that might be still frozen and preserved.

Dr. Hultin, a medical student in Sweden who was spending six months at the university, immediately realized that he was uniquely positioned to do just that. The previous summer, he and his first wife, Gunvor, spent weeks assisting a German paleontologist, Otto Geist, on a dig in Alaska. Dr. Geist could help him find villages in areas of permafrost that also had good records of deaths from the 1918 flu.

After persuading the university to provide him with a $10,000 stipend, Dr. Hultin set off for Alaska. It was early June 1951.

. . .

He removed still-frozen lung tissue from the victims, closed the grave and took the tissue back to Iowa, keeping it frozen on dry ice in the passenger compartment of a small plane.

Back in the lab, Dr. Hultin tried to grow the virus by injecting the lung tissue into fertilized chicken eggs — the standard way to grow flu viruses. He was caught up in the excitement of his experiment, he said, and had not thought about the possible danger of introducing a deadly virus into the world.

“I remember the sleepless nights,” he said. “I couldn’t wait for morning to come to charge into my lab and look at the eggs.”

But the virus was not growing.

He tried squirting lung tissue into the nostrils of guinea pigs, white mice and ferrets, but again he failed to revive the virus.

“The virus was dead,” he said.

Dr. Hultin never published his results but bided his time, working as a pathologist in private practice in San Francisco and hoping for another opportunity to resurrect that virus.

His chance came in 1997, when, sitting by a pool on vacation with his wife in Costa Rica, he noticed a paper published in Science by Dr. Jeffery K. Taubenberger, now chief of the viral pathogenesis and evolution section at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

It reported a remarkable discovery. Dr. Taubenberger had searched a federal repository of pathology samples dating to the 1860s and found fragments of the 1918 virus in snippets of lung tissue from two soldiers who had died in that pandemic. The tissue had been removed at autopsy, wrapped in paraffin and stored in the warehouse.

Dr. Hultin immediately wrote to Dr. Taubenberger, telling him about his trip to Alaska. He offered to return to Brevig to see if he could find more flu victims.

“I remember getting that letter and thinking: ‘Gosh. This is really incredible. This is amazing,’” Dr. Taubenberger said in an interview this week. He thought the next step would be to apply for a grant for Dr. Hultin to return to Brevig. If all went well, Dr. Hultin might go back in a year or two.

Dr. Hultin had a different idea.

“I can’t go this week, but maybe I can go next week,” he told Dr. Taubenberger.

He added that he would go alone and pay for the trip himself so that there would be no objections from funding agencies, no delays, no ethics committees and no publicity.

. . .

Using the tissue Dr. Hultin provided, Dr. Taubenberger’s group published a paper that provided the genetic sequence of a crucial gene, hemagglutinin, which the virus had used to enter cells. The group subsequently used that tissue to determine the complete sequence of all eight of the virus’s genes.

. . .

Before results from the study of the Brevig woman’s virus were published, Dr. Hultin asked the villagers if they wanted the village to be identified in a news release and a journal article. They might be besieged by media. “Maybe you won’t like that,” he warned them.

The Brevig residents came to a consensus: Publish the paper and identify the village. Dr. Hultin was listed as a co-author.

For the full obituary, see:

Gina Kolata. “Dr. Johan Hultin, 97, Whose Work Helped Map 1918 Pandemic, Dies.” The New York Times (Friday, January 28, 2022): B9.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary was updated January 28, 2022, and has the title “Johan Hultin, Who Found Frozen Clues to 1918 Virus, Dies at 97.”)

Gina Kolata devotes a chapter to Hultin’s search for the 1918 flu virus in her book:

Kolata, Gina. Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus That Caused It. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc., 1999.