The best books about epidemics

11 authors have picked their favorite books about epidemics and why they recommend each book.

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Rats, Lice and History

By Hans Zinsser,

Book cover of Rats, Lice and History

Unlike the other four books in this list, Zinsser’s is an overall history of disease (if focused on typhus) not the story of a particular outbreak. But Zinsser was actively involved in the history he retells at the end of his book as a researcher on a typhus vaccine. Published in 1935, it remains a fascinating and hugely enjoyable primer of the role of infection in history.

Who am I?

Charles Kenny is a writer-researcher at the Center for Global Development and has worked on policy reforms in global health as well as UN peacekeeping and combating international financial corruption. Previously, he spent fifteen years as an economist at the World Bank, travelling the planet from Baghdad and Kabul to Brasilia and Beijing. He earned a history degree at Cambridge and has graduate degrees from Johns Hopkins, the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, and Cambridge. 

I wrote...

The Plague Cycle: The Unending War Between Humanity and Infectious Disease

By Charles Kenny,

Book cover of The Plague Cycle: The Unending War Between Humanity and Infectious Disease

What is my book about?

A vivid, sweeping history of mankind’s battles with infectious disease. The Plague Cycle reveals the relationship between civilization, globalization, prosperity, and infectious disease over the past five millennia. It harnesses history, economics, and public health, and charts humanity’s remarkable progress, providing a fascinating and timely look at the cyclical nature of infectious disease.

Plagues and Peoples

By William H. McNeill,

Book cover of Plagues and Peoples

McNeill presents challenging historical concepts for the role of viruses, bacteria, and parasites in altering the history of civilization. The book is remarkable, informative, and sophisticated account of selected diseases on human history. Provided is an integration of infection with politics and culture. Of interest is McNeill’s book was among the first to dissect the role infectious agents played in altering civilizations 

Who am I?

Michael B.A. Oldstone was head of the Viral-Immunobiology Laboratory at The Scripps Research Institute, devoting his career to understanding viruses, the diseases they cause, and the host’s immune response to control these infections. His work led to numerous national and international awards, election to the National Academy of Science and the National Academy of Medicine. Oldstone served on the SAGE executive board of the World Health Organization and as a WHO consultant for the eradication of polio and measles.

I wrote...

Viruses, Plagues, and History: Past, Present, and Future

By Michael B.A. Oldstone,

Book cover of Viruses, Plagues, and History: Past, Present, and Future

What is my book about?

More people were killed by smallpox during the twentieth century--over 300 million--than by all of the wars of that period combined. In 1918 and 1919, the influenza virus claimed over 50 million lives. A century later, influenza is poised to return, ongoing plagues of HIV/AIDS, COVID, and hepatitis infect millions, and Ebola, Zika, and West Nile viruses cause new concern and panic.

The overlapping histories of humans and viruses are ancient. Earliest cities became both the cradle of civilization and breeding grounds for the first viral epidemics. Michael Oldstone explains the principles of viruses and epidemics while recounting stories of viruses and their impact on human history. This fully updated second edition includes new chapters on hepatitis, Zika, and contemporary threats such as the impact of fear of autism on vaccination efforts.

I Am Legend

By Richard Matheson,

Book cover of I Am Legend

Matheson has a way with words that few have been able to replicate since. This novelpossibly his most famous workcombines light reading with heavy subtext interwoven into the story. It’s the kind of tale that makes you pause on the final page, reflecting on the message of the storyonly to have it hit you harder every time you’re reminded of it, as more meaning builds upon previous thoughts. Matheson’s writing is beautiful, purposeful, and accessible, but the scenes he creates with those words are fraught with danger and dread. He is able to craft perfect monsters in the least suspecting waysprobably why his works are so notoriously timeless and worth revisiting.

Who am I?

