Politics & Polls #186: Using the 1918 Pandemic as a Blueprint for Today

May 20 2020
By B. Rose Huber and Patricia Yelavich
Topics Health
Source Woodrow Wilson School

In grappling with the Covid-19 pandemic, many scientists and government officials are looking to the 1918 pandemic as a reference point for lessons learned. Also known as the "Spanish Flu," this epidemic was the most sweeping of the 20th century, infecting one third of the world’s population, and upending social, political, and economic norms.

John M. Barry, a New York Times best-selling author, joins this episode to discuss his book, “The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History.” The book was named the 2004 book by the National Academies of Science, and is garnering current attention given its relevancy to today. 

Barry has been recognized in the field of science for his work and has been a source to politicians on both sides of the aisle for his insights on pandemics. He is also the author of several other books, including, “Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How it Changed America,” which won the 1998 Francis Parkman Prize for the best book of U.S. history; “Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul;” and "The Ambition and the Power: The Fall of Jim Wright: A True Story of Washington."


Wang is a professor at Princeton University, appointed in neuroscience with affiliate appointments in the Program in Law and Public Affairs and the Center for Information Technology Policy. An alumnus of Caltech, where he received a B.S. with honors in physics, he went on to earn a Ph.D. in neuroscience from the Stanford University School of Medicine. He conducted postdoctoral research at Duke University Medical Center and at Bell Labs Lucent Technologies. He has also worked on science and education policy for the U.S. Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources. He is noted for his application of data analytics and poll aggregation to American politics. He is leading an effort at the Princeton Gerrymandering Project to build a 50-state data resource for legislative-quality citizen redistricting. His work to define a state-level legal theory to limit partisan gerrymandering recently won Common Cause’s Gerrymandering Standard Writing Contest. His neuroscience research concerns how the brain learns from sensory experience in early life, adulthood and autism.

Zelizer has been among the pioneers in the revival of American political history. He is the Malcolm Stevenson Forbes, Class of 1941 Professor of History and Public Affairs at Princeton University and a CNN political analyst. He has written more than 900 op-eds, including his popular weekly column for CNN.com and The Atlantic. This year, he is the distinguished senior fellow at the New York Historical Society, where he is writing a biography of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel for Yale University's Jewish Lives Series. He is the author and editor of more than 19 books including, “The Fierce Urgency of Now: Lyndon Johnson, Congress, and the Battle for the Great Society,” the winner of the D.B. Hardeman Prize for the Best Book on Congress. In January 2019, Norton published his new book, co-authored with Kevin Kruse, “Fault Lines: A History of the United States Since 1974.” In spring 2020, Penguin Press will publish his other book, “Burning Down the House: Newt Gingrich, The Fall of a Speaker, and the Rise of the New Republican Party.” He has received fellowships from the Brookings Institution, the Guggenheim Foundation, the Russell Sage Foundation and New America.