Books

Big Fat Book in 60 Seconds Flat

Home sick in bed? Try wheezing through John M. Barry's ''The Great Influenza.'' But if you're too tired to read 546 pages on the deadly flu epidemic of 1918, here are some lozenge-size highlights.

-- In one year, the flu claimed at least 50 million lives -- more than the Black Plague did in 100 years, more than any disease outbreak ever.

-- The flu killed within hours: During one three-mile streetcar drive in Cape Town, South Africa, seven people, including the conductor and the driver, fell down dead.

-- Victims developed pockets of air underneath the skin, so they would ''crackle when they were rolled onto their sides'' -- a sound one nurse compared to ''a bowl of rice crispies.''

-- While attempting to find a cure, Oswald Avery discovered that DNA carries genetic information.

Originally posted Feb 20, 2004 Published in issue #752 Feb 20, 2004 Order article reprints