Though the COVID-19 pandemic has cast the world into a state of uncertainty, there exists a wealth of literature about past pandemics that you can sink your teeth into. The Red & Black has compiled a list of books to read to learn more about pandemics and the emergence, spread and containment of viruses.
The Great Influenza (2004) by John M. Barry
The Great Influenza explores the origins and rapid spread of the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic as it erupts out of an army camp in Kansas during the height of World War I. Barry delves into the biological processes of the influenza virus, the pandemic’s high mortality rate and the larger scientific and public health advancements that result from the outbreak.
The Hot Zone (1994) by Richard Preston
“The Hot Zone” documents the emergence of the Ebola virus and other highly infectious pathogens. Though the book focuses on the discovery of the Reston virus at a primate facility in Virginia, it also chronicles the stories of multiple people who have contracted, died from or come into contact with filoviruses, including veterinary pathologists, healthcare workers, patients and virologists. The Hot Zone was adapted into a fictional TV mini-series in 2019.
Crisis in the Red Zone (2019) by Richard Preston
Once again returning back to the subject of Ebola, Preston explores the 2013-2014 West African outbreak of the virus. Preston once again follows the stories of virologists, researchers, healthcare workers and the legacy of Sheik Umar Khan, the chief doctor in Sierra Leone who treated over 100 patients before succumbing to the virus. Preston is the only non-doctor to have received the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Champion of Prevention award.
Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic and the Search for the Virus That Caused It (1999) by Gina Kolata
The New York Times science and medicine reporter Gina Kolata delves into the history of influenza, using the death toll and public health effects of the 1918 Great Flu Epidemic as an anchor point. Written in an investigative manner, Kolata doesn't provide an indulgent narrative of what it was like to live amid the pandemic, but rather taps into the medical history and germ theory of disease.
China Syndrome (2006) by Karl Taro Greenfield
After initial reports of Chinese citizens boiling vinegar to “purify” the air, Times Asia editor Karl Taro Greenfield tracks the developing story of the 2003 SARS outbreak in China. With accounts from the bedside of one of the first victims in China to the laboratories dedicated to identifying the virus, Greenfield produces a narrative that shatters the Chinese government’s attempt to cover up the disease.