The best bubonic plague books

Who picked these books? Meet our 39 experts.

39 authors created a book list connected to the bubonic plague, and here are their favorite bubonic plague books.
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The Venetian Bargain

By Marina Fiorato,

Book cover of The Venetian Bargain

Rob Samborn Author Of The Prisoner of Paradise

From the list on historical fiction set in Venice, Italy.

Who am I?

As an author of a dual-timeline thriller series set in Venice in the present-day and 16th century, I’ve spent countless hours researching the world’s most mesmerizing city. I’ve been there three times, including on a research trip. I’ve worked with historians and experts on various aspects and have explored the ancient streets and buildings first-hand. I’ve also read dozens of books set in Venice.

Rob's book list on historical fiction set in Venice, Italy

Discover why each book is one of Rob's favorite books.

Why did Rob love this book?

While not as famous as Thomas Mann or Anne Rice, Marina Fiorato well deserves her place on this list with The Venetian Bargain. It’s another superbly researched and beautifully written piece of historical fiction set in 1576 during the plague. Grounded in fact, it follows a young Turkish girl, scorned in her homeland, who sneaks aboard a boat bound for Venice. She soon discovers the ship's illicit cargo in the hold—and the sultan’s horrific plan—a man infected with bubonic plague. The man infects the entire city within days. This book is much more than a historical account. It’s a gripping story with compelling characters. What’s more, much of what the world has gone through with Covid-19, from masks to quarantine, was invented by the Venetians and it's covered in The Venetian Bargain through the eyes of wonderful characters.

By Marina Fiorato,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Venice, 1576. Five years after the defeat of the Ottoman Empire at the Battle of Lepanto, a ship steals unnoticed into Venice bearing a deadly cargo. A man, more dead than alive, disembarks and staggers into Piazza San Marco. He brings a gift to Venice from Constantinople. Within days the city is infected with bubonic plague―and the Turkish Sultan has his revenge.

But the ship also holds a secret stowaway―Feyra, a young and beautiful harem doctor fleeing a future as the Sultan's concubine. Only her wits and medical knowledge keep her alive as the plague ravages Venice.

In despair, the…


The Girl in a Swing

By Richard Adams,

Book cover of The Girl in a Swing

Audrey Driscoll Author Of The Friendship of Mortals

From the list on giving reality a supernatural twist.

Who am I?

In 1998, I met H.P. Lovecraft's corpse-reanimating doctor, Herbert West. I found him intriguing, but HPL's story didn't tell me enough about what lay behind his bizarre interests. Why did his friend help and support him? To answer those questions, I wrote four genre-blending novels, of which The Friendship of Mortals is the first. Through West's librarian friend, Charles Milburn, I explore their friendship, the choices they make, and how they deal with the consequences of those choices. The setting is a college town in early 20th century New England, but with a supernatural twist.

Audrey's book list on giving reality a supernatural twist

Discover why each book is one of Audrey's favorite books.

Why did Audrey love this book?

I've re-read this book several times, trying to figure out if there was something I missed that would answer the questions raised in the final chapters. An English ceramics expert who values his orderly life meets a woman while on a business trip. He falls in love and marries her. Suddenly his life is delightfully disorderly, except for small, disturbing details. Strange things appear in or near the pleasant country home he's known all his life—a black dog, a child's toy, a voice on the telephone. All this builds up to a terrible revelation. I loved this book for its vivid evocation of atmosphere and emotion, from the idyllic to the erotic to terrifying.

By Richard Adams,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Alan Desland, who feels himself to be an ordinary and unremarkable man, falls passionately in love with the beautiful but mysterious German stenographer, Karin, who is sent to assist him during a business trip to Denmark. To his astounded joy, she returns his love - but their courtship and marriage will shake his life to its very foundations and test him to the limits of sanity.

