BOOK REVIEW: Laura Spinney’s Pale Rider re-examines 20th Century’s biggest tragedy

It’s become a standard bit of 20th Century trivia that as terrible as the First World War was, the 1918 Flu Pandemic coinciding with the armistice killed more than the conflict itself.

Now, an especially pedantic person might want to argue that WWI really was the beginning of the ‘Second Thirty Years War‘; they might treat as bookends both world wars—roping together all battlefield deaths, all civilian bombings, every atrocity and genocide, every preventable famine and epidemic. And put together as a single historical event, they would claim, all the misery springing from human malice between 1914 to 1945 led to up to 100 million untimely deaths in those three decades.

But, as British science journalist Laura Spinney relates in her latest book Pale Rider, the pandemic known in its time as the Spanish Flu (but definitely not originating in Spain) may have killed in three years about the same amount as we murdered each other during those 30, infecting one out of every three people on the earth while killing one-in-20 of the global population.

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