The best pandemic books published pre-COVID

Who am I?

I'm the author of short stories and novels including my young adult debut, Pandemic, which continues to be a timely read about surviving a widespread deadly virus. After the H1N1 pandemic of 2009 (commonly called Swine Flu), I was fascinated with the idea of a global illness that could be much, much worse. I researched historical diseases, interviewed public health officials, and the idea for my novel was born. Written and published before COVID-19, some of the details are eerily predictive of coronavirus. Pandemic won SCBWI’s Crystal Kite Award the year after its publication, and a June 2022 reissue of the original novel includes updated resources and backmatter.

I wrote...


By Yvonne Ventresca,

Book cover of Pandemic

What is my book about?

Only a few people know what caused Lilianna Snyder's sudden change from a model student to a withdrawn pessimist who worries about all kinds of disasters. After her parents are called away on business, Lil’s town is hit by what soon becomes a widespread fatal illness. With her worst fears realized, Lil must find a way to survive not only the outbreak and its real-life consequences, but her own personal demons.

The books I picked & why

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Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic

By David Quammen,

Book cover of Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic

Why this book?

Before the coronavirus pandemic, Quammen investigated the science behind “spillover”—the way that animal illnesses can mutate and infect humans. Given the grim subject matter, I found this nonfiction account of various diseases to be surprisingly engrossing and highly readable. Spillover was one of my inspirational resources when I created my fictional illness for my novel. Quammen shares information about Ebola, SARS, Lyme disease, AIDS, bird flu, and others in this well-researched book.

A Death-Struck Year

By Makiia Lucier,

Book cover of A Death-Struck Year

Why this book?

Set in Oregon during the 1918 influenza pandemic, this historical young adult novel features a teen girl separated from her family as the illness spreads from the east coast of the US to the west. Like Lil, the main character from my book, Cleo in A Death-Struck Year grapples with moral dilemmas. I was drawn to Cleo’s struggle of wanting to help others, which will put her life at risk, and of desperately wanting to survive.

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?

Unfortunately, the Great Influenza is no longer “the deadliest pandemic in history,” but Barry’s nonfiction book does an excellent job bringing history to life. After setting the stage of American medicine in the early twentieth century, he depicts the progression of the pandemic, showing its effect on public health and society as a whole. I was fascinated with how people communicated (colored crepe on the door, for example, to indicate a death) without our current technology. 

Prep For Doom

By ER Arroyo, Laura Albins, Amy Bartelloni, Brea Behn, Casey L. Bond, TK Carter, Kate Corcino, Harlow C. Fallon, Kelsey D. Garmendia, Caroline A. Gill, DelSheree Gladden, John Gregory Hancock, Casey Hays, Kate L. Mary, Jon Messenger, Monica Enderle Pierce, Cameo Renae, Hilary Thompson, Yvonne Ventresca, Megan White

Book cover of Prep For Doom

Why this book?

This collection of short stories by twenty different authors explores how a fictional deadly disease affects a range of people, from scientists to government officials to everyday teens. (My contribution is chapter 13, “Escape to Orange Blossom.”) What I especially enjoyed about this anthology is the way that the characters from one story might appear in another. Using a single incident to drive the plot, the collaborative nature sets this collection apart.

Pale Horse, Pale Rider: Three Short Novels: A Library of America eBook Classic

By Katherine Anne Porter,

Book cover of Pale Horse, Pale Rider: Three Short Novels: A Library of America eBook Classic

Why this book?

During the flu pandemic of 1918, the author, Katherine Anne Porter, became deathly ill but recovered. Published over twenty years later, Pale Horse, Pale Rider is her fictionalized account about falling in love with a soldier during the war, then fighting to survive the influenza outbreak. I love that Porter drew from her own experience to write this short novel. (She disliked the term novella.) Pale Horse, Pale Rider is a beautifully written story about a devastating disease.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in pandemics, the Spanish flu, and influenza?

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

Pandemics Explore 25 books about pandemics
The Spanish Flu Explore 12 books about the Spanish flu
Influenza Explore 8 books about influenza

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The Hot Zone, Hero, and Plagues and Peoples if you like this list.