About the Author
Richard George Adams (born 9 May, 1920) is an English novelist, author of Watership Down, Shardik, Maia, The Plague Dogs, Traveller, Tales from Watership Down and many other books.

When Watership…


Book cover of A Journal of the Plague Year

Alexander Fisher Author Of Delirium

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

Who am I?

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

Discover why each book is one of Alexander's favorite books.

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 Forensic Medicine and Death Investigation in Medieval England

Katherine D. Watson Author Of Medicine and Justice: Medico-Legal Practice in England and Wales, 1700-1914

From the list on the history of forensic medicine.

Who am I?

I work on topics where medicine, crime, and the law intersect, aided by an undergraduate degree in chemistry and stimulated by my fascination with how criminal justice systems work. I have published on the history of poisoning, vitriol attacks, assault, child murder, and the role of scientific expertise in criminal investigations and trials, focusing on Britain since the seventeenth century. I’ve contributed to many TV documentaries over the years, and enjoy the opportunity to explain just why the history of crime is about so much more than individual criminals: it shows us how people in the past lived their lives and helps explain how we got where we are today.  


Katherine's book list on the history of forensic medicine

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Why did Katherine love this book?

This book overturns a long-held notion that the English were slow to adopt forensic practices in death investigations, by showing just what medieval people did when a body turned up dead in mysterious circumstances. The records created by coroners’ inquests reveal the rather impressive thoroughness of this key element of late medieval law enforcement, including the regular presence of medical professionals on inquest juries.  

By Sara M. Butler,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Forensic Medicine and Death Investigation in Medieval England as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

England has traditionally been understood as a latecomer to the use of forensic medicine in death investigation, lagging nearly two-hundred years behind other European authorities. Using the coroner's inquest as a lens, this book hopes to offer a fresh perspective on the process of death investigation in medieval England. The central premise of this book is that medical practitioners did participate in death investigation - although not in every inquest, or even most, and not necessarily in those investigations where we today would deem their advice most pertinent. The medieval relationship with death and disease, in particular, shaped coroners' and…


The Medical Detectives

By Berton Roueché,

Book cover of The Medical Detectives: The Classic Collection of Award-Winning Medical Investigative Reporting

Edith Forbes Author Of Tracking a Shadow: My Lived Experiment with MS

From the list on curious people on the hunt for new knowledge.

Who am I?

As a novelist, I am endlessly curious about people and like hearing their stories. As an erstwhile computer programmer and farmer, I also have a lifelong interest in science and natural history. When I find those two divergent interests have cross-pollinated in a single gracefully-written book, I am a very happy reader. I love books that weave together an intriguing scientific question with the human story of the scientists pursuing an answer to that question.

Edith's book list on curious people on the hunt for new knowledge

Discover why each book is one of Edith's favorite books.

Why did Edith love this book?

Ever since my seventh-grade science teacher used my flyaway hair to demonstrate static electricity, I have loved science, and I also like mystery stories. This classic collection of short pieces is a favorite in both arenas. It is like a true crime series in which the villains are microorganisms and molecules. Unraveling puzzles involving all manner of medical issues, from rabies to toxic chemicals, these case-study stories kept me riveted from beginning to end. Mostly written from the 1940s to the 1960s, they also touch on some shocking medical practices that one hopes are now outdated.

By Berton Roueché,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The classic collection of award-winning medical investigative reporting.

What do Lyme's disease in Long Island, a pig from New Jersey, and am amateur pianist have in common? All are subjects in three of 24 utterly fascinating tales of strange illnesses, rare diseases, poisons, and parasites-each tale a thriller of medical suspense by the incomparable Berton Roueche. The best of his New Yorker articles are collected here to astound readers with intriguing tales of epidemics in America's small towns, threats of contagion in our biggest cities, even bubonic plague in a peaceful urban park.

In each true story, local health authorities…


Rocco

By Sherryl Jordan,

Book cover of Rocco

Fleur Beale Author Of Juno of Taris

From the list on young people trapped by draconian rules.