I’ve been ensconced in horror since childhood—from the Monster Double Feature to Creepy and Tomb of Dracula. I’m part of the Monster Squad; I’m what goes bump in the night. I live for the scare. My love for all things spooky started young, growing up with Bradbury and Matheson, before graduating to King, Koontz, and Straub. I continued to absorb horror wherever I could: books, films, and comics, drinking it in as quickly as it came out. Eventually, I found that I’d absorbed so many stories, I had one or two of my own to contributeso I began writing short stories and novels to terrorize the genre myself!

I wrote...


By Andy Lockwood, Brian Ritson (illustrator),

Book cover of Threshold

What is my book about?

After the death of her grandmother, Cate inherits an antique mirror. The frame is detailed, ageless. The glass unmarred. Impeccable. Cate can't put her finger on it, but there's something wrong with the way her reflection looks back at her.

Cate assumes the mirror has a storied history, but it doesn't seem to have any history at all. Previous owners have all disappeared, leaving Cate to piece together its mysterious origin. At first, this didn't seem like a problem, but Cate's life is twisting in unusual ways since taking ownership of the artifact. Plagued by nightmares and haunted by her own reflection, she can hardly close her eyes. Perhaps it is exhaustion. Perhaps it is something else entirely.


By Joshua Loomis,

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

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.

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.

I wrote...

Fever of War: The Influenza Epidemic in the U.S. Army During World War I

By Carol R. Byerly,

Book cover of Fever of War: The Influenza Epidemic in the U.S. Army During World War I

What is my book about?

The startling impact of the 1918 influenza epidemic on the American army, its medical officers, and their profession, a story which has long been silenced. The influenza epidemic of 1918 killed more people in one year than the Great War killed in four, sickening at least one-quarter of the world's population. In Fever of War, Carol R. Byerly uncovers medical officers' memoirs and diaries, official reports, scientific articles, and other original sources, to tell a grave tale about the limits of modern medicine and warfare.

The Animals in That Country

By Laura Jean McKay,

Book cover of The Animals in That Country

There’s a lot of pandemic fiction, but rarely are they as creative and thrilling as this. The zooflu that rips through Australia allows people to talk to animals while they’re sick, and when it inches towards the family-run zoo at the heart of this novel, tensions rise and bonds are tested, especially between addict Jean, her granddaughter Kimberley, and prodigal son, Lee. 

Who am I?

Growing up in the sub-tropics of Brisbane, there was a magic in the heat. It was one that spoke to me from a really young age, and I’d daydream about finding portals to secret worlds in the stutter of a sprinkler’s spray, or the ooze of a monster in mid-afternoon sweat. There was no way I couldn’t find a story in the oppressive swelter of year-round summers, and in my head, I’d cast roles for my family and my friends. Over the years, that bred into a love of writing and reading stories about strange families finding their own sorts of magic with each other and their environments, and the ways that little taste of the uncanny can reveal and conceal in equal measure. 

I wrote...

The Rabbits

By Sophie Overett,

Book cover of The Rabbits

What is my book about?

Crippled by grief since the disappearance of her older sister, Bo, Delia and her mother became dysfunctional, parting ways not long after Delia turned eighteen. Now an art teacher at a Queensland college, Delia has managed to build a new life for herself and to create a family of her own. Only more and more that life is slipping: her partner, Ed, has gone, her daughter, Olive, is distancing herself, and all of a sudden, in the middle of a blinding heatwave, her sixteen-year-old son, Charlie, disappears too. 

The Rabbits is a multigenerational family story with a dose of magical realism. It is about family secrets, art, very mild superpowers, loneliness, and the strange connections we make in the places we least expect. 

What Is the Coronavirus Disease Covid-19?

By Michael Burgan, Who HQ, Manuel Gutierrez (illustrator)

Book cover of What Is the Coronavirus Disease Covid-19?

