100 books like The Origins of AIDS

By Jacques Pépin,

Here are 100 books that The Origins of AIDS fans have personally recommended if you like The Origins of AIDS. Shepherd is a community of 10,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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

Book cover of Plagues and Peoples

Gary Clayton Anderson Author Of Massacre in Minnesota: The Dakota War of 1862, the Most Violent Ethnic Conflict in American History

From my list on stories so engaging you loose track of time.

Why am I passionate about this?

I grew up on the Northern Plains, visiting Indian Reservations where my mother was a social worker. The poverty, hopelessness, and general lack of medical care and schooling made a profound impact on me. It led me to Graduate School and the study of American Indians. Of my twelve books, two have been finalists for the Pulitzer Prize, and several others have won minor prizes. As a historian, I realize that we can turn things around. We can strive to better understand the past, and prepare our children and grandchildren for the future. But this will never happen by banning books. We must face the brave, new world that is upon us.

Gary's book list on stories so engaging you loose track of time

Gary Clayton Anderson Why did Gary love this book?

As a historian, some books just keep coming back to you. McNeill’s Plagues and Peoples is just such a book. 

He is really the first historian to outline the dramatic impact that infectious diseases have had on human history. He outlines the spread of smallpox, diphtheria, Yellow Fever, Malaria, the Plague, and many others, as they originate mostly in Africa and come into the Mediterranean Ocean, to produce cycles of death. 

But the people who lived on the edge of that ocean soon came to develop antibodies, and ultimately, master the impact of such terrible diseases.  

Unfortunately, those diseases were soon transferred to the Americas, where perhaps a hundred million American Indians died from them. They had no immunities!

Had such a calamity not occurred, the two western hemispheric continents might easily be dominated by Natives, who spoke a different language and prayed to a different God.

By William H. McNeill,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Plagues and Peoples as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Upon its original publication, Plagues and Peoples was an immediate critical and popular success, offering a radically new interpretation of world history as seen through the extraordinary impact--political, demographic, ecological, and psychological--of disease on cultures. From the conquest of Mexico by smallpox as much as by the Spanish, to the bubonic plague in China, to the typhoid epidemic in Europe, the history of disease is the history of humankind. With the identification of AIDS in the early 1980s, another chapter has been added to this chronicle of events, which William McNeill explores in his new introduction to this updated editon.…


Book cover of No Time to Lose: A Life in Pursuit of Deadly Viruses

David Quammen Author Of Breathless: The Scientific Race to Defeat a Deadly Virus

From my list on rigorously scientific scary viruses.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a journalist and an author, I’ve been covering the subject of scary viruses for twenty years—ever since I walked through Ebola habitat in a forest in northeastern Gabon, on assignment for National Geographic. I’ve interviewed many of the eminent experts—from Peter Piot to Marion Koopmans to Tony Fauci—and have spent field time with some of the intrepid younger disease ecologists who look for viruses in bat guano in Chinese caves and in gorilla blood in Central African forests. My book Spillover, published in 2012, drew much of that research together in describing the history and evolutionary ecology of animal infections that spill into humans.

David's book list on rigorously scientific scary viruses

David Quammen Why did David love this book?

Peter Piot was a young microbiologist at a lab in Belgium, in 1976, when he was assigned to analyze specimens in a thermos bottle shipped up from Zaire, where villagers were dying of a horrific and unknown disease. The thermos contained a virus that came to be known as Ebola. This was the event, as his book vividly recounts, that led Piot to a long and distinguished career in infectious viral diseases, from Ebola to AIDS and beyond.

