“Pandemic 1918” by Catharine Arnold – a book about the “Spanish Flu” outbreak at the end of WW1

Pandemic 1918 by Catharine Arnold was written before the Coronavirus pandemic and details what happened in the crisis at the end of WW1 Following the advent of what was known as the “Spanish Flu”. Having recently lived through a similar world crisis the parallels were obvious and plentiful and it is sobering when the author concludes that it is unlikely that a similar world pandemic could take hold again – she may wish to revise the text after recent events.

This is a brilliant piece of social history. It outlines the causes and spread of the flu showing how the movement of soldiers and civilians as a result of the war had a major impact on the spread. She then concentrates on different places in the world and tells the stories of its spread there, the effects on that particular location and what happened to certain individuals and families. This makes us understand better the effects of the pandemic especially as it killed very quickly and mostly young and fit people.

This is not a definitive work on the pandemic and as such uses anecdotes and personal stories to illustrate the author’s points rather than graphs and tables. For the general reader like me this makes it more accessible especially as I was listening to this book on audio. I have also read this author’s book Necropolis which told the story of London’s difficulty in burying its dead during the Victorian era and that was written in a similar style and was just as compelling a read.

The fact that we have recently also experienced a pandemic definitely makes this book more topical but it’s worth reading anyway to understand the impact of this amazing event and how it affected real people.

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