100 books like Tinderbox

By Craig Timberg, Daniel Halperin,

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

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Book cover of Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World

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?

Wait, this book isn’t about Africa! No: it’s a biography of Dr. Paul Farmer, a co-founder of the medical humanitarian agency Partners in Health who died in 2022, and who had a major influence on how I, and thousands of others, think about providing healthcare in low-resource settings.

This extremely readable biography of Farmer focuses mostly on his work in Haiti – where Farmer did pioneering work on HIV treatment – and while it’s the other side of the world, it’s a crucial text for rethinking how we understand structural inequalities and access to health care.

The seeds of Farmer’s radical approach were taken by many idealistic medical workers into African HIV programs and indeed when he died, he was in Rwanda, where he co-founded the University of Global Health Equity.

By Tracy Kidder, Michael French,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Mountains Beyond Mountains as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 12, 13, 14, and 15.

What is this book about?

Tracy Kidder's critically acclaimed adult nonfiction work, Mountains Beyond Mountains has been adapted for young people by Michael French. In this young adult edition, readers are introduced to Dr. Paul Farmer, a Harvard-educated doctor with a self-proclaimed mission to transform healthcare on a global scale. Farmer focuses his attention on some of the world's most impoverished people and uses unconventional ways in which to provide healthcare, to achieve real results and save lives.


Book cover of HIV & AIDS: A Very Short Introduction

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?

This book is exactly what the title promises, and a great place to start.

It’s written by a Swazi health economist who has worked on HIV in Africa for more than 30 years; I have learned a lot from Whiteside and his research over my years of covering this issue. The book looks at the biology and epidemiology of HIV, and also at all the ways it shapes societies.

Whiteside takes complicated concepts of population dynamics, sexual networking, AIDS, and geopolitical security and explains them briskly, clearly, concisely. His focus is the global AIDS epidemic, but his own work and the book are both deeply rooted in Africa.

By Alan Whiteside,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In 2008 it was believed that HIV/AIDS was without doubt the worst epidemic to hit humankind since the Black Death. The first case was identified in 1981; by 2004 it was estimated that about 40 million people were living with the disease, and about 20 million had died. Yet the outlook today is a little brighter. Although HIV/ AIDS continues to be a pressing public health issue the epidemic has stabilised globally, and it has become evident it is not, nor will it be, a
global issue. The worst affected regions are southern and eastern Africa. Elsewhere, HIV is found…


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 Sizwe's Test: A Young Man's Journey Through Africa's AIDS Epidemic

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?

Steinberg is one of South Africa’s great writers of narrative non-fiction; his work is oddly little known outside his home country and it was of huge value to me when I discovered it, not long after I moved to Johannesburg.

This book tracks the progress of a testing and treatment program in Lusikisiki, which had one of the highest HIV infection rates in the world. Part of the story is told through the eyes of a white doctor who expects that, once treatment is there, everyone will seek it out – and a young Black man named Sizwe, clever and successful, who shows all the reasons why HIV response is not as simple as opening up a clinic.

Steinberg’s book probes into some of the messier, less-well-understood dynamics that have driven the pandemic, and features voices rarely heard outside a community like Lusikisiki.

By Jonny Steinberg,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Sizwe's Test as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

At the age of twenty-nine, Sizwe Magadla is among the most handsome, well-educated, and richest of the men in his poverty-stricken village. Dr. Hermann Reuter, a son of old South West African stock, wants to show the world that if you provide decent treatment, people will come and get it, no matter their circumstances.

Sizwe and Hermann live at the epicenter of the greatest plague of our times, the African AIDS epidemic. In South Africa alone, nearly 6 million people in a population of 46 million are HIV-positive. Already, Sizwe has watched several neighbors grow ill and die, yet he…


Book cover of The Origins of AIDS

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?

Scientists now know that the AIDS virus, HIV-1, entered the human population much earlier than is commonly thought—back around 1908, give or take a margin of error, and via a single spillover from a chimpanzee into a human, probably by blood exposure when a chimp was killed and butchered for food. Pepin’s book illuminates how the virus might then, slowly and quietly at first, have spread from a forest in southeastern Cameroun, down tributaries of the Congo River to major cities such as Brazzaville and Leopoldville (now Kinshasa), and from there to the world. Pepin’s work was vastly helpful to me when I assembled my own account of that story, included in my own books.

By Jacques Pépin,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

It is now forty years since the discovery of AIDS, but its origins continue to puzzle doctors, scientists and patients. Inspired by his own experiences working as a physician in a bush hospital in Zaire, Jacques Pepin looks back to the early twentieth-century events in central Africa that triggered the emergence of HIV/AIDS and traces its subsequent development into the most dramatic and destructive epidemic of modern times. He shows how the disease was first transmitted from chimpanzees to man and then how military campaigns, urbanisation, prostitution and large-scale colonial medical interventions intended to eradicate tropical diseases combined to disastrous…


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 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 Caribbean Pleasure Industry: Tourism, Sexuality, and AIDS in the Dominican Republic

Trevon D. Logan Author Of Economics, Sexuality, and Male Sex Work

From my list on understandING the world’s oldest profession.