By Peter Piot,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked No Time to Lose as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When Peter Piot was in medical school, a professor warned, "There's no future in infectious diseases. They've all been solved." Fortunately, Piot ignored him, and the result has been an exceptional, adventure-filled career. In the 1970s, as a young man, Piot was sent to Central Africa as part of a team tasked with identifying a grisly new virus. Crossing into the quarantine zone on the most dangerous missions, he studied local customs to determine how this disease-the Ebola virus-was spreading. Later, Piot found himself in the field again when another mysterious epidemic broke out: AIDS. He traveled throughout Africa, leading…


Book cover of Lifting the Impenetrable Veil: From Yellow Fever to Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever & SARS

David Quammen Author Of Breathless: The Scientific Race to Defeat a Deadly Virus

From my list on rigorously scientific scary viruses.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a journalist and an author, I’ve been covering the subject of scary viruses for twenty years—ever since I walked through Ebola habitat in a forest in northeastern Gabon, on assignment for National Geographic. I’ve interviewed many of the eminent experts—from Peter Piot to Marion Koopmans to Tony Fauci—and have spent field time with some of the intrepid younger disease ecologists who look for viruses in bat guano in Chinese caves and in gorilla blood in Central African forests. My book Spillover, published in 2012, drew much of that research together in describing the history and evolutionary ecology of animal infections that spill into humans.

David's book list on rigorously scientific scary viruses

David Quammen Why did David love this book?

Charlie Calisher is a veteran in the field of killer viruses transmitted by mosquitoes and other arthropods, retired now after decades of dangerous work for the CDC, in collaboration with the WHO, and at Colorado State University. He’s also a sly, plainspoken curmudgeon with a golden heart, a piquant sense of humor, and a wonderfully easy way of telling the stories of science in a conversational tone. The fact that he has honored me with his friendship, and been an invaluable counsel to me and to others on the subject of viruses, biases my high opinion of this book practically not at all.

By Charles H. Calisher,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Lifting the Impenetrable Veil as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

History books can be boring to read but Dr. Charles Calisher has written a history of the early days of virus research that is anything but boring. His book emphasizes viruses, organization, and people, the combination which has led us to today. Using yellow fever and the virus that causes it, yellow fever virus, as an example of a disease caused by a virus transmitted by insects, Calisher takes us through the days when knowledge of these diseases was in short supply, techniques were primitive, but researchers were brilliant, innovative, and hard-working. From Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch, to Walter…


Book cover of The Evolution and Emergence of RNA Viruses

David Quammen Author Of Breathless: The Scientific Race to Defeat a Deadly Virus

From my list on rigorously scientific scary viruses.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a journalist and an author, I’ve been covering the subject of scary viruses for twenty years—ever since I walked through Ebola habitat in a forest in northeastern Gabon, on assignment for National Geographic. I’ve interviewed many of the eminent experts—from Peter Piot to Marion Koopmans to Tony Fauci—and have spent field time with some of the intrepid younger disease ecologists who look for viruses in bat guano in Chinese caves and in gorilla blood in Central African forests. My book Spillover, published in 2012, drew much of that research together in describing the history and evolutionary ecology of animal infections that spill into humans.

David's book list on rigorously scientific scary viruses

David Quammen Why did David love this book?

Into the deep weeds, for those who dare! Eddie (as he is famously known) Holmes is one of the world’s leading experts on molecular evolutionary virology, particularly regarding the RNA viruses—which are the scariest and most menacing ones, the ones that mutate often, evolve fast, and spill over from animals to cause gruesome new diseases in humans. Ebola. Marburg. Nipah. Hendra. SARS-1. MERS. Zika. The dengues. And of course SARS-CoV-2, the COVID-19 beast. Eddie Holmes explains, in lucid but authoritative prose, where these creatures come from, how they adapt so well to infecting people, and why RNA virology is a crucial survival tool for the human future.

By Edward C. Holmes,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Evolution and Emergence of RNA Viruses as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

RNA viruses provide unique insights into the patterns and processes of evolutionary change in real time. The study of viral evolution is especially topical given the growing awareness that emerging and re-emerging diseases (most of which are caused by RNA viruses) represent a major threat to public health. However, while the study of viral evolution has developed rapidly in the last 30 years, relatively little attention has been directed toward linking work on the
mechanisms of viral evolution within cells or individual hosts, to the epidemiological outcomes of these processes. This novel book fills this gap by considering the patterns…


Book cover of Tinderbox: How the West Sparked the AIDS Epidemic and How the World Can Finally Overcome it

