Friday, September 8, 2017

Pale Rider (Laura Spinney)

Pale Rider is Laura Spinney's comprehensive and well-written account of the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918 and 1919. This event killed over 50 million individuals and altered the course of not only one world war but indirectly may have set the initial stages for a second world war two decades after it ravaged the globe in short order.

Spinney attacks the Spanish Flu on multiple fronts; first, engaging us in a brief history of pandemics and epidemics of flu over history, the uncertainty over the origins of the Spanish Flu epidemic and how the misnomer of its name began, followed by the societal impacts of the outbreak on the entirety of global civilization. Instead of hearing solely about Europe or the United States, the author incorporates stories from each of the continents to show the global nature of the outbreak, the differences in response, and how the global community was irrevocably changed by it.

This outbreak is often lost in the shadows of World War I when many historians have attributed the end of the war to it. It's an interesting and, until recently, a relatively unknown event in our history even though in many places it killed more than enlisted casualties from World War I. Spinney does a remarkable job of painting the tragedy on multiple fronts and puts this in the appropriate context of a world that was in a massive state of upheaval due to war, revolution, and disease. It's a quick, intelligent read that will captivate and educate.