Why am I passionate about this?

We know that there are markets for “illegal” goods and services, but how do these illegal markets operate? It’s not about who is participating in the market, but about how markets for things that are illegal function. How do you start your illegal business? How do you attract customers? How do you establish a reputation? All of these things are questions that attracted me to the study of male sex work. It is an occupation is thousands of participants. I was excited about the way that male sex work is illegal but also in plain view on the internet.  

Trevon's book list on understandING the world’s oldest profession

Trevon D. Logan Why did Trevon love this book?

This is the first book I read about sex tourism, which is a growing part of the market for sex work in developing countries. 

This book focuses on the men who provide services to men who are travelling to the Dominican Republic to engage with sex workers. Most of the men in this book identify as “straight” and have to navigate their personal identity and relationships while earning a living providing this service to other men.

I also really like the way this book discusses the health risks and how sex workers use various strategies to minimize the risk to themselves and their partners in an occupation that places them in the cross-hairs of an international market for sex tourism.

By Mark Padilla,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In recent years, the economy of the Caribbean has become almost completely dependent on international tourism. And today one of the chief ways that foreign visitors there seek pleasure is through prostitution. While much has been written on the female sex workers who service these tourists, "Caribbean Pleasure Industry" shifts the focus to the men. Drawing on his ground-breaking ethnographic research in the Dominican Republic, Mark Padilla discovers a complex world where the global political and economic impact of tourism has led to shifting sexual identities, growing economic pressures, and new challenges for HIV prevention. In fluid prose, Padilla analyzes…


Book cover of My Own Country: A Doctor's Story

Hannah Wunsch Author Of The Autumn Ghost: How the Battle Against a Polio Epidemic Revolutionized Modern Medical Care

From my list on medical history that reads like fiction.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a critical care doctor, I love pausing when taking care of patients in a modern ICU to reflect on how far we’ve come in the care we can provide. I want to be entertained while learning about the past, and so I seek out books on medical history that find the wonder and the beauty (and the bizarre and chilling) and make it come alive. I get excited when medical history can be shared in a way that isn’t dry, or academic. These books all do that for me and capture some part of that crazy journey through time. 

Hannah's book list on medical history that reads like fiction

Hannah Wunsch Why did Hannah love this book?

This is a memoir that has really stayed with me. It is beautifully written and a compulsive read.

Dr. Verghese describes the world of the deep south on the precipice of the AIDS epidemic. It is his story of being a young doctor, but also the story of the explosion in HIV cases far from the coastal cities that were the epicenters of the epidemic. I found myself crying over the cases he described, and feeling his heart-ache as he battled for individuals with HIV to gain acceptance, support, and treatments in their communities. 

By Abraham Verghese,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked My Own Country as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A Doctor's storyof a town and its people in the age of Aids


Book cover of Was

Jeffrey Richards Author Of We Are Only Ghosts

From my list on LGBT+ novels that haunt me (in a good way).

Why am I passionate about this?

I came of age in Oklahoma as a gay youth in the late 1970s and early 1980s, keeping myself hidden out of safety and shame. Once I was old enough to leave my small-minded town and be myself, I crashed headlong into the oncoming AIDS epidemic. It set me on a path to understanding the world and my place in it as a homosexual. I turned to reading about the lives and histories of those who came before me, to learn about their deaths and survivals in what could be an ugly, brutal world. These works continue to draw me, haunt me, and inspire me to share my story through my writing. 

Jeffrey's book list on LGBT+ novels that haunt me (in a good way)

Jeffrey Richards Why did Jeffrey love this book?

Oh, Was, how I love your relentlessly bleak, depressing sadness.

This is a strangely inventive novel that twines reality and fantasy into a brutal, desolate, yet gorgeous story of pain and survival. Told from the points of view of numerous characters, each story is tethered in some way to The Wizard of Oz, that venerable fable about good versus evil in the search for home.

Ryman introduces us to a main trio of characters whose lives are all equally harrowing–Dorothy Gael (the imagined inspiration for The Wizard of Oz heroine and the victim of familial sexual abuse), Frances Gumm (who becomes the tragic Judy Garland), and Jonathan (an actor experiencing AIDS-related dementia)–whose stories he intricately weaves together like a master craftsman. And while the novel is not a “happy” read by any stretch of the imagination, what has stayed with me throughout the past thirty years is its…

By Geoff Ryman,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Dorothy, orphaned in the 1870s, goes to live with her Aunty Em and Uncle Henry. Baby Frances sings with her family on stage in the 1920s. From the settling of the West and the heyday of the studios, to the metropolis of modern Los Angeles, this book follows the development of the USA.


5 book lists we think you will like!

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