Friday, January 11, 2019

YA Nonfiction Review: Very, Very, Very Dreadful by Albert Marrin

Title: Very, Very, Very Dreadful: The Influenza Pandemic of 1918
Author: Albert Marrin
Year Published: 2018


Genre: YA non-fiction
Pages: 198 including notes and index
Rating: 4 out of 5

Location (my 2019 Google Reading map)World wide story, but focuses on USA (KS) and France

FTC Disclosure: I bought this book with my own money

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): In spring of 1918, World War I was underway, and troops at Fort Riley, Kansas, found themselves felled by influenza. By the summer of 1918, the second wave struck as a highly contagious and lethal epidemic and within weeks exploded into a pandemic, an illness that travels rapidly from one continent to another. It would impact the course of the war, and kill many millions more soldiers than warfare itself.

Of all diseases, the 1918 flu was by far the worst that has ever afflicted humankind; not even the Black Death of the Middle Ages comes close in terms of the number of lives it took. No war, no natural disaster, no famine has claimed so many. In the space of eighteen months in 1918-1919, about 500 million people--one-third of the global population at the time--came down with influenza. The exact total of lives lost will never be known, but the best estimate is between 50 and 100 million. 

In this powerful book, filled with black and white photographs, nonfiction master Albert Marrin examines the history, science, and impact of this great scourge--and the possibility for another worldwide pandemic today.


Review: This book was a National Book Award finalist. Or maybe the author was (the statement is under his name on the cover). He is the author of Uprooted (Japanese Internment) which I read last year for the CYBILS. I liked Uprooted  better.

The 1918 influenza pandemic is a fascinating subject. Estimates are that it killed almost 100 million people in a few months. That's more than everyone who died in World War I! I knew about the disease, had heard about it, but how did it never occur to me that it took place in the final months of World War I and that the war itself is to blame for the flu's spread? That part I found fascinating.

My problem with this book is small, really. The book is aimed at teenagers and I must remember that they don't necessarily have the background that I do. The first large chunk of the book is about WWI and while it is well done, it was repeat for me. But, probably not for teens.

What I did like is the story of the influenza itself, how quickly it spread, where they think it came from (spoiler alert: flu comes from bird feces dropped into pig farms then spread to humans), and the impact it had on the world. That's the middle chunk of the book and it's the part that really sells it. The last chapter is also interesting, but goes beyond the 1918 outbreak, telling us how scientists have researched flu since 1918. 

So, if you read this book, go in knowing that the "meat" of the story is the middle portion and that you'll also be reading about World War I and recent flu knowledge.

Challenges for which this counts: 

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