Stephanie Nolen Author Of 28: Stories of AIDS in Africa

From my list on understanding Africa’s AIDS pandemic and feeling hopeful.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m the global health reporter for The New York Times, the latest iteration in 30 years as a foreign correspondent. I’ve covered wars and humanitarian disasters, but it’s health stories that have always drawn me most. Health stories are intimate and personal, but they’re also about politics and economics, and social norms – about power. I’ve written about the Zika virus crisis in Brazil, child malnutrition in India, teen suicide in the Arctic – but no story has drawn me in and kept me riveted like Africa’s AIDS pandemic has over the past 25 years. I intend to keep reporting on it until the day a cure is found.

Stephanie's book list on understanding Africa’s AIDS pandemic and feeling hopeful

Stephanie Nolen Why did Stephanie love this book?

Craig Timberg was a reporting colleague when I was a correspondent in South Africa, and became a friend, one with whom I often passionately disagreed.

That’s why I suggest this book: it offers a very different perspective than mine. Craig and his co-author Halperin, an epidemiologist whose work had a big influence on Craig’s thinking, draw a clear through-line for how Western powers created the sparks of the African epidemic then vigorously fanned them.

A significant chunk of the book focuses on solutions (Halperin is a vociferous champion of male circumcision as an intervention to drive down the spread of the virus). It’s a brisk read that makes complex epidemiological dynamics accessible.

By Craig Timberg, Daniel Halperin,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In this groundbreaking narrative, longtime Washington Post reporter Craig Timberg and award-winning AIDS researcher Daniel Halperin tell the surprising story of how Western colonial powers unwittingly sparked the AIDS epidemic and then fanned its rise. Drawing on remarkable new science, Tinderbox overturns the conventional wisdom on the origins of this deadly pandemic and the best ways to fight it today.

Recent genetic studies have traced the birth of HIV to the forbidding equatorial forests of Cameroon, where chimpanzees carried the virus for millennia without causing a major outbreak in humans. During the Scramble for Africa, colonial companies blazed new routes…


Book cover of To End a Plague: America's Fight to Defeat AIDS in Africa

Stephanie Nolen Author Of 28: Stories of AIDS in Africa

From my list on understanding Africa’s AIDS pandemic and feeling hopeful.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m the global health reporter for The New York Times, the latest iteration in 30 years as a foreign correspondent. I’ve covered wars and humanitarian disasters, but it’s health stories that have always drawn me most. Health stories are intimate and personal, but they’re also about politics and economics, and social norms – about power. I’ve written about the Zika virus crisis in Brazil, child malnutrition in India, teen suicide in the Arctic – but no story has drawn me in and kept me riveted like Africa’s AIDS pandemic has over the past 25 years. I intend to keep reporting on it until the day a cure is found.

Stephanie's book list on understanding Africa’s AIDS pandemic and feeling hopeful

Stephanie Nolen Why did Stephanie love this book?

I’m going to say right off the top that this book is not well written: it’s turgid and florid and hard to follow. But it’s also recent, unlike most of the books on my list, and it’s the first comprehensive accounting of PEPFAR, the extraordinary US intervention into the African pandemic.

It’s impossible to understand the huge shift in the dynamic of the pandemic without understanding how massively George Bush’s decision to support HIV treatment in Africa changed – well, everything – and Bass is the first writer to try to really dig into that story.

By Emily Bass,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked To End a Plague as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Randy Shilts and Laurie Garrett told the story of the HIV/AIDS epidemic through the late 1980s and the early 1990s, respectively. Now journalist-historian-activist Emily Bass tells the story of US engagement in HIV/AIDS control in sub-Saharan Africa. There is far to go on the path, but Bass tells us how far we've come." -Sten H. Vermund, professor and dean, Yale School of Public Health

With his 2003 announcement of a program known as PEPFAR, George W. Bush launched an astonishingly successful American war against a global pandemic. PEPFAR played a key role in slashing HIV cases and AIDS deaths in…


Book cover of My Beautiful Death

Michiel Heyns Author Of A Poor Season for Whales

From my list on by Africans that don’t have much to say about Africa.

