The most recommended public health books

Who picked these books? Meet our 20 experts.

20 authors created a book list connected to public health, and here are their favorite public health books.
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Book cover of Virology: Essays for the Living, the Dead, and the Small Things in Between

Marika Cifor Author Of Viral Cultures: Activist Archiving in the Age of AIDS

From my list on how to have sex in an epidemic.

Who am I?

Amidst COVID-19, HIV/AIDS is a touchpoint for journalists, scholars, writers, and a public who seek a usable past in understanding the present and making an uncertain future less so. The challenge of how to love, live, and survive amidst pandemics isn't new, I play here on the title of one of the first safer sex books, How to Have Sex in an Epidemic. As someone who studies how activists document their work and how they bring those materials to life today, I'm both fascinated and troubled by pandemic comparisons. These books offer crucial stories and productive tools to think with as we navigate questions of how to survive, and maybe even thrive amidst intersecting pandemics. 

Marika's book list on how to have sex in an epidemic

Marika Cifor Why did Marika love this book?

It takes a great writer to make the complex structure and mechanics of viruses legible, and moreover, deeply compelling.

Osmundson draws together his personal experiences, expertise in microbiology, and a queer politics and studies in eleven essays that reflect critically on how viruses like HIV and COVID-19 (and their intersections) have redefined each of our daily lives.

The book offers powerful insights into illness politics, sex and pleasure amidst pandemics, and our collective responsibility for one another through a very personal narrative in ways that promise crucial insights. We need such personal and critical work as we continue to figure out new ways to live alongside viruses and viral pandemics.

By Joseph Osmundson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Invisible in the food we eat, the people we kiss, and inside our own bodies, viruses flourish-with the power to shape not only our health, but our social, political, and economic systems. Drawing on his expertise in microbiology, Joseph Osmundson brings readers under the microscope to understand the structure and mechanics of viruses and to examine how viruses like HIV and COVID-19 have redefined daily life.

Osmundson's buoyant prose builds on the work of the activists and thinkers at the forefront of the HIV/AIDS crisis and critical scholars like Jose Esteban Munoz to navigate the intricacies of risk reduction, draw…


Book cover of Deadly Glow: The Radium Dial Worker Tragedy

Samantha Wilcoxson Author Of Luminous: The Story of a Radium Girl

From my list on Radium Girls.

Who am I?

When I decided to write about Catherine Donohue, I searched for everything I could find about her, which was surprisingly little. I traveled to Ottawa, Illinois to read her letters held at a local historical society, and I connected with the son of her attorney, who has kindly uploaded his father’s old newspaper clippings onto the internet. The story of America’s Radium Girls is a tragic warning about where greed and corruption can lead, but it is also a story about courage, faith, and perseverance. It is a privilege to be a part of increasing awareness of their fate. After all, HERstory is history, too.

Samantha's book list on Radium Girls

Samantha Wilcoxson Why did Samantha love this book?

This book also digs deeper into the science behind radium, the realization that radium poisoning was occurring, and how it impacted the scientific community. Radium poisoning was difficult to discover and diagnose for many reasons, beginning with the initial belief that radium improved one’s health. Once symptoms began to occur in women using radium on a daily basis, their health problems were varied and inconsistent. This book also discusses how the study of radium improved health standards for handling other radioactive substances.

By Ross Mullner,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Deadly Glow is the important story of a public health tragedy. It chronicles the lives of young women who worked in radium application plants in the early 1900s painting numerals on instrument and watch dials. From their experience, the harmful effects of radium deposited in the body became known.

The victims suffered from skin ulcerations, tumors and other severe medical symptoms. Physicians were baffled and misdiagnosed their conditions as heart disease and even syphilis. Solving the intriguing mystery of the workers' disabling, yet unknown, disease would be a complex and difficult task requiring brilliant detective work of several investigators. In…


Book cover of We Wear Masks

Beth Bacon Author Of Helping Our World Get Well: Covid Vaccines

From my list on for kids about COVID-19.

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. 

