Updated Aug 07, 2022

Best Pandemic Books

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— According to the most prominent book blogs on the internet, these are the best books for studying pandemics. Each of the books on this list were recommended in at least three of the articles, ranked by how frequently they were mentioned.

In recent years, malaria has emerged as a cause célèbre for voguish philanthropists. Bill Gates, Bono, and Laura Bush are only a few of the personalities who have lent their names—and opened their pocketbooks—in hopes of curing the disease. Still, in a time when every emergent disease inspires waves of panic, why aren't we doing more to eradicate one of our oldest foes? And how does a parasitic disease that we've known how to prevent for more than a century still infect 500 million people every year, killing nearly 1 million of them?

In The Fever, the journalist Sonia Shah sets out to answer these questions, delivering a timely, inquisitive chronicle of the illness and its influence on human lives. Through the centuries, she finds, we've invested our hopes in a panoply of drugs and technologies, and invariably those hopes have been dashed. From the settling of the New World to the construction of the Panama Canal, through wars and the advances of the Industrial Revolution, Shah tracks malaria's jagged ascent and the tragedies in its wake, revealing a parasite every bit as persistent as the insects that carry it. With distinguished prose and original reporting from Panama, Malawi, Cameroon, India, and elsewhere, The Fever captures the curiously fascinating, devastating history of this long-standing thorn in the side of humanity.

Our favourite quote from The Fever

One simple reason for malaria’s ferocity is that the protozoan creature that causes the disease is, by definition, a cheater at the game of life. It is a parasite, a creature that can eke out its livelihood only by depleting others of theirs. The rest of us all do our obscure little part in the drama of life, weaving ourselves deeper into local ecology and strengthening its fabric, the bees pollinating the flowers, predators culling the herds of their weakest members. Parasites don’t help anyone. They’re degenerates.

Eula Biss tackles our fear of the government, the medical system, and what could be in our children's air, food, mattresses, medications, and vaccinations in this brave, interesting book. She proposes that we cannot immunize our children or ourselves against the world, based on her personal experience as a new mother. Biss expands her chats with other moms to musings on the tale of Achilles, Voltaire's Candide, Bram Stoker's Dracula, Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, Susan Sontag's AIDS and Its Metaphors, and more as she investigates the metaphors surrounding immunity. On Immunity is both an antidote to fear and a touching description of how we are all intertwined—bodies and futures.

Our favourite quote from On Immunity

Wealthier countries have the luxury of entertaining fears the rest of the world cannot afford.

This powerful and inspiring book shows how one person can make a difference, as Kidder tells the true story of a gifted man who is in love with the world and has set out to do all he can to cure it.

Tracy Kidder is a winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the author of the bestsellers The Soul of a New Machine, House, Among Schoolchildren, and Home Town. He has been described by the Baltimore Sun as the "master of the non-fiction narrative." This powerful and inspiring new book shows how one person can make a difference, as Kidder tells the true story of a gifted man who is in love with the world and has set out to do all he can to cure it.

At the center of Mountains Beyond Mountains stands Paul Farmer. Doctor, Harvard professor, renowned infectious-disease specialist, anthropologist, the recipient of a MacArthur "genius" grant, world-class Robin Hood, Farmer was brought up in a bus and on a boat, and in medical school found his life’s calling: to diagnose and cure infectious diseases and to bring the lifesaving tools of modern medicine to those who need them most. This magnificent book shows how radical change can be fostered in situations that seem insurmountable, and it also shows how a meaningful life can be created, as Farmer—brilliant, charismatic, charming, both a leader in international health and a doctor who finds time to make house calls in Boston and the mountains of Haiti—blasts through convention to get results.

Mountains Beyond Mountains takes us from Harvard to Haiti, Peru, Cuba, and Russia as Farmer changes minds and practices through his dedication to the philosophy that "the only real nation is humanity"—a philosophy that is embodied in the small public charity he founded, Partners in Health. He enlists the help of the Gates Foundation, George Soros, the U.N.’s World Health Organization, and others in his quest to cure the world. At the heart of this book is the example of a life based on hope, and on an understanding of the truth of the Haitian proverb "Beyond mountains there are mountains": as you solve one problem, another problem presents itself, and so you go on and try to solve that one too.

Our favourite quote from Mountains Beyond Mountains

WL’s [White Liberals] think all the world’s problems can be fixed without any cost to themselves. We don’t believe that. There’s a lot to be said for sacrifice, remorse, even pity. It’s what separates us from roaches.

The bestselling landmark account of the first emergence of the Ebola virus.

Now a mini-series drama starring Julianna Margulies, Topher Grace, Liam Cunningham, James D'Arcy, and Noah Emmerich on National Geographic.

A highly infectious, deadly virus from the central African rain forest suddenly appears in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. There is no cure. In a few days 90 percent of its victims are dead. A secret military SWAT team of soldiers and scientists is mobilized to stop the outbreak of this exotic "hot" virus. The Hot Zone tells this dramatic story, giving a hair-raising account of the appearance of rare and lethal viruses and their "crashes" into the human race. Shocking, frightening, and impossible to ignore, The Hot Zone proves that truth really is scarier than fiction.

Our favourite quote from The Hot Zone

To mess around with Ebola is an easy way to die. Better to work with something safer, such as anthrax.

Malaria sickens hundreds of millions of people—and kills one to three million—each year. Despite massive efforts to eradicate the disease, it remains a major public health problem in poorer tropical regions. But malaria has not always been concentrated in tropical areas. How did other regions control malaria and why does the disease still flourish in some parts of the globe?

From Russia to Bengal to Palm Beach, Randall Packard’s far-ranging narrative traces the natural and social forces that help malaria spread and make it deadly. He finds that war, land development, crumbling health systems, and globalization—coupled with climate change and changes in the distribution and flow of water—create conditions in which malaria's carrier mosquitoes thrive. The combination of these forces, Packard contends, makes the tropical regions today a perfect home for the disease.

Authoritative, fascinating, and eye-opening, this short history of malaria concludes with policy recommendations for improving control strategies and saving lives.

Our favourite quote from The Making of a Tropical Disease

A national bestseller, the fast-paced and gripping account of the Great Flu Epidemic of 1918 from acclaimed science journalist Gina Kolata, now featuring a new epilogue about avian flu.

When we think of plagues, we think of AIDS, Ebola, anthrax spores, and, of course, the Black Death. But in 1918 the Great Flu Epidemic killed an estimated forty million people virtually overnight. If such a plague returned today, taking a comparable percentage of the US population with it, 1.5 million Americans would die.

In Flu, Gina Kolata, an acclaimed reporter for The New York Times, unravels the mystery of this lethal virus with the high drama of a great adventure story. From Alaska to Norway, from the streets of Hong Kong to the corridors of the White House, Kolata tracks the race to recover the live pathogen and probes the fear that has impelled government policy.

A gripping work of science writing, Flu addresses the prospects for a great epidemic’s recurrence and considers what can be done to prevent it.

Our favourite quote from Flu

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