In the wake of the 1918-19 influenza epidemic that struck more than a quarter of all Americans and killed some 675,000 of them [also: In the U.S., about 28% of the population suffered, and 500,000 to 675,000 died] the United States quickly adopted an attitude of national amnesia regarding the failure of medicine and public health to protect the nation’s citizenry. A number of scholars have addressed this act of collective forgetting since the 2003 republication of Alfred Crosby’s classic 1976 study, America’s Forgotten Pandemic: The Influenza of 1918. Nancy K. Bristow’s new book, American Pandemic: The Lost Worlds of the 1918 Influenza Epidemic, convinces us that private memories of the event were much more disparate and troubled. Those grieving over lost loved ones were forced to do so in private, in a community unprepared to “admit to a tale of sorrow and loss” (p. 198). But how individual Americans lived with or died from the epidemic was not simply a function of the disease itself. It depended on dynamics of gender, class, race and ethnicity, geography, religion, and other cultural markers. Unsurprisingly, the burden was not distributed evenly.
The pandemic lasted from January 1918 to December 1920,spreading even to the Arctic and remote Pacific islands. Between 20 and 50 million died...