The most recommended books about the Black Death

Who picked these books? Meet our 49 experts.

49 authors created a book list connected to the Black Death, and here are their favorite Black Death books.
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What type of Black Death book?


Book cover of The Betrothed

Rita Monaldi and Francesco Sorti Author Of Imprimatur

From my list on how the Plague changed history.

Why are we passionate about this?

We have always been fascinated by literary masterworks that stage the plague as a pivotal factor in the plot. We added the next ingredients: a whodunnit with a claustrophobic setting, the Baroque Age, a (real) financial thriller between Rome and London, and an unusual protagonist. Rita is a historian of religions, Francesco is a musicologist. After working as journalists, meeting in a newspaper bureau, and getting happily married, we started a writing career publishing 11 novels translated into 26 languages and 60 countries with more than 2 million copies sold. Our novels are a mix of literary creativity and meticulous research, characters and settings are strictly based on original documents and eyewitness accounts. 

Rita's book list on how the Plague changed history

Rita Monaldi and Francesco Sorti Why did Rita love this book?

This epic novel in Walter Scott’s good tradition, but with a plus of philosophical depth, taught us (and generations of authors) how to wave together love and hope, freedom and destiny, pride and courage. The plague’s tragic outcome around 1630 in northern Italy offered such a powerful literary palette that Manzoni had to spin off a chapter about the epidemic and publish it separately. Nevertheless, The Betrothed is still marked by death and devastation, the hysterical witch-hunt against the alleged “plague-spreaders” and the impressive scenes in the lazarettos.

By Alessandro Manzoni, Count Daniel O'Mahony (translator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Set in Lombardy during the Spanish occupation of the late 1620s, The Betrothed tells the story of two young lovers, Renzo and Lucia, prevented from marrying by the petty tyrant Don Rodrigo, who desires Lucia for himself. Forced to flee, they are then cruelly separated, and must face many dangers including plague, famine and imprisonment, and confront a variety of strange characters - the mysterious Nun of Monza, the fiery Father Cristoforo and the sinister 'Unnamed' - in their struggle to be reunited. A vigorous portrayal of enduring passion,

Book cover of The Rats

Chris McInally Author Of Relict

From my list on creature feature books that aren't Jaws.

Why am I passionate about this?

For as long as I can remember, I have shared an affinity with monsters. Or at least, what we humans define as monsters. I suppose you could say I have a bit of a Frankenstein complex (if there is such a thing). I see myself in them sometimes. A little sad perhaps, but true, nonetheless. So, who better to compile a "top-5" creature feature list for you to enjoy?

Chris' book list on creature feature books that aren't Jaws

Chris McInally Why did Chris love this book?

If I had to use one word to describe The Rats it would be brutal.

I say this not simply because of the savage depictions of gore and other intense imagery conjured by Herbert throughout, but also the blunt and grim depictions of working-class 1970s London.

This book is so much more than a tale of man-eating monsters. I found it to be a scathing critique of social decay and the prerequisite neglect that gives rise to such conditions. To be honest, I didn’t know what I was walking into and that is why it has stayed with me. Consider yourself warned. I wish I had been.

By James Herbert,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A special fortieth anniversary edition of The Rats, the classic, bestselling horror novel that launched James Herbert's career.

With a foreword by Neil Gaiman, author of Norse Mythology.

It was only when the bones of the first devoured victims were discovered that the true nature and power of these swarming black creatures with their razor sharp teeth and the taste for human blood began to be realized by a panic-stricken city. For millions of years man and rats had been natural enemies. But now for the first time - suddenly, shockingly, horribly - the balance of power had shifted .…

Book cover of Medieval York 600-1540

Candace Robb Author Of The Riverwoman's Dragon

From my list on medieval York.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have been writing the Owen Archer mysteries, set in and around the city of York in the late 14th century, for 30 years, ever since falling in love with the city of York on a visit. As I studied medieval literature and culture in graduate school, with a special interest in Chaucer, I’ve focused my research on the period in which he lived. I’ve spent months walking the streets of the city, hiking through the countryside, and meeting with local historians. Besides the 13 Owen Archer mysteries I’ve also published 3 Kate Clifford mysteries covering Richard II’s downfall, both series grounded in the politics and culture of medieval York and Yorkshire. 

