Flu. By Gina Kolata. New York, NY: Touchstone. 1999. pp. 1 to 306. As is summarized on the front cover of the book, Flu by Gina Kolata is a book describing the “Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918”. The book starts out with a quote from a molecular pathologist that definitely grabs the reader’s attention. Kolata continues throughout the first chapter describing the virus as a notorious and mysterious murderer, turning the masses into victims. Kolata’s writing style is very interesting; she seems to be able to turn boring science facts into terminology that is easy enough for the “average joe” to comprehend.
Gina Kolata is not only a well- known reporter for the New York Times, she has a few qualifications that make her the perfect author for this book. In the prologue, Kolata explains that she majored in microbiology in college and even took a course in virology. It is interesting that she picked the topic of the 1918 outbreak of the flu to write a book about since she claimed no teacher or course discussed it throughout her studies.
An interesting characteristic of Kolata’s writing style is how she refers to the pandemic in different ways.
In one example she mentions that it was similar to the biblical plagues that were brought on the people and she was pretty accurate with that analogy. Kolata does a good job on clarifying the significance of the so called plague. She writes of how it killed millions in just a year’s time and also how it affected the victims’ families then and now. It is clear to see why she thinks the topic should be discussed more because it was certainly a time of hardship in our country’s history.
A reader can easily be pulled into the stories of how everyone was reacting to the widespread pandemic. Kolata reveals the heartless reactions by the government in a way that makes the reader feel like they are reading a fiction book instead of a factual book. She tells the story from a normal person’s point of view not the microbiology major that she actually is. It seems that she tries to keep the stories interesting enough so that she maintains the reader’s full attention.
Kolata decided to insert pictures that can be very helpful for the reader to look at to get an idea of how some things actually looked. A few include mass graves, people wearing masks, and microscopic pictures of the virus itself. Something that is confusing about the book is how the chapters are organized. The chapters do not have a defined structure so it may seem like the author is “skipping around” different subjects. They do, however, seem to be organized by different individual stories or by regions of outbreak, but it is not clear because it could also be in chronological order.
It is also very hard to keep up with the names of doctors and scientists that are mentioned. It could also be easy for a reader to get confused when the author starts talking about the Swine Flu outbreak that occurred during the seventies. It is not considered to be useful in the storyline although some may enjoy the extra information. All in all, this book is definitely a good read for anyone who wants to unleash a world more of information about the great influenza pandemic of the year of 1918 and all of the viruses that stemmed from the flu.
Kolata uses science terminology in a way that is easy to understand for most people even if they have no background or experience with science. Kolata does a good job with her extra information at the end of the book and also with her endnotes. It would have been helpful if she had maybe added a few footnotes throughout the book so readers could see useful information at the present times of reading instead of after they finish the entire book. Overall, this book was interesting and anyone could enjoy the way Gina Kolata expresses her fascination with the great influenza spread of 1918.
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