Like catastrophic flooding in New Orleans, an influenza pandemic is not a matter of if, but a matter of when and how bad. Fortunately, John M. Barry has written books about both. Until the definitive story of Katrina is told, Rising Tide, Barry’s book on the 1927 Mississippi River flooding that left some parts of the Delta a 100-mile-wide swathe of water, will stand as the classic work on power and high water and the Crescent City.
The inevitability of floods in New Orleans is a matter of geography; the inevitability of a flu pandemic is a matter of genetics. The natural reservoir for influenza viruses is in birds.