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The Devil's Flu: The World's Deadliest Influenza Epidemic and the Scientific Hunt for the Virus That Caused It Paperback – October 15, 2000
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Originally published in England in 1999 as Catching Cold, this edition has the bad luck of competing with two similar American publications, Lynette Iezzoni's Influenza 1918: The Worst Epidemic in American History (LJ 6/15/99) and Gina Kolata's Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus That Caused It (LJ 11/15/99). Davies, who has written on subjects as diverse as hurricanes, British politics, and soccer, here covers much the same territory as Kolata. He recounts the horrors of the worldwide 1918 epidemic; the efforts at identifying the virus strain, which led to the exhumation of long-frozen corpses in Alaska and Norway; and the 1997 outbreak of a deadly flu mutation in Hong Kong in which 1.6 million chickens and other birds were sacrificed to avert what seemed to be an emerging epidemic. Although Davies writes with the flair of a talented journalist, Kolata, science reporter for the New York Times, is more authoritative, while Iezzoni focuses primarily on the American influenza story. Libraries that have purchased Kolata's book will find The Devil's Flu an optional purchase.AKathy Arsenault, Univ. of South Florida, St. Petersburg
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Davies' book, published in Britain last year as Catching Cold , doesn't mention Gina Kolata's Flu [BKL N 1 99], though it covers much of the same ground, albeit differently. Davies devotes substantial space to Kirsty Duncan's expedition to Spitsbergen in 1998 to dig up the coffins of seven miners, victims of the 1918 flu, to see whether the virus was still present in them. Davies was on hand for much of the subsequent scientific failure and stonewalling. His descriptions of Duncan, John Oxford, and the other expedition members enliven his book in a way that Kolata's later interviews in the U.S and Europe don't quite match. Both authors cover the swine flu debacle in 1976, the 1998 Hong Kong flu, and such major players as Taubenberger, Hultin, Webster, and Laver. Both discuss work on vaccines and the possibilities of a successful one, and both agree that another flu pandemic is in the wings. Given the fame of their topic, many libraries will have no trouble accommodating both books. William Beatty
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Top Customer Reviews
So far, the virus is spread primarily by direct contact with bird blood or droppings. However, with a couple of small genetic variations this bug could jump to a much more threatening stage -- aerosol transmission through sneezing and coughing. If that happens, we're in for a very bumpy ride. Scientists estimate the global death toll at up to 100 million people. No kidding.
So what does the bird flu have to do with the 1918 influenza pandemic that killed more than 40 million people? That's the scientific mystery behind Pete Davie's fast-reading book, "The Devil's Flu," originally published in the U.K. in the late 1990s under the title "Catching Cold."
Ever since the 1918 pandemic, virologists have been trying to find human tissue with samples of that terrible virus so they could analyze it and compare it to new bugs like the bird flu. That's the focus of this story. After prepping the reader with some scientific background, Davis takes us on a wild ride through places like Hong Kong, Alaska and the arctic islands of Norway as competing scientists search for traces of the old bug. Along the way, we learn where viruses come from, how they mutate, how they spread and what's likely to happen next.
"The Devil's Flu" isn't a scholarly work, but it sure is great fun to read. I finished it in about three hours. More recent authors have explored this topic with greater depth. Nevertheless, I'd recommend this book for people who want just enough detail to understand the big picture -- in a very entertaining way. And if you must sneeze, please cover your nose.
Davies' book holds our attention while he is describing the flu epidemic and its effects on the patients and survivors; where the book bogs down is in the chapters on the search for what caused it. A more detailed historical examination of the impact the flu had on the world in various countries and societies would have made it a more interesting book. Davies writes well, and his warning that the flu merits more respect than being just an annoying annual pest needs to be taken seriously. He makes a good case that a return of a devastating flu virus is not a matter of if but of when, and this time around its spread will be immeasurably aided by jet travel. As Davies points out, as lethal as the AIDS epidemic has been, and will continue to be, one can, with good luck and common sense, avoid being infected with HIV; but in the event of a return of a killer flu, how can you stop breathing?
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