The best books to understand and trust the COVID vaccine

Nina Burleigh Author Of VIRUS: Vaccinations, the CDC and the Hjacking of America’s Response to he Pandemic
By Nina Burleigh

Who am I?

I am a journalist and author who has been lucky enough to follow my curiosity wherever it led – from politics and presidents to climate change and crime. Most of my books explore a theme that fascinates me – the tension between science and religion, faith and reason, that is a defining challenge of our era. I have a deep respect for science, but, like most, an amateur’s understanding of it. The global pandemic has confirmed the need for accessible science writing to help us bring our understanding in line with what’s going on in the labs.

I wrote...

VIRUS: Vaccinations, the CDC and the Hjacking of America’s Response to he Pandemic

By Nina Burleigh,

Book cover of VIRUS: Vaccinations, the CDC and the Hjacking of America’s Response to he Pandemic

What is my book about?

Virus is a short book assessing what went wrong with the government response to the pandemic, what went right with the landmark COVID mRNA vaccine science, and the roots of the culture of conspiracy theories and disregard for expertise that has delayed our national recovery.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Microbe Hunters

By Paul de Kruif,

Book cover of Microbe Hunters

Why did I love this book?

We live in the most medically protected time in human history. Before about two hundred years ago, we were utterly helpless against infectious diseases – we could neither see nor conceive of what caused them. This book, written in the 1920s, tells in vivid prose, the story of the discovery of microbes, beginning with the Dutch businessman who ground the first lenses enabling the human eye to see the “animalcules” that Louis Pasteur and others eventually matched with their deadly effects, enabling humanity to begin to fight back.

By Paul de Kruif,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

“It manages to delight, and frequently to entrance, old and new readers [and] continues to engage our hearts and minds today with an indescribably brand of affectionate sympathy.”—F. Gonzalez-Crussi, from the Introduction

An international bestseller, translated into eighteen languages, Paul de Kruif’s classic account of the first scientists to see and learn about the microscopic world continues to fascinate new readers. This is a timeless dramatization of the scientists, bacteriologists, doctors, and medical technicians who discovered the microbes and invented the vaccines to counter them. De Kruif writes about how seemingly simple but really fundamental discovers of science—for instance, how…

Book cover of Vaccine: The Controversial Story of Medicine's Greatest Lifesaver

Why did I love this book?

Most of us can’t even pronounce the names of the childhood diseases vaccines have almost eradicated, nor can we imagine the parental grief, and childhood suffering, that those diseases routinely inflicted on families until well into the 20th Century. This comprehensive history reminds us that the development of vaccines was always a see-saw between life-saving advances, and terrible mistakes and failures.

By Arthur Allen,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Vaccine juxtaposes the stories of brilliant scientists with the industry's struggle to produce safe, effective, and profitable vaccines. It focuses on the role of military and medical authority in the introduction of vaccines and looks at why some parents have resisted this authority. Political and social intrigue have often accompanied vaccination-from the divisive introduction of smallpox inoculation in colonial Boston to the 9,000 lawsuits recently filed by parents convinced that vaccines caused their children's autism. With narrative grace and investigative journalism, Arthur Allen reveals a history illuminated by hope and shrouded by controversy, and he sheds new light on changing…

The Gene: An Intimate History

By Siddhartha Mukherjee,

Book cover of The Gene: An Intimate History

Why did I love this book?

Genetic science is so new and so specialized that it almost has its own language, and yet it is changing the way we understand life and death, and bringing a new kind of medicine that will radically alter health and medicine in future generations. Mukherjee is the best of science writers, deploying beautiful metaphors to help readers grasp this complex subject.

By Siddhartha Mukherjee,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Gene as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Selected as a Book of the Year by The New York Times, The Economist, Independent, Observer and Mail on Sunday


`Dramatic and precise... [A] thrilling and comprehensive account of what seems certain to be the most radical, controversial and, to borrow from the subtitle, intimate science of our time... He is a natural storyteller... A page-turner... Read this book and steel yourself for what comes next'
Bryan Appleyard, Sunday Times

The Gene is the story of one of the most powerful and dangerous ideas in our…

Book cover of Do You Believe in Magic?: Vitamins, Supplements, and All Things Natural: A Look Behind the Curtain

Why did I love this book?

Dr. Offitt invented one of the most important vaccines introduced in recent years, against a common childhood illness rotavirus, that was deadly in developing countries. In this engaging and sometimes very funny book, he takes on the alternative medicine world and makes a strong case for relying on the scientific method. This is a fact-based book you can share to help people assess false claims.

By Paul A. Offit,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Do You Believe in Magic? as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Medical expert Paul A. Offit, M.D., offers a scathing exposé of the alternative medicine industry, revealing how even though some popular therapies are remarkably helpful due to the placebo response, many of them are ineffective, expensive, and even deadly.

Dr. Offit reveals how alternative medicine—an unregulated industry under no legal obligation to prove its claims or admit its risks—can actually be harmful to our health.

Using dramatic real-life stories, Offit separates the sense from the nonsense, showing why any therapy—alternative or traditional—should be scrutinized. He also shows how some nontraditional methods can do a great deal of good, in some…

Book cover of Poisoner in Chief: Sidney Gottlieb and the CIA Search for Mind Control

Why did I love this book?

Many of the conspiracy theories swirling around the COVID vaccine are rooted in distrust originating in the Cold War and bad uses of science to fight wars. This biography sheds light on that “Stranger Things” dark era, and one of the obscure but influential scientists who helmed some of the nation’s most nefarious efforts, including working with fascist scientists from Germany and cooking up germ warfare.

By Stephen Kinzer,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Poisoner in Chief as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The visionary chemist Sidney Gottlieb was the CIA's master magician and gentle hearted torturer - the agency's "poisoner in chief." As head of the MK-ULTRA mind control project, he directed brutal experiments at secret prisons on three continents. He made pills, powders, and potions that could kill or maim without a trace, and he secretly dosed unsuspecting American citizens with mind-altering drugs. His experiments spread LSD across the United States, making him a hidden godfather of the 1960s counterculture, and he was also the chief supplier of spy tools used by CIA officers around the world.

Stephen Kinzer, the author…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in vaccines, alternative medicine, and hallucinogens?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about vaccines, alternative medicine, and hallucinogens.

Vaccines Explore 7 books about vaccines
Alternative Medicine Explore 27 books about alternative medicine
Hallucinogens Explore 9 books about hallucinogens