The most recommended books about contagious diseases

Who picked these books? Meet our 8 experts.

8 authors created a book list connected to contagious diseases, and here are their favorite contagious disease books.
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What type of contagious disease book?


The Contagious City

By Simon Finger,

Book cover of The Contagious City: The Politics of Public Health in Early Philadelphia

Andrew M. Wehrman Author Of The Contagion of Liberty: The Politics of Smallpox in the American Revolution

From the list on understanding health and politics in the early US.

Who am I?

I am a historian of early American history who discovered the history of medicine somewhat by accident. As a history graduate student, I wanted to understand how ordinary Americans experienced the American Revolution. While digging through firsthand accounts written by average Americans, I came across a diary written by a sailor named Ashley Bowen. Although Bowen wrote made entries daily beginning in the 1760s, he hardly mentioned any of the political events that typically mark the coming of the American Revolution. Instead, day after day, he wrote about outbreaks of smallpox and how he volunteered to help his community. From then on, I began to understand just how central and inseparable health and politics are. 

Andrew's book list on understanding health and politics in the early US

Why did Andrew love this book?

Simon Finger’s book, The Contagious City, is a wonderful, concise introduction to the politics of public health in early America. By focusing on Philadelphia, a city literally designed by William Penn to be healthier than European cities, Finger shows how a distinctly American view of public health developed even after that original plan failed to achieve its desired results. Finger describes the growth of the medical community in Philadelphia, its trials during the Revolution, and its failures during the 1793 yellow fever epidemic.

By Simon Finger,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

By the time William Penn was planning the colony that would come to be called Pennsylvania, with Philadelphia at its heart, Europeans on both sides of the ocean had long experience with the hazards of city life, disease the most terrifying among them. Drawing from those experiences, colonists hoped to create new urban forms that combined the commercial advantages of a seaport with the health benefits of the country. The Contagious City details how early Americans struggled to preserve their collective health against both the strange new perils of the colonial environment and the familiar dangers of the traditional city,…

No Time to Lose

By Peter Piot,

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 the list on rigorously scientific scary viruses.

Who am I?

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

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…

Natural History of Infectious Disease

By Macfarlane Burnet, David O. White,

Book cover of Natural History of Infectious Disease

John M. Barry Author Of The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History

From the list on disease and society.

Who am I?

John M. Barry was the only non-scientist ever to give the National Academies of Sciences Abel Wolman Distinguished Lecture, and he advised the Bush and Obama White Houses on pandemic preparedness and response. He is an award-winning and #1 New York Times best-selling author whose books have also involved him in policy making. The National Academies of Science named The Great Influenza the year’s outstanding book on science or medicine.

John's book list on disease and society

Why did John love this book?

This provides the reader with the background to understand what happens when a pathogen invades both an individual and a society. It’s an absolutely brilliant book by a Nobel laureate scientist, one of my all-time favorites on any subject.

By Macfarlane Burnet, David O. White,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Natural History of Infectious Disease as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Provides a biological inquiry into the causes and spread of infectious disease and its impact on human survival


By Jonathan Kennedy,

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.

Who am I?

Author Mad cat lady Love study Kitten rehabber

Celia's 3 favorite reads in 2023

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


Pale Rider

By Laura Spinney,

Book cover of Pale Rider: The Spanish Flu of 1918 and How It Changed the World

Lesley Kelly Author Of The Health of Strangers

From the list on pandemics and humanity.

Who am I?

In my day job working for a charity, I work with emergency planners, examining how we can minimise the harm caused by disasters, including outbreaks of disease. I’m fascinated by the measures in place to deal with catastrophes, and how contingency planners respond on a practical and a human level. When writing my novel about a killer virus, I devoured both fiction and non-fiction books tackling pandemics ranging from the Black Death to Aids. I am confident I know the skills needed to survive when a pandemic reduces the world’s population to a small, doughty band of survivors. I am not confident I possess these skills.

Lesley's book list on pandemics and humanity

Why did Lesley love this book?

I read this book as background reading for writing my own virus-based novel, and it was an absolutely fascinating study of the response to a pandemic that took place almost exactly a century ago. It covers everything from the role of the First World War troops’ demobilisation on spreading the virus, to the impact of poverty on infection rates, to why young, fit people were the most likely to die of the illness. And, of course, why it was called Spanish Flu in the first place (spoiler alert: not because it came from Spain!)

By Laura Spinney,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Read the devastating story of the Spanish flu - the twentieth century's greatest killer - and discover what it can teach us about the current Covid-19 pandemic.

'Both a saga of tragedies and a detective story... Pale Rider is not just an excavation but a reimagining of the past' Guardian

With a death toll of between 50 and 100 million people and a global reach, the Spanish flu of 1918-1920 was the greatest human disaster, not only of the twentieth century, but possibly in all of recorded history. And yet, in our popular conception it exists largely as a footnote…

Child Zero

By Chris Holm,

Book cover of Child Zero

Matt Cost Author Of Velma Gone Awry: A Brooklyn 8 Ballo Mystery

From Matt's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Who am I?

Author Historian Reader Traveler Golfer

Matt's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Why did Matt love this book?

