Barry's 1997 book Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America appeared on the New York Times Best Seller list and won the 1998 Francis Parkman Prize from the Society of American Historians for the year's best book on American history.
His 2004 book The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Greatest Plague in History was also a Times Best Seller, and won the 2005 Keck Communications Award from the United States National Academies of Science for the year's outstanding book on science or medicine.
He has been involved in efforts to prepare for another influenza pandemic and to protect New Orleans against future hurricanes. In 2005 he also won the "September 11th Award" from the Center for Biodefense and Emerging Pathogens at Brown University. He has served on a federal government's Infectious Disease Board of Experts, on the advisory board of MIT's Center for Engineering Fundamentals, and on the advisory committee at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School fo Public Health for its Center for Refugees and Disasters.
His work on water-related issues was recognized by the National Academies of Science's invitation to give the 2006 Abel Wolman Distinguished Lecture on Water Resources; he is the first non-scientist to give that lecture. After Hurricane Katrina he was named to both the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority, which serves as the levee board overseeing several separate levee districts, and the state's Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, which is responsible for hurricane protection for the entire state.
He has also coached high school and college football, and his first published article was about blocking assignments for offensive linemen and appeared in a coaching journal, Scholastic Coach.