(K. Brent Tomer),
Pale Rider: The Spanish Flu of 1918 and How it Changed the World. By Laura Spinney. Jonathan Cape; 282 pages; £20. To be published in America by PublicAffairs in September; $28.
BY EARLY 1920, nearly two years after the end of the first world war and the first outbreak of Spanish flu, the disease had killed as many as 100m people— more than both world wars combined. Yet few would name it as the biggest disaster of the 20th century. Some call it the “forgotten flu”. Almost a century on, “Pale Rider”, a scientific and historic account of Spanish flu, addresses this collective amnesia.
Influenza, like all viruses, is a parasite. Laura Spinney traces its long shadow over human history; records are patchy and uncertain, but Hippocrates’s “Cough of Perinthus” in 412BC may be its first written description. Influenza-shaped footprints can be traced down the centuries: the epidemic that struck during Rome’s siege of Syracuse in 212BC; the…Continue reading