PALE RIDER: The Spanish Flu of 1918

As we wear masks and shelter at home from the 2020 pandemic, it is helpful to read about an earlier pandemic.  Science journalist Laura Spinney has written an acclaimed history, Pale Rider: the Spanish Flu of 1918 and How it Changed the World (published in 2017).   I read it to understand how that worldwide pandemic Impacted this country and others. 

More than anything it amazed me to read how medical professionals hope future leaders would respond to a recurrence. First, in the future, the author hoped that health authorities would introduce containment measures such as quarantine, school closures and prohibitions on mass .“These will be for our collective benefit, so how do we ensure that everyone complies?”  She notes that experience has shown that people have a low tolerance for mandatory health measure and that they aremost effective when voluntary – and why she felt it was important to tell the story of the Spanish flu.

Additionally, Spinney argued that the media clearly have a critical role to play in any pandemic, and1918 taught us a valuable lesson in this too:  censorship and playing down the danger don’t work. Relaying accurate information in an objective and timely fashion does. As we struggle with our current pandemic, I highly recommend this book – for everyone, including our leaders.