1. Gould, Kathleen Ahern PhD, MSN, RN

Article Content

Summer months sanction time for relaxation, reflection, and some well-earned time away from busy schedules and work responsibilities. Moreover, it is a time to visit family and friends and enjoy lively conversation or the quiet solitude of reading, both followed by discussions of current events, favorite books, and other topics of interest. Often medical professionals still lean toward the informative, historical, and medical aspects of a good read. This summer's new book releases offer such an opportunity!


As we reconnect with others after months, and years of restrictions, we will share memories and lessons learned from the COVID-19 experience. Guy Beiner's 2022 book offers reflection, information, and insights about the cultural legacy of pandemics and allows us to reflect upon our own experiences. It is a comfortable and insightful read. I predict it will be a favorite for many professionals as they begin to process personal reflections of their work during the COVID-19 pandemic.


Beiner G, ed. Pandemic Re-Awakenings: The forgotten & unforgotten "Spanish" flu of 1918-1919. Oxford Press; 2022. 419 Pages. ISBN-13: 978-0192843739. ISBN-10: 0192843737

Figure. No caption a... - Click to enlarge in new windowFigure. No caption available.

Guy Beiner, the Sullivan Chair in Irish Studies at Boston College and professor of modern history at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, has created a fascinating text using the theme of social memory, forgetting, and folk history. Engaging multiple contributors, Beiner weaves stories that began as intellectual gathering in the form of international workshops and conferences in 2019. Much of this work on influenza was limited for years, but a new crisis inspired enriched writing and discussion about a global pandemic, amid the onset of a new global pandemic in 2020. The outbreak of COVID-19 produced rich commentary and significant challenges as many of the chapters were written by authors in lockdown. However, Beiner and his writing team persisted and published the text with Oxford Press in early 2022. Beiner acknowledges that "the COVID-19 crisis has pressed home the importance of understanding how epidemics are remembered, forgotten, and ultimately rediscovered."1


The cultural legacy of the great pandemic, also called the Spanish Flu, and the pandemic of 1918, was overshadowed by news of the world war and global politics. It was a transformative time in public health as the pandemic challenged modern medicine. Beiner cites many notable literary representations reminding us that the influenza pandemic was written about by American and international authors whose work extended to Broadway plays and was occasionally mentioned in cinematic productions, often within the context of war or period pieces.


Contemporary medical journals of that time, such as the Lancet, detailed the wealth of medical investigation and intensive research and invited a reformed public health outlook. The topic was revisited by researchers and journalists for many years. In 1973, journalist and historian Richard Collier sought to gather individual narratives through international advertisements. His collection of more than 1700 letters remains the largest collection of memories, now housed in the Imperial War Museum in London. Colliers 1974 book, The Plague of the Spanish Lady.2


This contemporary book, published in early 2022, captures the rich history of these events while exploring the lived experience of forgetting painful events, all while we live in the reality of a new pandemic. Beiner's work reminds us how essential it is for us to capture the experiences and narratives of the COVID-19 lockdowns, death, provider experiences, and personal loss. Memories and archived experiences will inform future health care models and prepare us to continue to pursue scientific discovery and preparedness for the next pandemic. Clearly, a reawaking was in order.


1. Beiner G. Introduction: the great flu between remembering and forgetting. In: Pandemic Re-Awakenings: The Forgotten and Unforgotten "Spanish" Flu of 1918-1919. Beiner G, ed. Oxford University Press; 2022. doi:1093/oso/9780192843739.003.0001


2. Collier R. The Plague of the Spanish Lady: The Influenza Pandemic of 1918-1919. Macmillan; 1994.


A second book that will fit nicely into the beach or lakeside scene is also a new publication by Kersten T. Hall, a scientist and medical author whose diagnosis of type 1 diabetes led him to explore the history and current state of insulin.


Hall KT. Insulin-The Crooked Timber: A History From Thick Brown Muck to Wall Street Gold. Oxford Press; 2022. 480 Pages. ISBN: 9780192855381

Figure. No caption a... - Click to enlarge in new windowFigure. No caption available.

Kersten T. Hall graduated with an honors degree in biochemistry from St Anne's College, University of Oxford, and completed a PhD in gene regulation in adenoviruses before working for the School of Medicine at the University of Leeds and is currently a visiting fellow in the School of Philosophy, Religion, and History of Science at the University of Leeds where his research concerns the history of molecular biology. He became a science writer many years ago, but when diagnosed with type 1 diabetes 10 years ago, he turned to the story of insulin.


Through the exploration of a history of diabetes and an understanding of the work of Canadian scientist Fred Banting in 1920, the reader is informed about the complexities of the disease and modern medicine. The twists and turns of real life provide a thrilling account of science, greed, and technology as he traces the journey of the disease and its noble prize-winning treatment.


The discussion and rich historical description add to today's dilemma regarding cost, availability, and genetic alternatives to treating one of the world's most debilitating diseases. Insulin is a common drug, familiar to many as a substance that replaces native insulin following a diagnosis of type 1 diabetes. Further extensions of the drug have now been formulated to treat both types 1 and 2, pancreatic insufficiency, and complex medical therapies. Often, this drug is assumed to be readily available and accessible to all. However, the business and medical models that provide this care often collide with history. The author explores these complexities after a sudden diagnosis of type 1 diabetes, which prompted him to sit down and write this book.


The preface of the book begins with the question, "Looking a gift horse in the mouth?" The story he tells and the rocky road to the discovery and dissemination of insulin have a lesson for all of us. Hall's storytelling style and the rich descriptions of friendships and challenges of human conditions capture the reader throughout the text. This timely book explores an old problem with new insights; as the world pins its hopes on effective and lasting vaccines against COVID-19, these lessons from the story of insulin have never been more relevant.