Coronavirus is now officially a global pandemic, according to the World Health Organization. If there is any comfort in this gloomy news, it’s that we have faced ugly diseases before. If you want to put this latest one in context, here are 15 well-written nonfiction books by knowledgeable writers that explore everything from the terrifying Black Death to Ebola and AIDS. These are the books most often mentioned as important on websites, including Goodreads, Simon & Schuster, Macmillan and PenguinRandomHouse.
THE GREAT MORTALITY: An Intimate History of the Black Death, the Most Devastating Plague of All Time” by John Kelly — This plague killed a third of the population of Europe in the 14th century, brought by fleas on infected rats aboard Genoese trading ships. Kelly recounts varied reactions to the plague, from the smart civic response of Venice to the emergence of Flagellants, who believed the plague was a punishment from God.
THE GHOST MAP: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic — and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World” by Steven Johnson — In the summer of 1854 London experienced a cholera outbreak, and Dr. John Snow and a local curate solved the most pressing problem of their time.
“THE AMERICAN PLAGUE: The Untold Story of Yellow Fever, the Epidemic That Shaped Our History” by Molly Caldwell Crosby — How yellow fever has paralyzed governments, halted commerce, quarantined cities, moved the U.S. capital, and altered outcome of wars. In 1900, the U.S. sent three doctors to Cuba to discover how yellow fever was spread, launching one of history’s most controversial human studies.
THE GREAT INFLUENZA: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History” by John M. Barry — During World War I, history’s most lethal influenza virus erupted in an army camp in Kansas, eventually killing as many as 100 million people worldwide, marking the first collision of science and epidemic disease.
“Pox” by Michael Willrich — Award-winning historian chronicles the government’s fight against a smallpox epidemic at the turn of the last century and the clash of modern medicine, civil liberties and state power.
“And the Band Played On” by Randy Shilts — International bestselling expose reveals why AIDS was allowed to spread unchecked during the early 1980s, ignored by authorities.
“THE HOT ZONE: The Terrifying True Story of the Origins of the Ebola Virus” by Richard Preston — A secret military SWAT team of soldiers and scientists mobilized to stop the outbreak of the Ebola virus.
“GET WELL SOON: History’s Worst Plagues and the Heroes Who Fought Them” by Jennifer Wright — Morbid details of some of the worst plagues we’ve suffered as a species, told with a mix of in-depth research and a little dark humor.
“Pandemics: A Very Short Introduction” by Christian W. McMillen — Comprehensive account of pandemics throughout history.
“Virus Hunter” by C. J. Peters and Mark Olshaker — On the front lines of three decades of biological battle against “hot” viruses around the world and our inter-species war with infectious agents.
“SPILLOVER: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic” by David Quammen — A quest to learn about how Ebola, SARS, AIDS and other deadly viruses originate in wild animals and pass to humans by a process called spillover.
“THE COMING PLAGUE: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance” by Laurie Garrett — A 50-year journey through the world’s battles with microbes, and examination of worldwide conditions that culminated in recurrent outbreaks of newly discovered diseases, epidemics of diseases migrating to new areas, and mutated old diseases that are no longer curable.
“The Demon in the Freezer” by Richard Preston — Journey into the heart of the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Md., once headquarters of U.S. biological weapons programs, now the epicenter of national biodefense.
“Superbugs” by Matt McCarthy — Story of cutting-edge science and the race against the clock to find new treatments against bacteria know as “superbugs.”
“Emerging Epidemics” by Madeline Drexler — Science journalist reports on today’s most ominous infections.