This book is for older children. I would offer it to strong readers in grades 4 through 6. Now that I think about it, it would probably be a really informative read for grown-ups… it doesn’t take long to get through the whole book, and the straightforward tone leaves little room for emotions or biases. It’s a refreshing presentation of the facts (though the content, of course, is not “refreshing”). This book opens with a vignette about the lockdown in March 2020 and then goes into a factual description of viruses in general and the coronavirus in particular. It then talks about the early spread of this new disease, the search for treatments, and even the overall economic and governmental impacts that stemmed from the whole phenomenon.

At the end of this book, there are a couple of interesting additions. You will find two timelines: A timeline of the coronavirus…

Who am I?

I'm an author of books for young readers. These days, there’s nothing more important than having conversations about the Coronavirus disease. It can be hard for grown-ups to start a conversation about Covid with their kids. But they can read a book about the subject and invite the kids to respond to what they heard and saw. My book COVID-19 Helpers was the first place winner of the Emery Global Health Institute’s e-book contest back in May 2020. Through the pandemic, I’ve been reading and talking about the virus with kids from around the world. If you're interested in having me read one of my books to your school, clinic, or your daycare center feel free to get in touch. 

I wrote...

Helping Our World Get Well: Covid Vaccines

By Beth Bacon, Kary Lee (illustrator),

Book cover of Helping Our World Get Well: Covid Vaccines

What is my book about?

After months of wearing masks, washing hands, and social distancing, kids can now help reduce the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic by getting a vaccine. It’s a tiny task that not only gives kids their own protection from the virus, it also helps protect their family, their friends, and their whole community. In straightforward language, this book explains to kids how vaccines will help us rid the world of COVID-19 and how they have a role to play in that mission.

This book helps kids and grown-ups talk about their own experiences, questions, thoughts, and concerns that have arisen during the pandemic. 


By Erin Bowman,

Book cover of Contagion

Pre-Covid, I loved to read about dangerous viruses taking over the world. The genre has lost a liiiiitle bit of its charm since then, but Contagion is too good a story to pass up. It reminds me powerfully of the Dead Space video games, with its mysteriously uninhabited space stations. Like the very best scary sci-fi, it blurs the line between the terrifying things close to home – like an unexplained illness – and the deep, dark, scary depths of space we have yet to understand!

Who am I?

I’ve always loved to be scared! When I was young I turned off the lights to watch movies like Alien and It. When I got older, I played Resident Evil and Silent Hill. And when I got even older, I started writing things that would make me jump if the dog came in too suddenly mid-chapter. I think we are drawn to scary books and movies because they give us a safe way to explore the unknown – and, less philosophically, because sometimes it’s just fun to get sucked into a dark and creepy universe!

I wrote...


By Caryn Lix,

Book cover of Sanctuary

What is my book about?

As a citizen of Omnistellar Concepts, the most powerful corporation in the solar system, Kenzie has trained her entire life for one goal: to become an elite guard on Sanctuary, Omnistellar’s space prison for superpowered teens too dangerous for Earth. As a junior guard, she’s excited to prove herself to her company. But then a routine drill goes sideways and Kenzie is taken hostage by rioting prisoners.

At first, she’s confident her commanding officer—who also happens to be her mother—will stop at nothing to secure her freedom. Yet it soon becomes clear that her mother is more concerned with sticking to Omnistellar protocol than getting Kenzie out safely. As Kenzie forms her own plan to escape, she doesn’t realize there’s a more sinister threat looming.


By Isabel Allende, Frances Riddle (translator),

Book cover of Violeta

I love this book for how honest it is, whether one is poor or wealthy, you will find yourself understanding Violeta somewhere in her life, spanning 100 years, Violeta Del Valle, the main character of this South American treatise, shares her story; which includes wars, comedy, passion, pain, travesty (during the socialist occupation), loss of souls, and the sage review at the end of a woman of that many years giving her view of her life in Chili, Argentia, Los Vegas, Miami, and farmland in between.

Beginning at birth, we learn the pattern of wealthy families, and others, in the role of women in 1920 until today, with much the same familiarity of our America during that same period, though with greater comfort, such as running water, plumbing, and more jobs in such areas as manufacturing, etc.

