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WSU Undergraduate Education WSU Common Reading

WSU Common Reading in 2007


Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus That Caused It


The Author

Gina Kolata is an award-winning writer for the New York Times newspaper and an author of five books including “Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus That Caused It” (1999).

Kolata recieved her bachelor’s degree in microbiology and her master’s degree in applied mathematics from the University of Maryland. She studied molecular biology as a graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

She began her writing career at Science magazine in 1973 and moved to the New York Times newspaper in 1987. She has written more than 1,000 articles on medicine, science, and politics. Her writing has appeared in a variety of newspapers and magazines.

In addition to “Flu” her books include:

  • “The Baby Doctors: Probing the Limits of Fetal Medicine” (1991)
  • “Sex in America: A Definitive Survey” (1995)
  • “Clone: The Road to Dolly and the Path Ahead” (1998)
  • “Ultimate Fitness: The Quest for Truth about Health and Fitness” (2003)

Kolata was a Pulitzer Prize-finalist in 2000 for investigative reporting on pharmaceutical companies.She secretly paid doctors to test drugs on patients. She received the “Sound Science in Journalism Award” from The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition (TASSC) in 1995. She was also awarded the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s media award for her research and reporting on silicone breast implants and breast cancer.

The Researcher

Former WSU history professor Alfred W. Crosby is an expert on the 1918 flu. In “Flu,” author Kolata describes that Crosby’s interest in the 1918 epidemic was caught one day while he gazed at a wall of almanacs. He noticed that U.S. life expectancy in 1917 was 51 years, and in 1919 about the same. But in 1918, it was 39 years—about what it had been 50 years earlier. He applied for a grant from the National Institutes of Health to study in the 1918 flu: he became the world’s expert on it.

Crosby taught history at WSU in the 1960s and 1970s. He has also taught at Yale University and retired from the Univeristy of Texas at Austin in 1999 as a professor emeritus of history, geography, and American studies.

Alfred Crosby was born in Boston in 1931. He graduated from Harvard College in 1952 and served in the U.S. Army from 1952-55 stationed in Panama. He earned his master’s in teaching from Harvard and a Ph.D. in history from Boston University in 1961. His dissertation on relations between Russia and the U.S. from the time of the American Revolution through the War of 1812 was published as his first book, “America, Russia, Hemp, and Napoleon.”

His other books include:

  • “The Columbia Exchange: Biological and Cultural Consequences of 1492” (1972,2003)
  • “Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900-1900” (1986, 1993, 2004)
  • “America’s Forgotten Pandemic: The Influenza of 1918” (1989, 2003)
  • “Germs, Seeds, and Animals: Studies in Ecological History” (1994)
  • “The Measure of Reality: Qualifications and Western Society, 1250-1600” (1997)
  • “Throwing Fire: Projectile Technology Through History” (2002)
  • “Children of the Sun: A History of Humanity’s Unappreasable Appetite for Energy” (2006)

The Book

Today names such as “AIDS,” “Avian (or Bird) Flu,” and “Ebola” are familiar as widespread medical concerns. The Flu of the 1918 probably isn’t on the radar of most people—though that plague killed an estimated 40 million people worldwide, almost overnight. If it came back today, claiming a similar percentage of American lives, 1.5 million could die in the U.S. alone, according to the “Flu” Common Reading book.

“Flu: he Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus That Caused It,” tells about that lethal virus through stories of victims, families, adventuring virologists, epidemiologists, animals, and other scientists.