Who am I?

I’m a writer from Aotearoa New Zealand and I’ve always been drawn to stories of struggle, especially where a character fights against outside control. I started writing for the high school students I was teaching and got hooked on the YA genre. I love it partly because it crosses all genres – I can write about a 14-year-old girl trying to live in a repressive religious cult but I can also write about a 15-year-old boy who’s a champion kart driver. Karting at top level takes enormous skill as I discovered, but it also has room for dirty tricks.

Fleur's book list on young people trapped by draconian rules

Discover why each book is one of Fleur's favorite books.

Why did Fleur love this book?

I loved this book when it came out in 1990 and I still love it. Rocco has disturbing dreams of being in a primitive, cave-dwelling society then shockingly the dreams become reality. He must learn to live with the people who struggle to survive in a harsh landscape. He learns to hunt with primitive weapons just as he must learn how to live with the people he’s found himself amongst. But why has he ended up here? There’s something amiss with this life and the wise woman seems to hold the key but she won’t tell him. When he finds himself back home recovering from bubonic plague he has to find the answer.

Rocco is a book I wished I’d written! The story is fascinating with its well-researched depiction of surviving in a harsh environment without modern technology or tools. Also, the plot is clever – how is it that…

By Sherryl Jordan,

Why should I read it?

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


Year of Wonders

By Geraldine Brooks,

Book cover of Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague

Laurie Lico Albanese Author Of Hester

From the list on female magic, witches, potions and spells.

Who am I?

I love historical fiction because it brings history and people from the past to life, showing us their struggles and their secrets—especially the women! Since my first historical novel, The Miracles of Prato, I've been paying attention to the women whose stories haven't been told. When I realized Hester Prynne is our first American historical feminist heroine—indeed, our American Eve and our original badass single mom—I knew I had to let her tell her story.  

Laurie's book list on female magic, witches, potions and spells

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Why did Laurie love this book?

Voice is everything in this mesmerizing novel set in a small city during the plague. England 1666 is thick with suspicion, fear, and death. Widows, healers, and mothers of the dead are easy targets for religious zealots and outsiders, but one young widow—our narrator Anna—finds new ways to survive and thrive. Brooks trains her sights on age-old fearmongering to show how a community breeds suspicion and targets scapegoats in times of pestilence and mistrust. This is a novel that should be read now to remind us of the darkness that lies at the heart of fear and plagues.

By Geraldine Brooks,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Year of Wonders as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of 'March' and 'People of the Book'.

A young woman's struggle to save her family and her soul during the extraordinary year of 1666, when plague suddenly struck a small Derbyshire village.

In 1666, plague swept through London, driving the King and his court to Oxford, and Samuel Pepys to Greenwich, in an attempt to escape contagion. The north of England remained untouched until, in a small community of leadminers and hill farmers, a bolt of cloth arrived from the capital. The tailor who cut the cloth had no way of knowing that the damp…


Doomsday Book

By Connie Willis,

Book cover of Doomsday Book

Jamie Killen Author Of Red Hail

From the list on sci-fi and speculative books with multiple timelines.

Who am I?

From an early age, I was fascinated by the ways in which past events ripple into the present. It started by looking at my own family; one soldier stationed in the Philippines during the Second World War narrowly survives a severe gunshot wound, and so is able to meet my grandmother, and so my entire family exists. In another timeline, he didn’t make it to the surgeon in time and none of us were ever born. Dual timeline sci-fi not only considers the consequences of history on our present, but pushes this exploration into possible futures. 

Jamie's book list on sci-fi and speculative books with multiple timelines

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Why did Jamie love this book?