Why am I passionate about this?

As an African author, I find that my books end up on the ‘African fiction’ shelf in the bookstore, which can be a disadvantage if my novel is, say, about Henry James or the Trojan War, both of which I've written novels about. As a lecturer in English literature, I've become acquainted with a vast and varied array of literature. So, whereas of course there are many wonderful African novels that deal with specifically African themes, I think the label African novel can be constricting and commercially disadvantageous. Many African novelists see themselves as part of a larger community, and their novels reflect that perspective, even though they are nominally set in Africa.

Michiel's book list on by Africans that don’t have much to say about Africa

Michiel Heyns Why did Michiel love this book?

Eben Venter, though born in the heart of the South African ‘platteland’ (the South African equivalent of ‘fly-over country’), has spent much of his adult life in Australia, and the novel poignantly straddles the two locales: the constricting conservatism of the protagonist’s farm background, and the bewildering freedoms and opportunities of a more cosmopolitan setting. Here that conflict is heartbreakingly acted out and in a grim sense resolved in the main character’s losing battle against AIDS, and his death-bed reconciliation with his hitherto unbending father. Venter gives us a harrowing account of what it is like to die of a disease that wastes your body, blinds you, and makes you mad before killing you. It is all the more remarkable that the experience is registered from the inside, as it were, in a subjective stream of consciousness. The poignancy of the novel is intensified for me by knowing that the…

By Eben Venter,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Konstant Wasserman rebels against his people, culture and country. In his own words: I’m going to get the hell away from here and make the life I want somewhere else.

Thus he migrates to Sydney, Australia where he slips into a new way of life: a vegetarian diet, a crazy hairstyle and an adventure with the sexually ambivalent Jude. With this “dark horse” of his he arrives at places where he’d never wanted to go.

In the Wollondilly wilderness west of Sydney he discovers the first symptoms of a terminal disease. Now his real journey starts.


Book cover of Reports from the Holocaust: The Making of an AIDS Activist

Ron Goldberg Author Of Boy with the Bullhorn: A Memoir and History of ACT UP New York

From my list on to inspire the activist in you.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a nice gay Jewish former wannabe actor turned AIDS activist. I joined ACT UP, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, in 1987, and for the next eight years, I chaired committees, planned protests, led teach-ins, and facilitated our weekly meetings. I visited friends in hospitals, attended far too many AIDS memorials, participated in over a hundred zaps and demonstrations, and earned the title of ACT UP’s unofficial “Chant Queen.” It was the hardest, most intense, most rewarding, most joyous, and most devastating time of my life. Aware that I had witnessed history, it became my mission to record what happened and to make sure our story was not forgotten. 

Ron's book list on to inspire the activist in you

Ron Goldberg Why did Ron love this book?

In Reports from the Holocaust, Larry Kramer charts his own journey into AIDS activism, through a collection of his articles, speeches, jeremiads, and public pronouncements dating from the earliest days of the AIDS crisis. A combination gadfly, angry prophet, activist conscience, and provocateur, Larry was also a huge pain-in-the-ass and an unyielding and loving advocate for the gay community—all of which is on full display here. The book includes his incendiary “1,112 and counting,” written in 1983, which first awakened me (and the rest of the gay community) to the political dimensions of the AIDS crisis, as well as his speech four years later, that led to the formation of ACT UP. I defy you to read this book and not want to take to the streets in protest.

By Larry Kramer,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Reports from the Holocaust as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Author of "Faggots" and the screenplay for "Women in Love", Kramer is also co-founder of America's first AIDS service organization, Gay Men's Health Crisis. This work is a collection of Kramer's central articles, over a period of ten years, together with a new essay on the current state of AIDS.


Book cover of How to Write an Autobiographical Novel: Essays

Winter Miller Author Of Not a Cat: A Memoir

From my list on memoirs by very sexy writers.

Why am I passionate about this?