Holm has crafted a chilling tale that races its way through New York City at breakneck speed. A violent massacre occurs in a future world where disease has gained the upper hand. Detective Jacob Gibson is pulled onto the case, thrown off the case, and then lands squarely in the middle of the crux of the case.

At the center of the horror is an eleven-year-old immigrant boy desperately being searched for by multiple powerful interest groups. The question is, why? Who is Child Zero, and what does he have to offer?

Told from multiple perspectives, the suspense is kept razor thin, and the action explodes from the pages. A winner from Chris Holm.

By Chris Holm,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

From molecular biologist turned Anthony Award-winning author of The Killing Kind comes a fact-based thriller about our species’ next great existential threat—perfect for fans of Michael Crichton.

It began four years ago with a worldwide uptick of bacterial infections: meningitis in Frankfurt, cholera in Johannesburg, tuberculosis in New Delhi. Although the outbreaks spread aggressively and proved impervious to our drugs of last resort, public health officials initially dismissed them as unrelated.
They were wrong. Antibiotic resistance soon roiled across the globe. Diseases long thought beaten came surging back. The death toll skyrocketed. Then New York City was ravaged by the…

The Pandemic Century

By Mark Honigsbaum,

Book cover of The Pandemic Century: One Hundred Years of Panic, Hysteria, and Hubris

Jonathan Charteris-Black Author Of Metaphors of Coronavirus: Invisible Enemy or Zombie Apocalypse?

From the list on the human reaction to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Who am I?

I founded Critical Metaphor Analysis, an approach that has become well known in English language studies. My books Corpus Approaches to Critical Metaphor Analysis, Politicians and Rhetoric: The persuasive power of metaphor, and Analysing Political Speeches have over 5,000 citations. I am also ranked first on Google Scholar on political rhetoric. I have always tried (though not always successfully) to write in an accessible style to reach out to audiences beyond academia. As well as lecturing, I assist in the training of Westminster speechwriters. I love languages and speak French, Spanish, Moroccan Arabic, and Malay with varying degrees of incompetence; I have rediscovered the pleasure of watercolour painting.

Jonathan's book list on the human reaction to the Covid-19 pandemic

Why did Jonathan love this book?

This highly informative book offers a well-written overview of most of the pandemics occurring from the “Spanish flu” of 1918 until Covid-19 of 2020. By giving a detailed historical account of everything from AIDS to SARS and Zika this book reassured me by showing how pandemics in the past had been overcome and so by implication how the Covid-19 pandemic could also be overcome. The author conducts detailed research into the exact chronology of each pandemic so that by helping to understand its epidemiology, he also creates an interesting and exciting detective story. 

By Mark Honigsbaum,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

How can we understand the COVID-19 pandemic?

Ever since the 1918 Spanish influenza pandemic, scientists have dreamed of preventing such catastrophic outbreaks of infectious disease. Yet, despite a century of medical progress, viral and bacterial disasters continue to take us by surprise, inciting panic and dominating news cycles. In The Pandemic Century, a lively account of scares both infamous and less known, medical historian Mark Honigsbaum combines reportage with the history of science and medical sociology to artfully reconstruct epidemiological mysteries and the ecology of infectious diseases. We meet dedicated disease detectives, obstructive or incompetent public health officials and brilliant…

The Coming Plague

By Laurie Garrett,

Book cover of The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance

Steffanie Strathdee Author Of The Perfect Predator: A Scientist's Race to Save Her Husband from a Deadly Superbug: A Memoir

From the list on for armchair infectious disease epidemiologists.

Who am I?

As an infectious disease epidemiologist, my personal and professional lives collided when my husband Tom acquired a superbug that was resistant to all antibiotics while we were traveling on vacation. The story of how a global village of researchers and medical professionals helped me save his life with a 100-year-old forgotten cure is the subject of our first book, The Perfect Predator: A Scientist's Race to Save Her Husband From a Deadly Superbug. A large part of my day job now is as a phage wrangler, helping other people who are battling superbug infections at IPATH, the first phage therapy center in North America.

Steffanie's book list on for armchair infectious disease epidemiologists

Why did Steffanie love this book?

Notable for its prescience and timelessness, this award-winning book by Pulitzer and Peabody winner Laurie Garrett is a must-read for infectious disease aficionados. This book addresses the macro-level factors that drive the emergence of epidemics, such as the over-use of antibiotics in agriculture and climate change. It is a primer on why we need a global health perspective to address pandemics, so it's no wonder that it was re-printed when the COVID-19 pandemic began.

By Laurie Garrett,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

After four decades of assuming that the conquest of infectious diseases was imminent, people on all continents now find themselves besieged. The water we drink is improperly purified, the air we breathe potentially deadly, and the food we eat possibly poisonous. What went wrong? This book follows the doctors and scientists in their 50 year battle with the microbes, ranging from the savannas of Bolivia to the rain forests of Zaire. Jet travel, the sexual revolution and over-population - all favour the survival of new and old bugs, among them, malaria, Ebola, cholera and tuberculosis, and viruses that kill in…


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

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…


By Arthur Allen,

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

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

From the list on understanding the COVID vaccine.

Who am I?

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

Nina's book list on understanding the COVID vaccine

Why did Nina love this book?

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

By Arthur Allen,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

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