10 Nonfiction Books About Pandemics

With the ebola outbreak in Africa in the news, many people are interested in learning more about pandemics in general and ebola in particular. Here are 10 books that can help you become more knowledgeable both about the viruses involved in pandemics and what you can do to help protect your family, your community, and the world from another outbreak:


Ebola: A novel of the first outbreak, by a doctor who was there

1. Close, Dr. William – Ebola

A fictionalized but realistic memoir by one of the doctors who worked to contain the first ebola outbreak in Africa in 1976.


The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance

2. Garrett, Laurie – The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance

Though now somewhat outdated, this is a well-written and thoroughly researched non-fiction work on emerging diseases that retains much of its relevance today.


The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic--and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World

3. Johnson, Steven – The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic–and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World

A fascinating look at one of the most important medical breakthroughs in history: the 1854 Broad Street cholera outbreak in London, and John Snow’s discovery that cholera was spread through contaminated water.


Deadly Outbreaks: How Medical Detectives Save Lives Threatened by Killer Pandemics, Exotic Viruses, and Drug-Resistant Parasites

4. Levitt, Alexandra – Deadly Outbreaks: How Medical Detectives Save Lives Threatened by Killer Pandemics, Exotic Viruses, and Drug-Resistant Parasites

A gripping account of the detective work by epidemiologists that goes into identifying, and ultimately stopping, outbreaks of disease.


Beating Back the Devil

5. McKenna, Maryn – Beating Back the Devil

An interesting behind-the-scenes account of the work of the CDC’s top disease detectives, the Epidemic Intelligence Service, in 11 outbreaks spanning from polio in 1955 to SARS in 2003.


Virus Hunter: Thirty Years of Battling Hot Viruses Around the World

6. Peters, C.J. and Mark Olshaker – Virus Hunter: Thirty Years of Battling Hot Viruses Around the World

A fascinating account of 30 years of tracking and battling outbreaks across Africa and the Americas, written by the former head of Special Pathogens at the CDC. Peters was among those who helped contain the 1989 ebola outbreak described in The Hot Zone (linked below).


The Hot Zone: The Terrifying True Story of the Origins of the Ebola Virus

7. Preston, Richard – The Hot Zone

A gripping and scary account of a 1989 ebola outbreak. Reported to be more sensationalized than Close’s Ebola (linked above) but still excellent and worth reading. Preston’s The Demon in the Freezer, on the eradication of smallpox, is also a fascinating read.


Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic

8. Quamman, David – Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic

Award-winning science journalist David Quamman tackled the complex topic of zoonotic diseases (diseases spread to humans by animals, which include ebola, AIDS, and the Black Death) with his usual style, wit, and meticulous research. Quamman has also recently expanded and updated the material in Spillover on ebola as part of Ebola: The Natural and Human History of a Deadly Virus.


And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic, 20th-Anniversary Edition

9. Shilts, Randy – And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic

A sobering look at one of the greatest public health system failures of the 20th century: the early days of the AIDS epidemic in America.


Killer Germs

10. Zimmerman, Barry and David – Killer Germs

Recently updated and expanded, this classic work remains one of the best general overviews of viruses, bacteria, parasites, and other disease-carrying microorganisms written for a layman audience.


See also: 5 Non-Fiction Books About Emerging Diseases

What are your favorite non-fiction books about disease outbreaks or epidemiology?

Chief Suggester

Chief Suggester is the founder of SuggestMeSome.com.