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Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Epidemics! Pandemics! Read all about it!

Looking for another topic of concern that can race through your brain at three in the morning, robbing you of sleep and roiling your stomach? Well, with the spread of coronavirus, the loud and angry voices of the anti-science crowd, a President and Republican Party that don't believe in government and public health, it seems like a pretty good time to get worried about a global pandemic.

And while worrying is a given in this day-and-age, there are also smart and interesting books that help us understand what is going on with respect to global health threats. Here are a few titles that have been recommended to me on the topic of viruses - where it goes and how it flows - and the biology and politics of it all.

Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic by David Quammen: Author David Quammen tackles the subject of the movement of viruses from wildlife to humans.

The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History by John M. Barry. Mr. Barry looks at how biology and politics combined to result in the 1918 Influenza.

Pandemic: Tracking Contagions, from Cholera to Ebola, and Beyond by Sonia Shah. Sonia Shah examines the dangers of pathogens by examining the spread of cholera.

And on the fiction side of things:

Station 11 by Emily St. John Mandel: In this novel, a virus takes off, an apocalypse occurs, and the world as we know it falls apart.

The Earth Abides by George R. Stuart: Originally published in 1949, this classic novel is about a global pandemic that wipes out all most all of humankind. How will the few survivors fare?

And from the fiction that I have read and highly recommend:

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller: A flu pandemic wipes out a man's family. With his dog by his side, he seeks to find what is left in the world. I love this novel. You might, too. If you've read The Dog Stars, share your thoughts about the book in the comment section. If you haven't read it, please try it out.

Global pandemic, illustrated.


  1. Interesting column in the Wall Street Journal on the word 'virus'. According to the column, the word 'virus' comes from a Latin word for "poisonous secretion."Additionally, coronaviruses were so named because the fringe around the virus looks like the corona of the sun. Ben Zimmer, The Spread of a Latin Term for Poison, WSJ, 2/22-23, 2020.

  2. In March, Station 11 author Emily St. John Mandel has a new book coming out called The Glass Hotel. The book apparently falls in the category of literary fiction/crime mysteries.