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Summary

Brought to you by Penguin.

With a death toll of between 50 and 100 million people and a global reach, the Spanish flu of 1918–1920 was the greatest human disaster, not only of the 20th century, but possibly in all of recorded history. And yet, in our popular conception it exists largely as a footnote to World War I.

In Pale Rider, Laura Spinney recounts the story of an overlooked pandemic, tracing it from Alaska to Brazil, from Persia to Spain and from South Africa to Odessa. She shows how the pandemic was shaped by the interaction of a virus and the humans it encountered, and how this devastating natural experiment put both the ingenuity and the vulnerability of humans to the test.

Laura Spinney demonstrates that the Spanish flu was as significant – if not more so – as two world wars in shaping the modern world, in disrupting, and often permanently altering, global politics, race relations, family structures, and thinking across medicine, religion and the arts.

©2017 Laura Spinney (P)2020 Penguin Audio

Critic reviews

"Both a saga of tragedies and a detective story...Pale Rider is not just an excavation but a reimagining of the past." (Guardian)

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Added impact given current context (read in 2020)

Fascinating . Spinney builds up her narrative in layers, combining historical, scientific and cultural perspectives to present a careful and thought provoking account of an event that has many resonances for us in 2020. History doesn’t entirely repeat itself: we have made considerable medical advances, but fake news, quack cures and blind prejudice were there in 1918 ... & sadly still around now. The case studies and human stories are particularly poignant. I found the last quarter a little tendentious in places but this is a very worthwhile read/listen. Narrator has pleasant voice, but some odd phrasing at times.

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Does history repeat or is it an echo?

Great listen!! Learned a-lot about world history and why we do what we do today and how much more there is to be done and the importance of chronicling our lives as you may be the key to understanding an event or at least help that process for historians. Really enjoyed this listen and would recommend it to anyone especially being in quarantine during “our” pandemic. Is repeating itself or just an echo?

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  • 19-12-20

enlightening and tragic

a good all round perspective of the pandemic of 1918/19 with a good mix of accounts and science

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Terrific book very interesting.

This book is so informative of the catastophic Spanish flu which has so much relevance to the world we live in today. Thoroughly recommend it.

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Parallels of today

Frighteningly close to what's happening in the world just now. Contrasts between 1918 and present day brought home in this fabulous book

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Totally relevant right now

A brilliantly performed and eye-opening account of the greatest reaper of the 20th century.
I advise anyone with an interest in the current situation to get this book.

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Well I wish I’d read this in 2019…

This book is incredible. A fascinating journey through Spanish flu written immediately before Covid arrived, but in so many ways predicting dozens of discrete aspects of the pandemic that we’ve now all lived through. I was struck over and over again by the similarities of the events described to 2020 in 2021, it’s been incredibly eye-opening experience to realise how little of our experience was novel. Meticulously researched, beautifully written and wonderfully read.

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Superb

So many parallels between Spanish Flu and current global pandemic a hundred years later. Fascinating and terrifying read. Superbly researched.

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Compelling…..

A hugely impressive and compelling book. Written before the current Coronavirus pandemic, some of the writing is incredibly prescient and will leave you speechless. Excellent narration too by Peter Hodgson. Highly recommended.

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Interesting and now VERY relevant story of a terrible pandemic.

As the author states at the beginning, the narrative in this book circles round the topic of the 1918-19 flu pandemic, examining it from different angles and inserting personal stories, historical background and cultural information at different points. I found this non-linear approach irritating at first but ultimately came to see its point: it helped maintain my interest till the end.
The narration is excellent in tone and pace. The foreign names in the text seem to me to have been pronounced correctly.. Physicians in the U.K. use a slightly different pronunciation of some of the specialist epidemiological terms deployed, all of which are explained but that hardly matters.

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  • Christian R. Unger
  • 05-01-21

brilliant, insightful, important

While the early parts of the book are a little boring, where the course of the disease are charted through different societies and only superficially deals with how they were received, as the title progresses it gets more into details and fills out the picture more in context.

Well written, thoughtfully presented and incredibly interesting.

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  • Ian Anderson
  • 13-05-20

Mandatory reading for any involved in the present Covid 19 flu

Brilliant writing and use of language. So very cogent in our present situation. Not only a plague history but a world view of its impact on world history.