Candace's book list on medieval York

Candace Robb Why did Candace love this book?

If you want even earlier information than 1068, Palliser begins with Roman York, Eboracum, moves through Scandinavian York, Jorvik, and then joins up with the city as it grows in the middle ages. The introduction discusses why a city grew in this particular spot, the strategic, geologic, and geographic advantage of the Vale of York.

This is the perfect complement to Rees Jones’s book, with more emphasis on the political and military history than hers and extending past the Black Death into the large degree of independent rule gained in two charters granted by King Richard II, then on to the gradual decline of the city in the 16th century.

By D. M. Palliser,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Medieval York 600-1540 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Medieval York provides a comprehensive history of what is now considered England's most famous surviving medieval city, covering nearly a thousand years. The volume examines York from its post-Roman revival as a town (c. 600) to the major changes of the 1530s and 1540s, which in many ways brought an end to the Middle Ages in England. York was one of the leading English towns after London, and in status almost always the 'second city'.

Much research and publication has been carried out on various aspects of medieval York, but this volume seeks to cover the field in its entirety.…

Book cover of A Journal of the Plague Year

Alexander Fisher Author Of Delirium

From my list on where a catastrophe makes society fall apart.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve always been fascinated by the strangeness of human character when tested to the limit by overwhelming catastrophe. I’ve always wanted to write a story that brings into stark relief the courage, fear, ambition, tragedy, absurdity, and the ecstatic. In other words, a disaster. And if character is destiny, then an apocalypse maybe the best way to show us who we really are and where we’re going. My debut novel, Delirium focuses on these extremes of character. And after writing it I reached one indelible conclusion: that the human being is the most disturbed creature, but also the most hopeful.

Alexander's book list on where a catastrophe makes society fall apart

Alexander Fisher Why did Alexander love this book?

I enjoyed reading this book both as a historical artefact of the 17th century but also because Defoe’s plain, matter-of-fact style makes all the chaos, the shrieking, the death carts, families locked in their houses, health certificates, the delirium, the fear of coming too close, the paranoia, the panic and the madness that surrounds the narrator all the more disturbing.

He is a witness whose curiosity far outweighs his fear. But there’s also the Defoe-like sense of adventure when for instance a group of three escape London and shift for themselves in a countryside whose towns and villages are hostile to strangers. Instructive, disquieting, gripping, indelible.

This retained its curiosity value even on a second reading. A great little book.

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 Bookseller's Tale

Toni Mount Author Of The Colour of Bone

From my list on murder mysteries to challenge your brain cells.

Why am I passionate about this?

Many years ago, when I’d read my first medieval mystery, I decided I wanted to write my own. But mine would be as realistic as I could manage; I wanted the reader to smell medieval London and to be there with me. A lot had been written about Kings and Queens but not much about ordinary life so that became the center of my academic study leading eventually to my Master's Degree in medieval medicine. As well as my novels I now write popular factual books and I’m pleased to say people have taken the time to say how much they enjoy the fine details I share.

Toni's book list on murder mysteries to challenge your brain cells

Toni Mount Why did Toni love this book?

Again, we are in the fourteenth century, in Oxford, but following the first terrible onslaught of the Black Death. The title made this a must-read for me because my own sleuth, Seb Foxley, is involved with the making and selling of books, just like Ann Swinfen’s hero, Nicholas Elyot. I wasn’t disappointed.

The characters came alive for me and I too was sad when a good student was found drowned in the river. But the bookseller is suspicious and uncovers a villainous plot, putting him, his family and friends in danger.

A beautifully-woven medieval mystery; I had to read it in one go – forget the washing up. Fortunately, this is book 1 of the Oxford Medieval Mysteries so there’s more fun to come.

