Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Review: The Great Influenza by John M Barry

John M. Barry´s list of works in shows that he is able to make a popular, general audience book about topics that academic historians might write articles and monographs the general public would avoid, like the way Ken Burns does with PBS films.

I have a personal interest in this topic, as I do some work for the Journal of the Islamic Medical Association of North America, and it recently published an article about avian influenza. I also was diagnosed with pneumonia in 2007, and, while later diagnostic tests caused the physicians to change the diagnosis, the delicacy of lung tissue has been impressed upon me most urgently! May God have mercy on you, Bernie Mac and James Brown!

For the purposes of this blog, I think this book sheds important light in the following areas:
  1. It briefly discusses the differences between science practiced in Europe in the last half of the nineteenth century differed from superficially similar ¨science¨ before that time. This touches, in my mind, on the topic of Islamic science, i.e. discussions of al-Razi and al-Biruni and Islamic civilization´s advances, etc. My position is that, without taking away from any of the historical geniuses who were able to discover facts about the universe and without denying that societies in the past employed these advances where they were able, the modern scientific enterprise is almost entirely different on the social, epistemological and organizational levels as to make comparisons with earlier efforts meaningless. A previous review in this blog deals with this topic as well.

  2. One of the keys to good science and good public health is freedom from government and popular coercion. In this book, censorship mandated and encouraged by the United States government in its efforts to prosecute World War I resulted in poor public health efforts.

  3. Pandemic influenza is serious business, and we must press leaders at all levels to prepare a respose to a pandemic when it comes. For Muslim organizations, should we at least have a discussion now regarding things like gathering for jumu'a and funeral prayers rather than wait for the pandemic to strike and then have these discussions when emotions will cloud our judgments?

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