A time-travel classic, this book is also a masterful example of how to juggle two very different tones and timelines without it coming across as jarring to the reader. The two timelines diverge at the start of the story, which begins in near-future Oxford. Time travel has been invented, and a student named Kivrin is going back to the Middle Ages to conduct research. Half of the book follows her story as she navigates the Black Death, while the other half follows the much lighter (and at times very funny) story of her colleagues dealing with the bureaucracy of an unexpected lockdown in response to a flu outbreak.

By Connie Willis,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked Doomsday Book as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"A tour de force" - New York Times Book Review

"Ambitious, finely detailed and compulsively readable" - Locus

"It is a book that feels fundamentally true; it is a book to live in" - Washington Post

For Kivrin Engle, preparing an on-site study of one of the deadliest eras in humanity's history was as simple as receiving inoculations against the diseases of the fourteenth century and inventing a bullet-proof backstory. For her instructors in the twenty-first century, it meant painstaking calculations and careful monitoring of the rendezvous location where Kivrin would be received.

But a crisis strangely linking past and…


Epidemics

By Joshua Loomis,

Book cover of Epidemics: The Impact of Germs and Their Power over Humanity

Carol R. Byerly Author Of Fever of War: The Influenza Epidemic in the U.S. Army During World War I

From the list on how diseases shape society.

Who am I?

Carol R. Byerly is a historian specializing in the history of military medicine. She has taught American history and the history of medicine history at the University of Colorado, Boulder, was a contract historian for the U.S. Army Office of the Surgeon General, Office of History, and has also worked for the U.S. Congress and the American Red Cross. Byerly’s publications include Fever of War: The Influenza Epidemic in the U.S. Army during World War I and Good Tuberculosis Men: The Army Medical Department’s Struggle with Tuberculosis. She is currently working on a biography of Army medical officer William C. Gorgas, (1854-1920), whose public health measures, including clearing yellow fever from Panama, enabled the United States to construct the canal across the Isthmus.

Carol's book list on how diseases shape society

Discover why each book is one of Carol's favorite books.

Why did Carol love this book?

This is a sweeping study of disease in human history written by a scientist who describes both the biological and historical trajectory of ten infectious diseases that have afflicted human society, from bubonic plague to HIV/Aids. While science and medicine continue to find ways to control individual diseases, new infections and parasites continue to emerge to sicken, disable and kill. Loomis concludes with a thoughtful discussion about the future of epidemic disease as we continue to alter our global environment.

By Joshua Loomis,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This book comprehensively reviews the 10 most influential epidemics in history, going beyond morbid accounts of symptoms and statistics to tell the often forgotten stories of what made these epidemics so calamitous.

Unlike other books on epidemics, which either focus on the science behind how microbes cause disease or tell first-person accounts of one particular disease, Epidemics: The Impact of Germs and Their Power over Humanity takes a holistic approach to explaining how these diseases have shaped who we are as a society. Each of the worst epidemic diseases is discussed from the perspective of how it has been a…


The Plague Dogs

By Richard Adams,

Book cover of The Plague Dogs

Tui Allen Author Of Ripple: A Dolphin Love Story

From the list on animal stories for love of our planet.

Who am I?

I’m a teacher, sailor, kayaker, and environmental-vegan animal lover. I live by the sea among marine wildlife. I grew up sailing, then sailed the Pacific on the tiny wooden boat that was my first marital home. We had no engine, no modern technology. Like the sea beings, we had a wing in the wind and a fin in the sea so we lived in their world, on their terms. Alone, helming under the stars, I dreamed of dolphin culture and mentally made lists of possible dolphin vocations. This helped me create fiction from the dolphin viewpoint. Input from scientists brought authenticity to my marine environmental fantasies and messages. 

Tui's book list on animal stories for love of our planet

Discover why each book is one of Tui's favorite books.

Why did Tui love this book?

Richard Adams himself signed my copy of this book when he visited New Zealand long ago. If he hadn’t looked deep into my eyes at the time and promised me it had a happy ending I might never have made it to the end, so harrowing was the story. But I finished it and he was right. The story questions the ethics of human exploitation of animals. To me, Plague Dogs was his greatest work, far more important than Watership Down, and certainly no children’s book. Adams is a true master at presenting the animal's point of view. This book hit me like a sledgehammer and like Watership Down, it beautifully evoked the natural world of its setting.