By Ann Swinfen,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Oxford, Spring 1353. When young bookseller Nicholas Elyot discovers the body of student William Farringdon floating in the river Cherwell, it looks like a drowning. Soon, however, Nicholas finds evidence of murder. Who could have wanted to kill this promising student? As Nicholas and his scholar friend Jordain try to unravel what lies behind William’s death, they learn that he was innocently caught up in a criminal plot. When their investigations begin to involve town, university, and abbey, Nicholas takes a risky gamble – and puts his family in terrible danger.

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 Pathogenesis

Celia Haddon Author Of Being Your Cat: What's really going on in your feline's mind

From Celia's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Mad cat lady Love study Kitten rehabber

Celia's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Celia Haddon Why did Celia love this book?

I reviewed this for The Salisbury Review and wasn’t expecting to like it. But I did.

I had no idea that the Roman Empire had suffered various plagues and that these, rather than Christianity, may have led to its downfall. And maybe the Neanderthals died out because we modern humans gave them deadly diseases.

You wouldn’t think a book about plagues and epidemics could be fun, but it was!

By Jonathan Kennedy,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?


'Powerfully argued... Fascinating and pacy' Sunday Times, Book of the Week
'Superbly written... sure to please readers of Yuval Noah Harari or Rutger Bregman' The Times
'Full of amazing facts' Observer
'The book shines when it brings cutting-edge science to bear' Financial Times
'A dizzying range of material' The Economist
'A humbling story for humankind' Spectator

Challenges some of the greatest cliches about colonialism... A revelation' SATHNAM SANGHERA
'Thrilling and eye-opening' LEWIS DARTNELL
'Science and history at its best' MARK HONIGSBAUM
'Unpicks everything we thought we knew... Mind blowing' CAL FLYN


Book cover of Company of Liars: A Novel

S.P. Oldham Author Of Wakeful Children: A Collection of Horror and Supernatural Tales

From my list on creepy British ghost stories.

Why am I passionate about this?

I grew up in South Wales, where ghost stories are cherished. As a child, I spent many a winter evening telling spooky tales with my mum and my sisters, sitting before the fire. We would record them on tape (I am that old) complete with homemade sound effects, then play them back to listen to. I loved the combined fear and excitement these stories instilled in me. My father also loved to read horror and scary fiction, which had some influence on what I chose to read as I grew older. For someone who always loved to write, I think publishing in this genre is simply a natural extension of all that.

S.P.'s book list on creepy British ghost stories

S.P. Oldham Why did S.P. love this book?

As well as horror and the supernatural, I love historical fiction; partly why this book appealed to me. Karen Maitland obviously knows her history, making the background darkly believable.

The story has a bleak setting: Mid-1300s, England. Sustained severe weather leads to widespread starvation and poverty. A mean-spirited man who owns a horse and cart finds himself travelling with a group of misfits, including a distinctly odd, very creepy, little girl. 

All the characters have intriguing secrets in their pasts. I really enjoyed finding out about them, who they really are, what they are running away from. They are all trying to outrun the Plague, which is never far behind for the whole story, almost like a living entity itself.

I still think about this book from time to time, especially the ending, but no spoilers here.

By Karen Maitland,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In this extraordinary novel, Karen Maitland delivers a dazzling reinterpretation of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales—an ingenious alchemy of history, mystery, and powerful human drama.

The year is 1348. The Black Plague grips the country. In a world ruled by faith and fear, nine desperate strangers, brought together by chance, attempt to outrun the certain death that is running inexorably toward them.

Each member of this motley company has a story to tell. From Camelot, the relic-seller who will become the group’s leader, to Cygnus, the one-armed storyteller . . . from the strange, silent child called Narigorm to a painter and…

Book cover of 1381: The Year of the Peasants' Revolt

Mary Ellen Johnson Author Of The Lion and the Leopard

From my list on why the 14th century mirrors our ideals.

