The best books to understand how viruses cause disease and shaped history

Michael B.A. Oldstone Author Of Viruses, Plagues, and History: Past, Present, and Future
By Michael B.A. Oldstone

The Books I Picked & Why

Polio: An American Story

By David M. Oshinsky

Book cover of Polio: An American Story

Why this book?

In a clear presentation, Oshinsky’s presents the gripping history of the conquest of poliomyelitis. The new and advanced role of the media’s impact and widespread community participation is detailed as is the terror of polio, efforts to understand the virus, and the disease it caused. The intense and competitive effort to find a cure adds to the story. Lastly, this book describes how the polio experience led to the establishment of government oversight for new drugs.


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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?

In the winter of 1918, at the height of World War 1, influenza virus infection arrived and killed over 50 million and perhaps up to 100 million people worldwide. It killed more people in six months than the Human Immunodeficiency Virus or Covid killed since their discoveries. The cause, lessons learned in terms of this pandemic are subjects of this book and offer insights into what can be done for and during future pandemics.


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And the Band Played on: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic

By Randy Shilts

Book cover of And the Band Played on: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic

Why this book?

This book characterizes the discovery and spread HIV and AIDS. Shits an investigative journalist provides an extensive look into the disease itself, the politics and politicians battling to control or ignoring the disease. Also discussed are the events that shaped the pandemic leading to its expansion or its control. 


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Plagues and Peoples - Central Role Infectious Disease Plays in World History

By William H. McNeill

Book cover of Plagues and Peoples - Central Role Infectious Disease Plays in World History

Why this book?

McNeill presents challenging historical concepts for the role of viruses, bacteria, and parasites in altering the history of civilization. The book is remarkable, informative, and sophisticated account of selected diseases on human history. Provided is an integration of infection with politics and culture. Of interest is McNeill’s book was among the first to dissect the role infectious agents played in altering civilizations 


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Ebola's Evolution: Turning Despair to Deliverance: a Road Map for Covid-19

By Michael B.A. Oldstone, Madeleine Rose Oldstone

Book cover of Ebola's Evolution: Turning Despair to Deliverance: a Road Map for Covid-19

Why this book?

This book provides an intimate portrait of outbreaks of Ebola, the world’s most fearsome and deadly virus, and reveals how the result of that experience provides information to help fight Covid-19. Introduced are people who fought heroically with limited resources, including  Sheik Kahn who died fighting Ebola as it spread as a tsunami, Pardis Sabeti a geneticist named “scientist of the year” by Time magazine and Robert Garry who led the fight against viral hemorrhagic diseases. Sabeti and Garry worked with the authors and provide a personal narrative of the involved events.


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