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Fever of War

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Fever of War
The Influenza Epidemic in the U.S. Army During World War I. By Carol R. Byerly. (New York University Press, New York and London: 2005. Pg. xv, 251. B & W Illustrations.) ISBN: 978-0-8147-9924-6.

Reviewed by Auggie Moore - May 18, 2009

There have been many books written on the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918. However none have, to my knowledge, focused on how the influenza pandemic affected the U.S. Army, which was at the onset of the pandemic, fully entrenched in Europe fighting the war to end all wars. In Fever of War: The Influenza Epidemic in the U.S. Army During World War I, Carol R. Byerly, a military medicine historian, corrects this long standing oversight. Within the pages of this fascinating study, Byerly not only looks at how the pandemic affected the fighting strength of the U.S. Army in regards to World War I, but she also looks at the negative public relations impact that it had for the army, especially by many parents who viewed their sons' illness as proof of the Army's failure to protect its soldiers from the disease.

Byerly also devotes significant attention to how the medical services within the Army evolved to cope with contagion, including the recruitment of Black nurses to help care for the unprecedented number of sick and dying soldiers. She also looks at the difficulty that many Army doctors had in making the transition from civilian to army life, and how this was to encumber the doctors as they sought to fight an illness for which they had no cure. The military mind set that saw medicine as a group affair designed to meet the needs of the Army, not the medical needs of the individual soldiers, is also covered.

From beginning to end Fever of War is a gripping book to read. It presents a detailed, historic analysis of how the impact of the influenza pandemic on the U.S. Army, public health policy, and more important, on the doctors tasked with treating the sick. This is history at its best. The text adheres to academically rigorous standards in terms of research and treatment of the subject, while at the same time Byerly writes with the flare of a novelist, making this text accessible to both general readers and scholars. As well, her detailed endnotes, and select bibliography will prove useful to those wishing to study this topic in greater detail.

Fever of War is essential reading for anyone with an interest in the History of Medicine, Military History, Social History, or the history of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918-19. Byerly's insights into how the pandemic affected the military doctors and nurses, charged with treating its victims, are eye-opening, as is her analysis of the psychological toll that it took on the doctors, both in terms of dealing with being classed as noncombatants during a war, and the negative implications of such a designation, as well as the frustration that they felt in having no means of effectively fighting the illness. Byerly's insights into the role of Army nurses is just as eye-opening, including a discussion on how their lack of military rank made it difficult to exercise control of the men in their care, and how their status improved as it became clear that they were an essential component of the Army's Medical Department. I highly recommend this book!

Related Reviews:

Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918, By Gina Kolata.
In this book, Kolata offers the reader an in-depth look at the 1918 influenza pandemic; including what influenza is, the effects that the epidemic had both politically and culturally, and its long term aftereffects.

The Fourth Horseman: One Man's Mission to Wage the Great War in America, by Robert Koenig.
The chilling history of Dr. Anton Dilger, an all-American boy who became a German spy and saboteur who, in 1915, set up a secret bio-weapons lab in Washington, D.C. in order to grow anthrax to kill as many horse and mules as he could in hopes of impeding the American war effort.

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