The best books about viruses

6 authors have picked their favorite books about viruses and why they recommend each book.

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Zone One

By Colson Whitehead,

Book cover of Zone One

In Zone One, the frantic oh-*expletive* bloodbath phase of a zombie apocalypse has clicked over into something like a new normal. In lower Manhattan, our hero “Mark Spitz” mops up straggler zombies seemingly stuck in mindless loops from their past lives and reflects on the transformed yet familiar landscape. Zone One made me realize how specific streets are encoded in my own memories, and made me want to be more present in my own life, to move through the world less like a zombie.


Who am I?

When I’m writing, my brain’s ability to jump instantly to the worst-case scenario is a huge plus. But in life, that’s just called “anxiety,” something I’ve always struggled with. Works of fiction that do what my brain does naturally — assume the worst — and still find some hope, humor, or redemption there have always been weirdly reassuring to me. And what’s more “worst-case scenario” than post-apocalyptic and dystopian fiction? Here are five books where, in the wake of disaster or the grip of tyranny, people still manage to have dreams, dignity, or even just a laugh.


I wrote...

Crap Kingdom

By DC Pierson,

Book cover of Crap Kingdom

What is my book about?

Tom Parking has always loved books where a random kid gets whisked away to a magical realm where they’re the Chosen One, so when it actually happens to him, he’s thrilled! But then it turns out that the magical realm he’s taken to… kinda sucks. 

So when Tom turns down the job of Chosen One, he thinks he’s making a smart decision. But when he discovers he’s been replaced by his best friend Kyle, who’s always been cooler, more athletic, and better with girls, Tom wants Crap Kingdom back — at any cost. And the hilarity that ensues will determine the fate of the universe.

A Planet of Viruses

By Carl Zimmer,

Book cover of A Planet of Viruses

Parasitism of other species is probably the most common way of life on earth. It is not uncommon for a species to have tens to hundreds of parasites that exploit it. Viruses have fine-tuned the parasitic lifestyle to the extreme, attacking just about all other forms of life and fueling the evolution of counter-defenses in their hosts. Viruses co-opt the genetic machinery of their hosts for just about everything they need to replicate themselves. Carl Zimmer’s book is not only the best introduction I know to the remarkable diversity of viruses, it also is written with the crystal clear, elegant prose and solid scientific grounding that are the hallmarks of all his writing. 


Who am I?

I am captivated and never cease to be astonished by the seemingly endless variety of ways in which coevolution shapes the millions of species on earth into intricate and ever-changing webs of life. The reasons for my fascination are simple. Most species require other species to survive or reproduce, which means that the evolution of biodiversity is as much about evolution of the links among species as it is about evolution of the species themselves. I find immense joy in following the connections among species within the web of life, trying to understand how coevolution has shaped, and relentlessly reshapes, each link. There are always surprises along the way.


I wrote...

Relentless Evolution

By John N. Thompson,

Book cover of Relentless Evolution

What is my book about?

We often think of evolution as a slow and unobservable process, but we now know that view is wrong. Hundreds of scientific studies have now shown that evolution is relentless and sometimes astonishingly fast. Examples of rapid evolution over the time scale of human lifetimes, and even within decades, have been found in organisms as different as viruses, bacteria, fungi, plants, insects, fish, and birds. At every time scale, some of the relentless evolution is driven by adaptation to changing physical environments, but much of it is due to relationships among species as they coevolve with each other in evolutionary arms races, mutualistic symbioses, and competitive battles. This book explores how and why much of relentless evolution is driven by the coevolving web of life itself. 

Germ

By Robert Liparulo,

Book cover of Germ

Germ is an intriguing look at how a plague can be weaponized. We follow the bio-terrorist act of a modified form of Ebola that targets people of a specific genetic makeup. Ebola scares the hell out of me because it really exists and pockets of it still spring up around the world. I loved this book for how descriptive it was and how real it felt. This book isn’t so well known, but it deserves more attention. If you liked The Andromeda Strain or if you just want a somewhat gross (ebola is a messy disease!), thriller-type story you’ll enjoy this one.


Who am I?

I am a quiet horror and apocalyptic fiction author with a love for all Horror, but I started with zombies. I have eight published books (three of which are zombie apocalypse novels) and short stories in a handful of zombie anthologies. My favorite movies (Dawn of the Dead remake, 28 Days Later, Shaun of the Dead, Rammbock: Berlin Undead) populate the zombie subgenre. I’ve participated in several zombie walks, written a zombie song and made a music video for it, and done zombie wound special effects makeup. Several of my plague short stories have won awards, including one about Norwegian sea zombies and another about a child-stealing plague.


I wrote...

Mistakes I Made During the Zombie Apocalypse

By Michelle Kilmer,

Book cover of Mistakes I Made During the Zombie Apocalypse

What is my book about?