Why am I passionate about this?

In junior high, I happened across a picture of an armor-plated knight being raised by a winch to sit astride his destrier. What a ridiculous time period, I thought. After raiding every related book in the school library,  I changed my opinion from “ridiculous” to “fascinating.” Particularly when deciding that periods such as the fourteenth century, with its plagues, wars, political upheavals, and climate change were pretty much a distorted mirror of our own. Throughout my life as wife, mother, novelist, and social justice advocate, I’ve held medieval England close to my heart. I remain forever grateful I’ve been able to explore it both in my writing and in several treks across the pond.  

Mary's book list on why the 14th century mirrors our ideals

Mary Ellen Johnson Why did Mary love this book?

Another beautifully written book recounting the first popular uprising in English history. Would the revolt even have occurred without the Black Death and the subsequent upheaval caused by labor shortages, rising wages, population migrations? The author subsequently draws similarities between 1381 and contemporary conditions, making a compelling case for the axiom: history often rhymes. (When promoting American Independence, Thomas Paine championed the rebels, as did supporters of the French Revolution.) I particularly enjoyed delving into the life of the radical priest, John Ball, whose (largely fictional) voice continues to inspire those who ask, “When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the gentleman?”

By Juliet Barker,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked 1381 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Written with the fluency readers have come to expect from Juliet Barker, 1381: The Year of the Peasants' Revolt provides an account of the first great popular uprising in England and its background, and paints on a broad canvas a picture of English life in medieval times. Skeptical of contemporary chroniclers' accounts of events, Barker draws on the judicial sources of the indictments and court proceedings that followed the rebellion. This emphasis offers a fresh perspective on the so-called Peasants' Revolt and gives depth and texture to the historical narrative. Among the book's arguments are that the rebels believed they…

Book cover of In the Wake of the Plague: The Black Death and the World It Made

Bryn Barnard Author Of Outbreak! Plagues That Changed History

From my list on pandemics, parasites, and pathogens.

Why am I passionate about this?

We're all in this together: public health for all people, no matter their status or wealth, is one of humanity's great achievements. Favoring reason over faith, science over anecdote, and the group over the individual, has led to lowered infant mortality, improved health, and longer human lifespans. During pandemics, however, evidence and reason are often discarded, as people panic and try to save themselves. The odd human behavior we have seen during the Covid-19 pandemic has multiple precedents in the past. Quack cures, snake-oil sales, conspiracy theories, suspicion of authority, the emergence of cults with eccentric, bizarre, and inexplicable beliefs: again and again, this has been the human response to the unknown.

Bryn's book list on pandemics, parasites, and pathogens

Bryn Barnard Why did Bryn love this book?

Cantor’s book showed me that when a lethal pandemic arrives, it can change society in ways that make “returning to normal” impossible, because the conditions that made “normal” possible no longer exist. The Black Death - probably a bubonic plague pandemic - wiped out as much as half of China’s population, before traveling the silk road to Europe where, from 1347-1351, a third of the population died. The pandemic also suffocated the feudal order, created the conditions for capitalism, the Reformation, and the Enlightenment, breathed new life into art, and transformed the legal system. In effect, the pandemic plowed the seedbed for the modern Western world. Covid may be a similar epidemiological juggernaut, sweeping away human institutions that we know, leaving us a novel world that will be strange and different in ways we can’t yet imagine.

By Norman F. Cantor,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked In the Wake of the Plague as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A New York Times bestseller, In the Wake of the Plague is a fascinating study of the cultural and religious consequences of one of the deadliest tragedies to befall humanity: the black plague. Though rigorously scientific in his approach, Norman F. Cantor has produced an unforgettable narrative that in many ways employs the novelist’s skill for storytelling.

The Black Death was the fourteenth century’s equivalent of a nuclear war. It wiped out one-third of Europe’s population, and irrevocably changed the lives of those who survived. And yet, most of what we know about it is wrong. The details of the…