Forget comparisons to 1984: Current affairs seem eerily parallel to 1918. Back then, as U.S. forces entered World War I, Congress passed a new Sedition Act, curbing First Amendment freedoms in the name of national security. Sauerkraut was renamed “liberty cabbage,” and surgical masks were all the rage. In The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of The Deadliest Plague in History, author John M. Barry takes us back to this dark era. In times of war, Barry reminds us, the biggest killer isn’t combat, but epidemic disease: Gulf War Syndrome’s got nothing on Spanish flu, a viral “mutant swarm” that spread through crowded army encampments and then across the globe. The pandemic caused an estimated death toll of 675,000 in the United States alone—enough to bump down the average life expectancy by 10 years. In Philadelphia, the bodies just piled up, “stacked in the morgue from floor to ceiling like cord wood,” and the city ran out of coffins, burying victims in mass graves. Pack your Purell when Barry speaks at 6 p.m. at Politics and Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW. Free. (202) 364-1919. (Chris Shott)