Ian Ward can’t tell you what it’s like to survive a zombie apocalypse because he is dying in one. From a closet in a second-floor bedroom of an abandoned house, he recounts his tale of “survival” in a backwards journey through the poor choices that put him there.

In an undead world, death is only one mistake away. Mistakes I Made During the Zombie Apocalypse is the anti-survival guide that just might keep you alive.

The Morningstar Strain

By Z.A. Recht,

Book cover of The Morningstar Strain: Plague of the Dead

The Morningstar Strain takes us around the world and block-by-block across America. Let me say this. This is not high-concept literary artwork. Z. A. Recht is not William Faulkner or Flannery O'Connor. Recht knows what he does well, though, and he sticks to it. He puts you in the setting. Great detail work. Have you fantasized about scavenging in the zombie apocalypse? Recht puts you there. 

I still feel that urge from time to time to join Army General Francis Sherman and Dr. Anna Demilio in their continent-spanning quest for the zombie cure. They may be the same old characters saying the same old dialogue you find in every Jerry Bruckheimer film ... but. That serves as something as a bridge from the familiar to the apocalyptic.         

So, join General Sherman, Dr. Demilio, and the other survivors as they hitch a ride on the island-hopping USS Ramage to the Pacific…


Who am I?

S. L. Smith is an author, attorney, and Catholic theologian with deep roots in southern Louisiana. Despite being better known for his work in Catholic theology and history, Smith has also published extensively in the Southern Gothic genre. This crucible of tastes, religion, and location resulted in the Cajun Zombie Chronicles. Beneath the oaks and moss, lie shadows that bite.      


I wrote...

Cajun Zombie Chronicles, Book One: The River Dead

By Scott L. Smith,

Book cover of Cajun Zombie Chronicles, Book One: The River Dead

What is my book about?

Welcome to Cajun country, Louisiana. Home to gators and gumbo, mosquitos and Mardi Gras, zydeco and... zombies. This is zombie survival the Cajun way. Ancient gothic churches become citadels and swamp fortresses. The dead rise from the depths of the Mississippi River in The River Dead.

Orleans

By Sherri L. Smith,

Book cover of Orleans

In the wake of super-hurricanes and the deadly pandemic that follows, New Orleans has been quarantined from the rest of the United States, and those who seek to cross the border wall are killed. Narrator Fen, a member of the clan-based culture that has developed behind the wall, tells the story of her people and her personal quest for freedom in a dialect voice that is both beautifully rendered and brutally honest.


Who am I?

When I was eight years old, I read a book titled Dar Tellum: Stranger from a Distant Planet, by James R. Berry. It told the story of a boy who communicates with an alien intelligence to save the Earth from… global warming. That was in 1973, and it was the first time I’d heard about “the greenhouse effect”. Some things haven’t changed since then: I still read (and write) sci-fi, and I still have Dar Tellum on my bookshelf. But our climate is changing, and I’ve chosen four books of science fiction and one of science facts that help us think about the future—and present—of our planet.


I wrote...

Ecosystem

By Joshua David Bellin,

Book cover of Ecosystem

What is my book about?

In Earth’s distant future, Nature has mutated into the Ecosystem, a planet-wide sentience that has driven humankind to the brink of extinction. While survivors seek shelter in small villages of stone, those known as Sensors—people gifted with the psychic ability to read the Ecosystem’s mind—travel in the wild to gather food, water, and fuel for their communities.

At seventeen, Sarah is the youngest Sensor in her village. She doesn’t fear the Ecosystem, but she hates it for killing her mother when Sarah was a child. Her hunt for revenge leads her into the Ecosystem’s deadliest places, where she discovers secrets that threaten to tear her—and her society—apart.

Ammonite

By Nicola Griffith,

Book cover of Ammonite

Ammonite starts in space and lands on an alien world but brings plenty of Earth’s history along with it. Human settlers that lost an age ago, transformed by a virus that only women survive but allows them to reproduce, have spread across this world. Anthropologist Marghe Taishan faces down nomadic horse archers and gets lost in pastoral folkways both new and familiar. She deconstructs her future and rebuilds herself out of the past. Ammonite’s new world shows us how our world might have looked if different paths were taken.


Who am I?

I’m a Virginia-based science fiction and fantasy writer who’s lived variously-enriching lives as a coroner’s assistant, customer service manager, university lecturer, secretary, factory technician, and clerk. I’ve bounced all around the Midwest, from Minnesota to Ohio to Colorado to Missouri and now out on the East Coast.


I wrote...

Quietus

By Tristan Palmgren,

Book cover of Quietus

What is my book about?