Beth's book list on for kids about COVID-19

Beth Bacon Why did Beth love this book?

The whimsical illustrations in this book caught my attention and captured my heart. The colors in this book are lovely pastels and the text is simple so there’s lots of room to admire the images. I am partial to picture books that are simple and emotional. As we continue on for so many months making the extra effort to wear masks in our daily lives, there’s something heartening in seeing pictures of other people happily wearing masks on the pages of this book. The text is written in sets of rhyming pairs, which are sometimes a stretch. I appreciate that this book for young readers shows a diverse group of people all merrily going about their tasks while wearing protective face masks. 

By Marla Lesage,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

We Wear Masks is a fun tool to help children make sense of this new reality and make wearing masks less scary and more relatable.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many children have been introduced to wearing face masks and seeing others in masks. Author and illustrator Marla Lesage normalizes mask-wearing by introducing young readers to artists, ranchers, pilots, welders, scientists and many more people who already wear masks in their day-to-day lives. This delightful, rhyming picture book will help explain to children why wearing a mask is important as we interact with others in our communities. Readers will learn that,…


Book cover of Civilised by Beasts: Animals and Urban Change in Nineteenth-Century Dublin

Keri Cronin Author Of Art for Animals

From my list on animal history.

Who am I?

I am a historian of visual culture, and my work explores the ways images can shape and challenge dominant ideas about other species. The ways we choose to represent certain animals (or not) can have important consequences, both in terms of environmental issues but also in terms of the wellbeing of individual animals. Digging deeper into these histories can make us aware that the categories we like to put animals in can shift and change depending on the time period and place. As we confront increasingly urgent climate and environmental issues, understanding these dynamics will be even more important than ever.

Keri's book list on animal history

Keri Cronin Why did Keri love this book?

This is one of several excellent books that explores how nonhuman animals shaped cities (see also Andrew Robichaud’s Animal City, Frederick L. Brown’s The City is More Than Human, Dawn Day Biehler’s Pests in the City, and Hannah Velten’s Beastly London, for example). Cities are multispecies spaces and they have always been so, even as the history of a given city shifts and changes. When we walk through a city like Dublin today we may not immediately think about the many, many nonhuman animals who used to roam the same streets and pathways we walk on today. And yet, as Juliana Adelman explores in this book, there are hints and traces of this animal history if we know where to look.

By Juliana Adelman,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Civilised by beasts tells the story of nineteenth-century Dublin through human-animal relationships. It offers a unique perspective on ordinary life in the Irish metropolis during a century of significant change and reform. At its heart is the argument that the exploitation of animals formed a key component of urban change, from municipal reform to class formation to the expansion of public health and policing. It uses a social history approach but draws on a range of new and underused sources, including archives of the humane society and the zoological society, popular songs, visual ephemera and diaries. The book moves chronologically…


Book cover of Stuck: How Vaccine Rumors Start -- And Why They Don't Go Away

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

From my 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

Jonathan Charteris-Black Why did Jonathan love this book?

This book by an anthropologist explores the dynamics of anti-vaccine rumours: how they are initiated and how – like a virus they spread. She uses the metaphor of fire, and since I also wrote a book on this topic I am interested in this metaphor. She takes into account the emotional basis for anxiety about vaccinations among both the vaccine hesitant and among vaccine opponents. While rejecting the validity of their arguments, she nevertheless makes these more likely to be overcome by offering a nuanced account of some of the emotional and psychological reasons for such beliefs. It’s a kind and thoughtful book.

By Heidi J. Larson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Vaccine reluctance and refusal are no longer limited to the margins of society. Debates around vaccines' necessity - along with questions around their side effects - have gone mainstream, blending with geopolitical conflicts, political campaigns, celebrity causes, and "natural" lifestyles to win a growing number of hearts and minds. Today's anti-vaccine positions find audiences where they've never existed previously.

Stuck examines how the issues surrounding vaccine hesitancy are, more than anything, about people feeling left out of the conversation. A new dialogue is long overdue, one that addresses the many types of vaccine hesitancy and the social factors that perpetuate…


Book cover of The Province of Affliction: Illness and the Making of Early New England

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

From my 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

Andrew M. Wehrman Why did Andrew love this book?