Raised by activist feminist parents and schooled by Quakers, I am surprisingly amusing. Eartha Kitt once held my left hand for five minutes. I work primarily as a playwright; Not a Cat is my first children’s book! Now when I show up at a little kid’s birthday instead of bringing a play I wrote, I can give the tot age-appropriate reading material. For me, reading a memoir is this intimate exchange with a writer where they’ve shared everything, and I’ve revealed nothing. What’s better than a good story beautifully curated? Okay, a cookie, but that’s it. I hope my book reaches all the kids out there who are told: be less this and more that

Winter's book list on memoirs by very sexy writers

Winter Miller Why did Winter love this book?

Of the very, very many books about writing and reading, Alexander Chee’s book of essays is among the best. His prose is honest and soul-baring and his descriptions are the kind you wish you’d thought of. The collection is basically a coming-of-age story divided into anecdotal episodes—as an exchange student wanting love in Mexico, working at a famous gay bookstore in San Francisco while AIDS decimated his community, and time in academia. Chee has an affection for his readers and students that is engaging. He’s also a great Twitter presence and like Jacob, also a looker. At a Christmas party we both attended, we discovered we are Leos, so, we’re basically bonded for life. 

By Alexander Chee,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked How to Write an Autobiographical Novel as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Shortlisted for the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay

Named a Best Book of 2018 by TIME, Washington Post, Entertainment Weekly, Wired, Esquire, Buzzfeed, Paste, Bitch, Bustle, The Chicago Review of Books and iBooks

As a novelist, Alexander Chee has been described as 'masterful' by Roxane Gay, 'incendiary' by the New York Times, and 'brilliant' by the Washington Post. With How to Write an Autobiographical Novel, his first collection of nonfiction, he secures his place as one of the finest essayists of his generation.

How to Write an Autobiographical Novel is the author's exploration of the entangling of…


Book cover of We Are Having This Conversation Now: The Times of AIDS Cultural Production

Marika Cifor Author Of Viral Cultures: Activist Archiving in the Age of AIDS

From my list on how to have sex in an epidemic.

Why am I passionate about this?

Amidst COVID-19, HIV/AIDS is a touchpoint for journalists, scholars, writers, and a public who seek a usable past in understanding the present and making an uncertain future less so. The challenge of how to love, live, and survive amidst pandemics isn't new, I play here on the title of one of the first safer sex books, How to Have Sex in an Epidemic. As someone who studies how activists document their work and how they bring those materials to life today, I'm both fascinated and troubled by pandemic comparisons. These books offer crucial stories and productive tools to think with as we navigate questions of how to survive, and maybe even thrive amidst intersecting pandemics. 

Marika's book list on how to have sex in an epidemic

Marika Cifor Why did Marika love this book?

In We Are Having This Conversation Now, Alexandra Juhasz and Theodore Kerr blow up the conventions of academic work on epidemics.

In a series of thirteen short dialogues they reflect as activists, media-makers, and scholars on the history, present, and future of AIDS. The reflections on AIDS-related culture and conversation they share, will spark for readers critical questions about how personal experiences, community, cultural production, and interpersonal relations come together.

Doing this kind of reflective work is particularly important now, as we need to begin to understand not only HIV/AIDS, but how it impacts the experience of living amidst other viral pandemics including COVID-19. 

By Alexandra Juhasz, Theodore Kerr,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked We Are Having This Conversation Now as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

We Are Having This Conversation Now offers a history, present, and future of AIDS through thirteen short conversations between Alexandra Juhasz and Theodore Kerr, scholars deeply embedded in HIV responses. They establish multiple timelines of the epidemic, offering six foundational periodizations of AIDS culture, tracing how attention to the crisis has waxed and waned from the 1980s to the present. They begin the book with a 1990 educational video produced by a Black health collective, using it to consider organizing intersectionally, theories of videotape, empowerment movements, and memorialization. This video is one of many powerful yet overlooked objects that the…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in HIV/AIDS, Africa, and presidential biography?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about HIV/AIDS, Africa, and presidential biography.

HIV/AIDS Explore 62 books about HIV/AIDS
Africa Explore 251 books about Africa
Presidential Biography Explore 19 books about presidential biography