Early in 2003, the run-up to the war in Iraq was the top-of-the-hour news story across most of the globe. But in the Far East, millions were captivated — and terrified — by the spread of a contagion that killed a small but significant number of those it infected: severe acute respiratory syndrome. Karl Taro Greenfeld, former editor of TIME’s Asia edition, chronicles the spread of the deadly bug that caused SARS as well as the fight against it. The book is lively, if sometimes melodramatic — ”SARS is hell,” one chapter ends — as it sweeps broadly across continents and characters. Alas, China Syndrome moves so swiftly and widely that it sometimes feels like a sprint. Rather than letting subjects speak at length in direct quotations, Greenfeld too often uses quotes as exclamation points for his shorthand prose. Still, China Syndrome is a solid first draft of the SARS saga.