FAVORITE BOOKS ON PANDEMICS, PLAGUES, AND SOCIAL ISOLATION
Last month I asked readers about favorite books on pandemics, plagues, exile, quarantines, and social isolation–on many of our minds for obvious reasons. This month I wanted to share the list of selections in case you have a bit of time on your hands.
Thanks to everyone who helped me build these lists. I’m looking forward to reading some of the selections as the lock-downs promise to continue. Then again, perhaps I’ll just keep plowing through Proust.
Fictional Books on Pandemics, Plagues, and Social Isolation
Here’s a short list of fictional books on pandemics, plagues, and other human tragedies that require quarantines and other forms of social isolation:
- The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio. Ten young Italian aristocrats flee Florence to escape the bubonic plague and self-isolate in a secluded countryside villa telling stories, some tragic, some bawdy and irreverent. (Also worth watching is The Little Hours, a slapstick black comedy loosely based on some of the tales they tell. )
- The Plague by Albert Camus. Classic existential novel about a plague sweeping a North African coastal town.
- Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. A powerful love story set in part during a cholera outbreak by a master of magical realism.
- Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. A prize-winning novel that takes place before and after a fictional swine flu pandemic has killed most of the world’s population.
- The Machine Stops by E.M. Forster. A chillingly prescient story first published in 1909 about a technology-dependent humanity living underground in separate cells.
- A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. The story of a Russian aristocrat ordered by the Soviet regime to spend his entire life inside a luxury hotel.
- Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak. A fast-paced, funny story about a family forced to quarantine with each other for just one week because of an epidemic.
- The Choiera Years by Charles Rosenberg. A foundational work of the modern history of medicine, focusing on the impact of cholera cholera in the 19th century on American thought and society.
- Flu by Gina Kolata. A bestseller by an acclaimed science writer about the 1918 flu pandemic.
- Plagues and Peoples by William McNeill. Epidemiological history, originally published in 1976, presenting infectious disease as a means of enemy attack.
- The Great Influenza by John Barry. The story of the 1918 influenza pandemic.
- The Hot Zone by Richard Preston. The story of the origins of the Ebola Virus.
Lists of Lists
Naturally my idea isn’t original. If you don’t like the picks above, there are plenty of other great lists to choose from. So here are two select lists of (self-titled) lists for your convenience.
In true click-bait fashion, many claim to be “the best.” You can decide:
Lists of Books about Plagues and Pandemics
- The 16 Best Pandemic Books, Fiction and Nonfiction
- 7 Essential Books About Pandemics–New York Times
- The Best Books on Pandemics
- TC and the Coronavirus: Non-Fiction Books about Viruses and Pandemics
- Books and Epidemics (Penguin/Random House)
- Pandemics: An Essential Reading List
- 5 Books About Pandemics and Epidemics (AARP)
- The Best Non-Fiction Books About Pandemics, Diseases, and Outbreaks of the Past
- Daily Briefing: The Best Books on Past Pandemics to Read Now
Lists of Books about Social Isolation and Loneliness
- The 15 Best Books to Read in Our Age of Social Isolation
- Social Isolation Books (Goodreads)
- 11 Stories about Isolation and Loneliness
- Books with the Subject Social Isolation
- Top 10 Books about Being Alone
- The 10 Best Books About Loneliness of 2021
TERRA ZIPORYN is an award-winning novelist, playwright, and science writer whose numerous popular health and medical publications include The New Harvard Guide to Women’s Health, Nameless Diseases, and Alternative Medicine for Dummies. Her novels include Do Not Go Gentle, The Bliss of Solitude, and Time’s Fool, which in 2008 was awarded first prize for historical fiction by the Maryland Writers Association. Terra has participated in both the Bread Loaf Writers Conference and the Old Chatham Writers Conference and for many years was a member of Theatre Building Chicago’s Writers Workshop (New Tuners). A former associate editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), she has a PhD in the history of science and medicine from the University of Chicago and a BA in both history and biology from Yale University, where she also studied playwriting with Ted Tally. Her latest novel, Permanent Makeup, is available in paperback and as a Kindle Select Book.
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