The best books to understand the human reaction to the Covid-19 pandemic

Jonathan Charteris-Black Author Of Metaphors of Coronavirus: Invisible Enemy or Zombie Apocalypse?
By Jonathan Charteris-Black

Who am I?

I founded Critical Metaphor Analysis, an approach that has become well known in English language studies. My books Corpus Approaches to Critical Metaphor Analysis, Politicians and Rhetoric: The persuasive power of metaphor, and Analysing Political Speeches have over 5,000 citations. I am also ranked first on Google Scholar on political rhetoric. I have always tried (though not always successfully) to write in an accessible style to reach out to audiences beyond academia. As well as lecturing, I assist in the training of Westminster speechwriters. I love languages and speak French, Spanish, Moroccan Arabic, and Malay with varying degrees of incompetence; I have rediscovered the pleasure of watercolour painting.

I wrote...

Metaphors of Coronavirus: Invisible Enemy or Zombie Apocalypse?

By Jonathan Charteris-Black,

Book cover of Metaphors of Coronavirus: Invisible Enemy or Zombie Apocalypse?

What is my book about?

This book explores the metaphors used by the media and by politicians during the Covid-19 era to understand how language shapes our moral reasoning and the role of language in policy formation and communication during a period of crisis. It analyses metaphors, metonyms, allegories, and symbols to gain insight into the moral basis for the decisions that people made during the pandemic. It draws on cognitive linguistics, history, social psychology, and literature for a multi-layered interpretation of the language of the pandemic and its social and political consequences. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of A Journal of the Plague Year

Why did I love this book?

This so-called ‘journal’ was an account of the Great Plague of London of 1665, 57 years later in 1722. The style of writing is graphic, detailed, and visual which is why it comes over as an accurate account; you feel as if you are wandering the streets of plague-infested London, watching as plague-infested houses are nailed up with their occupants inside and watchmen placed on the street outside. While the narrative voice is that of another time, the observation and perceptiveness give the book a contemporary feel so that I felt comforted knowing that at least people in distant times had actually experienced a pandemic. 

By Daniel Defoe,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked A Journal of the Plague Year as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The haunting cry of "Bring out your dead!" by a bell-ringing collector of 17th-century plague victims has filled readers across the centuries with cold terror. The chilling cry survives in historical consciousness largely as a result of this classic 1722 account of the epidemic of bubonic plague — known as the Black Death — that ravaged England in 1664–1665.
Actually written nearly 60 years later by Daniel Defoe, the Journal is narrated by a Londoner named "H. F.," who allegedly lived through the devastating effects of the pestilence and produced this eye witness account. Drawing on his considerable talents as…

Book cover of The Pandemic Century: One Hundred Years of Panic, Hysteria, and Hubris

Why did I love this book?

This highly informative book offers a well-written overview of most of the pandemics occurring from the “Spanish flu” of 1918 until Covid-19 of 2020. By giving a detailed historical account of everything from AIDS to SARS and Zika this book reassured me by showing how pandemics in the past had been overcome and so by implication how the Covid-19 pandemic could also be overcome. The author conducts detailed research into the exact chronology of each pandemic so that by helping to understand its epidemiology, he also creates an interesting and exciting detective story. 

By Mark Honigsbaum,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Pandemic Century as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

How can we understand the COVID-19 pandemic?

Ever since the 1918 Spanish influenza pandemic, scientists have dreamed of preventing such catastrophic outbreaks of infectious disease. Yet, despite a century of medical progress, viral and bacterial disasters continue to take us by surprise, inciting panic and dominating news cycles. In The Pandemic Century, a lively account of scares both infamous and less known, medical historian Mark Honigsbaum combines reportage with the history of science and medical sociology to artfully reconstruct epidemiological mysteries and the ecology of infectious diseases. We meet dedicated disease detectives, obstructive or incompetent public health officials and brilliant…

Book cover of Until Proven Safe: The History and Future of Quarantine

Why did I love this book?

I found this a fascinating account of the origins and history of quarantine, stretching from medieval times right up to the Covid-19 pandemic, the authors take us on a tour of the many different forms that quarantine has taken in different parts of the world. Quarantine is about finding out what may be hidden within the body but this book reveals much about the different cultural and historical settings where quarantine has been employed. The book helped me understand why the responses to Covid-19 were so diverse in spite of the fact that governments were dealing with the same illness.

By Geoff Manaugh, Nicola Twilley,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Until Proven Safe as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Manaugh and Twilley shed illuminating light on a phenomenon that seems utterly of the present moment.' Financial Times' Best Books of the Year

'Startlingly timely, authoritatively researched, and electrifyingly written.' Steve Silberman, author of NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity

Quarantine has shaped our world, yet it remains both feared and misunderstood. It is our most powerful response to uncertainty, but it operates through an assumption of guilt: in quarantine, we are considered infectious until proven safe. An unusually poetic metaphor for moral and mythic ills, quarantine means waiting to see if something hidden inside of…

Book cover of Anti-Vaxxers: How to Challenge a Misinformed Movement

Why did I love this book?

Since my mother had polio before vaccinations were available I am especially involved with the issue of vaccination. This book does not pull any punches in taking to task the anti-vaccination movement; by exploring and unpicking its historical, psychological, and sociological basis the author provides a convincing account of the scientific and post-Enlightenment argument in support of vaccine development. He explores the values underlying anti-vaccine sentiments but also offers hard statistical data on the dangers presented when vaccines are avoided. There are many winning arguments in support of the development of vaccinations especially the evidence of the resurgence of diseases such as polio and measles in places where they have been, and are, opposed. 

By Jonathan M. Berman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Anti-Vaxxers as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A “clear and insightful” takedown of the anti-vaccination movement, from its 19th-century antecedents to modern-day Facebook activists—with strategies for refuting false claims of friends and family (Financial Times)

Vaccines are a documented success story, one of the most successful public health interventions in history. Yet there is a vocal anti-vaccination movement, featuring celebrity activists (including Kennedy scion Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and actress Jenny McCarthy) and the propagation of anti-vax claims through books, documentaries, and social media. In Anti-Vaxxers, Jonathan Berman explores the phenomenon of the anti-vaccination movement, recounting its history from its nineteenth-century antecedents to today’s activism, examining its…

Book cover of Stuck: How Vaccine Rumors Start -- And Why They Don't Go Away

Why did I love this book?

This book by an anthropologist explores the dynamics of anti-vaccine rumours: how they are initiated and how – like a virus they spread. She uses the metaphor of fire, and since I also wrote a book on this topic I am interested in this metaphor. She takes into account the emotional basis for anxiety about vaccinations among both the vaccine hesitant and among vaccine opponents. While rejecting the validity of their arguments, she nevertheless makes these more likely to be overcome by offering a nuanced account of some of the emotional and psychological reasons for such beliefs. It’s a kind and thoughtful book.

By Heidi J. Larson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Stuck as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Vaccine reluctance and refusal are no longer limited to the margins of society. Debates around vaccines' necessity - along with questions around their side effects - have gone mainstream, blending with geopolitical conflicts, political campaigns, celebrity causes, and "natural" lifestyles to win a growing number of hearts and minds. Today's anti-vaccine positions find audiences where they've never existed previously.

Stuck examines how the issues surrounding vaccine hesitancy are, more than anything, about people feeling left out of the conversation. A new dialogue is long overdue, one that addresses the many types of vaccine hesitancy and the social factors that perpetuate…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in plagues, quarantines, and management?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about plagues, quarantines, and management.

Plagues Explore 39 books about plagues
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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The Hot Zone, Natural History of Infectious Disease, and The Plague if you like this list.