The best books for armchair infectious disease epidemiologists

Steffanie Strathdee Author Of The Perfect Predator: A Scientist's Race to Save Her Husband from a Deadly Superbug: A Memoir
By Steffanie Strathdee

The Books I Picked & Why

The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History

By John M. Barry

The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History

Why this book?

It’s “just the flu” right? WRONG. Influenza has been and continues to be a real killer. Barry’s book is an incredible read about the great influenza pandemic of 1918, which has striking parallels to today’s COVID19 pandemic. Those who don’t learn from history are forced to repeat it.


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The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance

By Laurie Garrett

The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance

Why this book?

Notable for its prescience and timelessness, this award-winning book by Pulitzer and Peabody winner Laurie Garrett is a must-read for infectious disease aficionados. This book addresses the macro-level factors that drive the emergence of epidemics, such as the over-use of antibiotics in agriculture and climate change. It is a primer on why we need a global health perspective to address pandemics, so it's no wonder that it was re-printed when the COVID-19 pandemic began.


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The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic--And How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World

By Steven Johnson

The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic--And How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World

Why this book?

Most public health experts vaguely know the story of how physician John Snow removed the handle of the Broad Street pump to symbolically end London’s cholera epidemic in the 1850’s, ushering in what became the field of epidemiology. But who knew that Snow’s detective work involved tracking the whereabouts of ‘nightsoil men’ who lugged about heaps of stinking sewage? I was riveted by Johnson’s story, which is probably headed for the big screen before long.


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The Hot Zone: The Terrifying True Story of the Origins of the Ebola Virus

By Richard Preston

The Hot Zone: The Terrifying True Story of the Origins of the Ebola Virus

Why this book?

More than any other book, The Hot Zone framed how the public thinks about what an epidemiologist does. Since then, we’ve had to explain to our moms that we don’t all walk around in biohazard suits tracking the emergence of Ebola. On the other hand, it’s a helluva good read and a true story. I have to admit that when Amazon recommended my memoir, The Perfect Predator, to readers who liked The Hot Zone, it gave me a thrill.


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Beating Back the Devil

By Maryn McKenna

Beating Back the Devil

Why this book?

After you read The Hot Zone, you thought you really knew what an infectious epidemiologist does, didn’t you? Not so fast. That’s why you need to read this book. McKenna’s meticulous research gives you a sneak peek into how front-line CDC outbreak investigators dealt with Ebola, SARS, and more.


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