While hundreds of books have been written on early New England, Ben Mutschler deftly paints a portrait of life in New England “with sickness at its center.” He thoroughly integrates family struggles over illness and the demands placed on local governments into the story of the social and political development of this region that has long valued public health even as it has also endured tragic circumstances.

By Ben Mutschler,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

How do we balance individual and collective responsibility for illness? This question, which continues to resonate today, was especially pressing in colonial America, where episodic bouts of sickness were pervasive, chronic ails common, and epidemics all too familiar.

In The Province of Affliction, Ben Mutschler explores the surprising roles that illness played in shaping the foundations of New England society and government from the late seventeenth century through the early nineteenth century. Considered healthier than residents in many other regions of early America, and yet still riddled with disease, New Englanders grappled steadily with what could be expected of the…


Book cover of The Yellow Flag: Quarantine and the British Mediterranean World, 1780–1860

Pamela K. Gilbert Author Of Mapping the Victorian Social Body

From my list on how epidemics relate to bigger narratives.

Who am I?

I began college as a science major, but then switched to literature from a minor to my major. In graduate school, as I worked on my dissertation (which became my first book), I found that metaphors of the body and health were everywhere in the literary field in the mid-nineteenth century. Suffice it to say that the sciences, including the rapid development of modern medicine, are both fundamental to this period and deeply shape its literary culture. In Mapping the Victorian Social Body, I became fascinated with the history of data visualization. Disease mapping completely transformed the ways we understand space and how our bodies exist within it.

Pamela's book list on how epidemics relate to bigger narratives

Pamela K. Gilbert Why did Pamela love this book?

This is a more recent history of cholera in the context of quarantine, and clarifies some of the stakes of decisions about quarantine in the context of the history of plague. It places it nicely in the context of a larger European response to epidemic disease and the history of plague in the Mediterranean. I liked that it expands the focus to an international context, and a longer period of history—epidemics, like any novel experience, are processed within existing schema, and the plague was a particularly resonant and long-lasting framework for understanding contagion.

By Alex Chase-Levenson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Until the middle of the nineteenth century, quarantine laws in all Western European nations mandated the detention of every inbound trader, traveller, soldier, sailor, merchant, missionary, letter, and trade good arriving from the Ottoman Empire and North Africa. Most of these quarantines occurred in large, ominous fortresses in Mediterranean port cities. Alex Chase-Levenson examines Britain's engagement with this Mediterranean border regime from multiple angles. He explores how quarantine practice laid the foundations for the state provision of public health and constituted an early example of European integration. Situated at the intersection of political, cultural, diplomatic, and medical history, The Yellow…


Book cover of Lyme: The First Epidemic of Climate Change

Carrie Firestone Author Of The First Rule of Climate Club

From my list on non-fiction to inspire community conversations.

Who am I?

I'm co-founder of a grassroots social justice, civic engagement, and service organization called ForwardCT, which I started with my friend and current state representative Eleni Kavros DeGraw with the intention of mobilizing community-centered action. Our work centers on these four pillars: Connect, Inform, Serve, and Lead. Those pillars guide my work as chair of my town’s Clean Energy Commission, as teacher and facilitator of workshops and events, and as an author of books for young people. I'm drawn to the powerful use of storytelling as a tool for starting conversations, stirring up “good trouble,” and inspiring activism. Read a book, approach your library or town to host a community conversation, leave with actionable takeaways, repeat!

Carrie's book list on non-fiction to inspire community conversations

Carrie Firestone Why did Carrie love this book?

I chose Lyme: The First Epidemic of Climate Change because I live in Connecticut and my own family and friend group have been gravely impacted by tick-borne infections. In fact, the subplot of my novel focuses on the frustrating story of a family seeking answers to this “mystery” illness.

We are at a moment where climate change is accelerating new and worsening pathogenic diseases and public health isn’t catching up fast enough. Mary Beth Pfeiffer provides a well-researched glimpse into the politics and pain of tick-borne infections in a climate-changing world.

