Below you’ll find all the book interviews our editors have carried out (so far) with experts in the midst of the coronavirus crisis. The lessons of history, and historical pandemics—like the so-called Spanish flu of 1918—are key. Also vital psychologically is the literature about similar periods of quarantine, like the Decameron, set at the height of a plague pandemic—the Black Death—in 14th century Italy.
We're obviously still waiting for books that are specifically about this coronavirus outbreak to be published, but if you like fiction, it's worth noting that Lawrence Wright, one of our most frequently recommended authors, wrote a thriller, The End of October, about a pandemic that started in Asia only a few months ago. It's due to be published April 28th.
For a broader perspective, we’ve also listed our older interview about terrifying diseases, some of which have been brought under control. The extraordinary Arthur Ammann, the pediatric immunologist who first observed that HIV could be transmitted from mother to baby, talked us through the best books on the HIV/AIDS plague, and the insights he found in Albert Camus's The Plague. We also have an interview about vaccines, including gripping books about the fight against polio, rabies, cholera and more.
In terms of the economic impact of coronavirus/Covid-19, our contributing editor Benedict King, formerly an economist at the Bank of England, has put together a list of books to better understand the interaction between financial and economic crises and government economic management.
Many of us have developed a new fascination for viruses and virology during the global COVID-19 crisis. Here, Dorothy Crawford, professor of medical microbiology and the author of Viruses: A Very Short Introduction, selects five of the best books on viruses for the general reader.
The Covid-19 crisis is often described as an ‘unprecedented’ event, but in the past outbreaks of virulent disease were much more a part of our lives. Historian Alex Chase-Levenson, author of The Yellow Flag, recommends five books that focus on the experiences of those living through an epidemic.
Faith, Reason, and the Plague in Seventeenth Century Tuscany
by Carlo Cippolla
Clearing the Plains: Disease, Politics of Starvation, and the Loss of Aboriginal Life
by James Daschuk
The Making of a Tropical Disease: A Short History of Malaria
by Randall Packard
American Pandemic: The Lost Worlds of the 1918 Influenza Epidemic
by Nancy Bristow
Epidemic Invasions: Yellow Fever and the Limits of Cuban Independence, 1878–1930
by Mariola Espinosa
With coronavirus causing widespread panic, we would do well to educate ourselves about the history of pandemics and disease. University of Virginia historian and associate dean Christian W. McMillen, author of Pandemics: A Very Short Introduction, recommends the best introductions to the subject.
Times of disease and pestilence have much to tell us about the human condition. Jenny Davidson, Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, suggests some of the best books to read if you’re self-isolating or in quarantine.
When dealing with epidemics, science does not have all the answers and relying on a new miracle drug is not always the solution. We must also learn the lessons of history, argues the veteran doctor of the HIV/Aids epidemic, Arthur Ammann. He picks the best books on ‘plagues.’
Polio: An American Story
by David Oshinsky
Vaccine: The Controversial Story of Medicine's Greatest Lifesaver
by Arthur Allen
The Cutter Incident: How America's First Polio Vaccine Led to the Growing Vaccine Crisis
by Paul Offit
by Paul de Kruif
The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic
by Steven Johnson
November 9th, 2020: We’ve just heard the news that Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine is 90% effective, at least in the short-term, raising the possibility that the coronavirus pandemic may finally be brought to an end. The history of vaccines is an absolutely fascinating one, and we highly recommend all the books discussed in this 2013 interview with Seth Mnookin, author of The Panic Virus and Professor of Science Writing at MIT. These are all gripping reads that tell the story of vaccines, medicine’s greatest life-saver, and the risks people took to find them.