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

Who am I?

As an infectious disease epidemiologist, my personal and professional lives collided when my husband Tom acquired a superbug that was resistant to all antibiotics while we were traveling on vacation. The story of how a global village of researchers and medical professionals helped me save his life with a 100-year-old forgotten cure is the subject of our first book, The Perfect Predator: A Scientist's Race to Save Her Husband From a Deadly Superbug. A large part of my day job now is as a phage wrangler, helping other people who are battling superbug infections at IPATH, the first phage therapy center in North America.


I wrote...

The Perfect Predator: A Scientist's Race to Save Her Husband from a Deadly Superbug: A Memoir

By Steffanie Strathdee,

Book cover of The Perfect Predator: A Scientist's Race to Save Her Husband from a Deadly Superbug: A Memoir

What is my book about?

Epidemiologist Steffanie Strathdee and her husband, psychologist Tom Patterson, were vacationing in Egypt when Tom came down with a stomach bug. What at first seemed like a case of food poisoning quickly turned critical, and by the time Tom had been transferred via emergency medevac to the world-class medical center at UC San Diego, where both he and Steffanie worked, blood work revealed why modern medicine was failing: Tom was fighting one of the most dangerous, antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the world.

A nail-biting medical mystery, The Perfect Predator is a story of love and survival against all odds, and the (re)discovery of a powerful new weapon in the global superbug crisis.

The books I picked & why

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

By John M. Barry,

Book cover of 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.


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

By Laurie Garrett,

Book cover of 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.


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

By Steven Johnson,

Book cover of 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.


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

By Richard Preston,

Book cover of 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.


Beating Back the Devil

By Maryn McKenna,

Book cover of 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.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in infection, Cholera, and pandemics?

5,888 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about infection, Cholera, and pandemics.

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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The History of the Peloponnesian War, A Journal of the Plague Year, and Hero if you like this list.