I recommend this book as a community conversation starter because, more and more, citizens are coming together to share medical resources and put pressure on the public health community to act. 

By Mary Beth Pfeiffer,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

"Superbly written and researched." -Booklist
"Builds a strong case." -Kirkus
Lyme disease is spreading rapidly around the globe as ticks move into places they could not survive before. The first
epidemic to emerge in the era of climate change, the disease infects half a million people in the US and Europe each year,
and untold multitudes in Canada, China, Russia, and Australia.
Mary Beth Pfeiffer shows how we have contributed to this growing menace, and how modern medicine has
underestimated its danger. She tells the heart-rending stories of families destroyed by a single tick bite, of children
disabled, and of…


Book cover of Violence: Our Deadly Epidemic and Its Causes

Burt Weissbourd Author Of Rough Justice

From my list on character-driven thrillers.

Who am I?

I write character-driven thrillers, including my latest novel: Rough Justice. How did I come to write psychological character-driven thrillers? It began years ago when I went to Hollywood in 1977. This was the New Hollywood (1967 -1980), and I worked with writers whose work grabbed viewers viscerally, not with explosions but with multi-dimensional characters that would draw you into a deeply moving story. I spent countless hours working out the stories and shaping the people in them. Working closely with these great screenwriters was a rare opportunity to learn how to create complicated characters and to see how these complex people enriched storytelling.

Burt's book list on character-driven thrillers

Burt Weissbourd Why did Burt love this book?

When I was thinking about the second book I wrote in my trilogy, I knew I had to learn about violence, particularly violence in prison. What causes it, its impact, and why some people hurt themselves in prison. My brother recommended James Gilligan, a prison psychiatrist, and his insights and understanding of it shaped the central character in my book. It’s troubling but fascinating reading for anyone who’s interested in understanding this.

By James Gilligan,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

An eye-opening, revisionist analysis of the social and psychological roots of violence argues that violence should be approached as a problem in public health and preventative medicine, rather than one of biological or moral origins, and that shame is the common denominator that links violent perpetrators.


Book cover of Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism

Dennis W. Johnson Author Of American Public Policy: Federal Domestic Policy Achievements and Failures, 1901 to 2022

From my list on understanding public policy challenges and failures.

Who am I?

Much of my academic work has been focused on American domestic public policy. Previously, I wrote a ground-breaking book called The Laws that Shaped America, which focused on 15 key laws in American history. My latest book, American Public Policy: Federal Domestic Policy Achievements and Failures, 1901 to 2022, focuses on what we have accomplished, but even more importantly on what we have failed to do. And, boy, do we have work to do: inequality, climate change, immigration, racial injustice, gun violence, drug addiction, and more. I’m passionate about what good government can accomplish, and, like so many, sadden by what we have failed to accomplish.

Dennis' book list on understanding public policy challenges and failures

Dennis W. Johnson Why did Dennis love this book?

This is a sobering account of what has happened to far too many blue-collar, non-college-educated workers in America.

Wracked with economic uncertainty, shunted aside, feeling left out and powerless, many have turned to alcohol, drugs, and suicide. The greed of the opioid industry—the doctors, the pharmacies, the corporate pushers—has led to an extraordinary increase in deaths among white blue-collar workers.
For working men and women, once the backbone of American economic vibrancy, capitalism, and globalization has not worked, but has crushed families and prospects for a better life.

A powerful indictment, but one we need to hear and comprehend.

By Anne Case, Angus Deaton,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A New York Times Bestseller
A Wall Street Journal Bestseller
A New York Times Notable Book of 2020
A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice
Shortlisted for the Financial Times and McKinsey Business Book of the Year
A New Statesman Book to Read

From economist Anne Case and Nobel Prize winner Angus Deaton, a groundbreaking account of how the flaws in capitalism are fatal for America's working class

Life expectancy in the United States has recently fallen for three years in a row-a reversal not seen since 1918 or in any other wealthy nation in modern times. In the…