16 Best Books About Plagues Update 05/2022

Some people wish to get away from the COVID situation, while others want to delve a little further into history to learn more about comparable events. We first look to fiction in the best pandemic books to explore how authors have created circumstances in stories that draw on history or imagine new or future pandemic-affected realities. Then, to understand more about historical pandemics and what may lie ahead, we turn to critical nonfiction pandemic books.

Best Pandemic Books: Fiction

Blindness by José Saramago

Blindness is a classic of plague literature and one of the best books about pandemics. It imagines a world in which an epidemic sweeps the globe, robbing its victims of their most vital sense: sight. During a time of chaos and criminal activity, the one person who has been spared utilizes their vision to guide people out of fear and towards a better world.

A Beginning at the End by Mike Chen

It may not seem like it now, but things will return to normal after COVID. Fingers crossed, knock on wood. Mike Chen examines this topic in A Beginning at the End, a novel set in the aftermath of a global pandemic that has ravaged society and claimed countless lives. A group of survivors from San Francisco pick themselves up and start again at the dawn of this age. The problem is that this fragile new normal could be jeopardized once more.

The Book of M by Peng Shepherd

A pandemic spreads over the continent in this breath-taking debut novel. The sickness bestows some abilities on its victims, but it also erases their memory. When Max shows symptoms, she departs, leaving her husband Ory behind to avoid becoming a victim of the epidemic. But Ory isn’t willing to give up on the lady he loves so simply, so he sets out on a quest to find her among the ruins.

The End of October by Lawrence Wright

The End of October, the newest novel on this list, was released earlier this year in the midst of the COVID pandemic. Dr. Henry Parsons, a hero epidemiologist, finds himself at the core of a fatal outbreak, and Wright, a nonfiction author famed for his takedown of scientology in Going Clear, masterfully controls the execution of this chillingly evocative and thrilling novel.

The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai

Rebecca Makkai has written an incredibly visceral, heartbreakingly tragic story that chronicles the effect of the AIDS epidemic on a close ensemble of captivating characters whose fates—past, present, and future—are spun together in this remarkable novel, a National Book Award finalist.

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez

Almost certainly, you’ve heard a variant on the title of Gabriel Garcá Márquez’s classic love story. The novel, which was first published in 1985, follows the story of two star-crossed young lovers whose relationship is jeopardized when the lady marries a distinguished doctor who is combating cholera. Florentino, on the other hand, will pursue Fermina until she is a widow, thinking that he will give her another chance. In this beautiful work, cholera serves as a backdrop and a metaphor for a variety of things, and one of the main characters is a physician battling the disease. Years later, the pair resurfaces…will they take a second shot on love? This heartbreaking novel’s magnificent language and poignant story resonate even more now.

The Rationing by Charles Wheelan

Charles Wheelan’s political comedy The Rationing is all-too-realistic. As a pandemic spreads across the United States, the country’s political elite fight to contain the disease and the media coverage. Meanwhile, factional rivalries and competing goals wreak havoc on the rationing of the treasured life-saving medicine. Does this ring a bell?

Severance by Ling Ma

Candace Chen, a New York–based millennial, manages to evade the epidemic destroying the planet in this humorous, irreverent debut. Candace instead finds herself with a strange group of survivors attempting to rebuild. This engaging, character-driven pandemic novel stands out thanks to Ma’s flair for societal satire.

Station Eleven By Emily St. John Mandel

Perhaps no one would fear hazardous pandemics if the world was as beautiful and romantic as Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven. Mandel has created a complex world in this critically acclaimed novel in which a group of performers traverse a post-pandemic dystopian reality. Station Eleven provides an important perspective on how art is necessary to civilisation.

Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks

The year of wonders indicated in the title of this historical novel rich in period detail is the fabled year 1666. Anna Frith lives in this year in a small village that self-quarantines to keep the plague at bay. In the middle of the community’s mounting paranoia, Anna tries to stay alive. Year of Wonders is a harrowing and dramatic journey into a time when a pandemic was a tangible and existential threat.

Best Pandemic Books: Nonfiction

The American Plague: The Untold Story of Yellow Fever, The Epidemic That Shaped Our History by Molly Caldwell Crosby

COVID isn’t the first epidemic to hit the United States. Molly Caldwell Crosby’s book The American Plague brings to life the deadly yellow fever epidemics that plagued the country in its early years, all the way back to 1648 and the slave trade. The American Plague describes the medical efforts to stop and treat this fatal virus, written with the suspense of a mystery book.

The Great Mortality: An Intimate History of the Black Death, the Most Devastating Plague of All Time by John Kelly

John Kelly’s The Great Mortality is the book to read if you only read one book about the Black Death, also known as the Great Plague. This detailed account of the epidemic shows how it ravaged Europe and Asia, killing an estimated 25 million people. Kelly uses a mix of facts and fiction to make the plague’s worry and panic feel real.

How to Survive a Plague: The Inside Story of How Citizens and Science Tamed AIDS by David France

This official history of the AIDS epidemic focuses on grassroots activity that forced governments to be more accountable, as well as a movement within science and medicine that pushed for more research to develop effective treatments.

Pale Rider: The Spanish Flu of 1918 and How It Changed the World by Laura Spinney

You may have heard similarities made between the 1918 Spanish Flu and the current COVID outbreak. You’ll find why these parallels ring so true in Laura Spinney’s Pale Rider. Pale Rider is a fast-paced, easy-to-read exploration of the global pandemic, with insights and takeaways that offer hope for our troubled times.

Pandemic: Tracking Contagions, from Cholera and Ebola to Beyond by Sonia Shah

Sonia Shah’s Pandemic is as gripping as a medical thriller while yet being all too real. When a pandemic strikes, reading Pandemic will help you better comprehend the forces at work. Pandemic is particularly good at converting a pandemic’s unpredictable nature into something that spreads methodologically. Shah’s major case study is cholera, but she also discusses other pandemics such as ebola and avian flu.

Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic by David Quammen

Spillover, a prophetic book by David Quammen, is frighteningly timely. Quammen delves into pandemics that start with animal infections and spread to humans as “spillover” illnesses. If you just read one book to learn how a virus like COVID spreads, make it Spillover.

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