Quietus, a science fiction novel set in the midst of the Black Death. It features a transdimensional anthropologist who can’t keep herself from interfering with one of the darkest periods of Earth’s history, a young Carthusian monk who’s the only survivor of his monastery, and a worlds-spanning conspiracy to topple an empire larger than the human imagination can contain.

Quietus and its sequel, Terminus, were published in March and November of 2018 (the timing for books about a plague could have been better, could have been worse…). I also write prose novels for Marvel with Aconyte Books.

Resident Evil

By S.D. Perry,

Book cover of Resident Evil: Code Veronica

I have always loved the hapless heroes and gruesome thrills of the Resident Evil video game series! When a friend bought me this book, I was a bit skeptical at first, but it quickly became my favorite book series I’ve ever read! It builds depth and likability into the characters and situation beyond what the games have ever achieved, and it’s just fun to spend some more time with zombies and other horrifying creatures! S.D. Perry is definitely one of the biggest influences on my early writing.


Who am I?

I have always been fascinated by horror, particularly the dark and imagination-inciting creatures produced by it (even though I’m a big scaredy-cat, haha!). In a time when slasher films and haunted houses tend to dominate the horror genre, I set out to create a creature-feature similar to the 80s and early 90s classics I grew up with (Aliens, The Thing, Phantoms, Dawn of the Dead). I fell in love with creating truly nightmarish monstrosities and deep, vulnerable but strong characters to battle them. The books on this list are definitely huge inspirations in my own work, so I hope you enjoy the beasties in them as much as I have!


I wrote...

Pandora (The Organization)

By Joshua Grant,

Book cover of Pandora (The Organization)

What is my book about?

A cruise ship disappears without a trace, reemerging a week later and transmitting a single word: Pandora. Business tycoon and owner of the cruise line Patrick Carver sends a band of mercenaries to land on the ship and figure out what happened. For reasons beyond her, young doctor Aubrey Pittenger is chosen to go along for the ride. But all is not as it seems aboard the crumbling cruise liner, and evil comes in many forms. Now the ragtag team will have to band together in order to survive the night in this Aliens/The Thing homage horror thriller from the mind of bestselling author Joshua Grant!

And the Band Played on

By Randy Shilts,

Book cover of And the Band Played on: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic

This book characterizes the discovery and spread HIV and AIDS. Shits an investigative journalist provides an extensive look into the disease itself, the politics and politicians battling to control or ignoring the disease. Also discussed are the events that shaped the pandemic leading to its expansion or its control. 


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.

Ebola's Evolution

By Michael B.A. Oldstone, Madeleine Rose Oldstone,

Book cover of Ebola's Evolution: Turning Despair to Deliverance: a Road Map for Covid-19

This book provides an intimate portrait of outbreaks of Ebola, the world’s most fearsome and deadly virus, and reveals how the result of that experience provides information to help fight Covid-19. Introduced are people who fought heroically with limited resources, including  Sheik Kahn who died fighting Ebola as it spread as a tsunami, Pardis Sabeti a geneticist named “scientist of the year” by Time magazine and Robert Garry who led the fight against viral hemorrhagic diseases. Sabeti and Garry worked with the authors and provide a personal narrative of the involved events.


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.

The End of Men

By Christina Sweeney-Baird,

Book cover of The End of Men

I read The End of Men recently during the pandemic. Without giving the plot away, this book is about a pandemic written before the actual pandemic. The thing I love about this book is the deep feelings it invoked. It is written from many viewpoints and I really cared about the characters – if a book can resonate so deeply that it makes you wonder how your life would be in the same circumstances, the author has succeeded. The women in the book face an almost unimaginable struggle and I rooted for them all the way.


Who am I?

I write women in dystopia. I live in the North West of the UK and I also write psychological thrillers and women’s fiction – I am currently writing my 9th book. I love books set in the near future and in alternate dystopian worlds – I recently discussed this with my brother and we settled on ‘mind-bending’ as our go-to for this genre. I have a PhD in narrative and storytelling and my mission as a writer was to write fiction about issues that affect women, and what better way than to place them in hypothetical but possible situations to explore that reality? 


I wrote...

SmartYellow™

By J.A. Christy,

Book cover of SmartYellow™

What is my book about?

Teenager Katrina Williams finds herself pregnant and on the wrong side of social services. She soon realises that something sinister is going on in the depths of the sink estates. Then she finds out about SmartYellow™.

Exploring themes of social inequity and scientific responsibility, J.A. Christy's first speculative fiction novel leads Katrina to understand how probability, hope, and empathy play a huge part in the flow of life and are absent in the stagnation of mere survival. SmartYellow™ offers a worryingly plausible and chilling glimpse into an alternate Nineties Britain. SmartYellow™ was nominated for the Arthur C Clark in 2016.

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