By Richard Adams,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Two dogs, Snitter and Rowf, escape from a research laboratory in the Lake District where it is wrongly supposed they have been purposely infected with a deadly virus and now pose a dangerous threat to the human population. As the authorities give chase, the two friends make their way through the hills and across the moors, along the way learning to survive on their wits and finding friendship and help from a fox they encounter. They dream of finding their original owners and a safe haven - but the hunt is on.

A lyrical and engrossing tale, The Plague Dogs…


The Plague

By Albert Camus,

Book cover of The Plague

Alexander Fisher Author Of Delirium

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

Who am I?

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

Discover why each book is one of Alexander's favorite books.

Why did Alexander love this book?

Camus’ Stranger brought me to this book and I was once more pulled in by the same direct prose, the same detachment and the same philosophical inquisitiveness.

There’s a feeling that plagues are inevitable, that they will come no matter what we do, and that our efforts to stop them always degenerate into the absurd. But what struck me most was that this is not fatalism, because although the collective effort is largely useless, hope lies in the small acts of kindness between individuals.

By Albert Camus,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

“Its relevance lashes you across the face.” —Stephen Metcalf, The Los Angeles Times • “A redemptive book, one that wills the reader to believe, even in a time of despair.” —Roger Lowenstein, The Washington Post 

A haunting tale of human resilience and hope in the face of unrelieved horror, Albert Camus' iconic novel about an epidemic ravaging the people of a North African coastal town is a classic of twentieth-century literature. 

The townspeople of Oran are in the grip of a deadly plague, which condemns its victims to a swift and horrifying death. Fear, isolation and claustrophobia follow as they…


Between Two Fires

By Christopher Buehlman,

Book cover of Between Two Fires

Richard Swan Author Of The Tyranny of Faith

From the list on mentor/apprentice relationships.

Who am I?

As writers, one of the things that most commonly unites us is how quickly we are able to point to our favourite teacher from school—almost always our literature teacher. These people instilled in us a love of reading, and encouraged us to explore and hone the craft of writing. I’m always drawn to, and fascinated by, the idea of how certain individuals can impact our lives, this butterfly effect of personal connection. Sometimes these relationships can have very complex dynamics; other times these mentors won’t even know the impact they have had on us. In this list, I have selected five works that I have read recently and which I think examine these relationships masterfully.

Richard's book list on mentor/apprentice relationships

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Why did Richard love this book?

One of the most masterfully-wrought novels I’ve had the pleasure to read.

Here we follow a bitter, veteran knight, Thomas, wounded at the Battle of Crecy and divested of his landholdings, as he leaves behind a life of brigandage in order to deliver a young oddball girl to Avignon.

All the while France descends into chaos, not just because of the bubonic plague, but because the forces of heaven and hell are locked in a battle for the fate of humankind. Freighted with pathos and lyrical in its allegory, this is a novel that will both inspire and terrify you.

By Christopher Buehlman,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Between Two Fires as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

His extraordinary debut, Those Across the River, was hailed as “genre-bending Southern horror” (California Literary Review), “graceful [and] horrific” (Patricia Briggs). Now Christopher Buehlman invites readers into an even darker age—one of temptation and corruption, of war in heaven, and of hell on earth… And Lucifer said: “Let us rise against Him now in all our numbers, and pull the walls of heaven down…” The year is 1348. Thomas, a disgraced knight, has found a young girl alone in a dead Norman village. An orphan of the Black Death, and an almost unnerving picture of innocence, she tells Thomas that…


Plagues and Peoples

By William H. McNeill,

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 the list on stories so engaging you loose track of time.

Who am I?

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

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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.…