This book is detailed from the outlook of a woman born of wealth,…

Who am I?

I'm a woman of four and seventy years who thankfully doesn’t yet resemble that person to those who haven’t met me. I'm a mother of two who both have their own businesses in the fields of their natural talents, I've been Deputy Treasurer to the State of Kansas, written 22 books but think younger than I did at 20, and am enjoying the best sex life to date! Life is precious and should not be limited to us based on our age, but on our interests, knowledge, and what we have to offer. Writing about that which I've experienced and the recorded history of family are my passions and hopefully for my readers as well.

I wrote...

Assignment Love: The Writer and Her Agent

By Kathleen Boston McCune,

Book cover of Assignment Love: The Writer and Her Agent

What is my book about?

Jenny Stewart's life is about to change drastically – and how she chooses to begin the next segment of her life will surprise even her. Filled with Drug Cartels, raw sex and the hot Mexican desert just south of Texas, this accounting of an author/freelance writer will thrill even the most jaded reader.

Outside, Inside

By LeUyen Pham,

Book cover of Outside, Inside

“When we couldn’t go to Grandma and Grandpa’s house, were they playing without me?”

It’s hard for me to put the last two years into context for my son. I was a little detached. I was busy thinking about the future, a “someday soon” when we could be around people, go to the movies, go to school, hug our friends…I feel like I missed nearly half of his life! This book is a reminder of what we’ve experienced, how we’ve changed, and how we got to the place we are now.

Who am I?

I’d been a preschool teacher and a children’s author for years before I decided to become a mom. I was pretty sure I’d kill it at motherhood, I mean, I knew all the songs and I had lots of books. I was always up for giving advice to the caregivers at my school, heck, I was the perfect parent before my son was born. I knew everything then. Not anymore. Thank goodness for books. Over the years, my child has asked some tough questions, read on…you’ll see. Do they sound familiar? If so, these books might help you find your footing as you go looking for answers. 

I wrote...

Stacey Abrams: Lift Every Voice

By Sarah Warren, Monica Mikai (illustrator),

Book cover of Stacey Abrams: Lift Every Voice

What is my book about?

Stacey Abrams: Lift Every Voice follows Stacey's life from her girlhood to the present, but it also portrays the ordinary people that Stacey fights for—the beautiful and diverse America that shows up to stand with one another. Backmatter includes a timeline of changes in US voting-rights law from the Constitution through the present day, demonstrating both how far the country has come and how far we have to go. With its spirited text and vivid illustrations, Stacey Abrams: Lift Every Voice will inspire readers to take their own steps forward.

Lock in

By John Scalzi,

Book cover of Lock in: A Novel of the Near Future

In Lock In, John Scalzi presents a truly unique and complex world, in which a large portion of the population has experienced a virus that leaves about one percent of its victims with a condition known as Haden's Syndrome. Those with Haden's Syndrome are "locked in," and are trapped in a sleep-like, paralysis state. 

About twenty-five years after the pandemic, scientific advancements have allowed those with Haden's Syndrome to interact with the world through surrogates or artificial intelligence. This is one of those books that is so complex that you will just have to dive in and enjoy the creativity.

Who am I?

I love dystopian novels because they allow us to explore our fears and follow those pesky what-ifs floating around our heads to their most extreme conclusions. Often, when I talk to people about dystopian literature, their minds go straight to the classics such as 1984, The Handmaid's Tale, or Fahrenheit 451. While these are timeless and amazing books, there have been so many ground-breaking dystopian novels written in the past five years that you won't want to miss.

I wrote...

The Seclusion

By Jacqui Castle,

Book cover of The Seclusion

What is my book about?

"...a dystopian drama that shows the grim rise of totalitarianism with scenes that echo today's headlines. 
The author has crafted an intricately detailed world. Intriguing and surprising supporting characters give depth to a somber story that begs for a sequel. ­Verdict: A must-have for all libraries and fans of ­sci-fi." 
School Library Journal

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