31 Must-Read Pandemic Books Like The Hot Zone

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While this may hit a little too close to home right now, maybe less now than a year ago at least, I’m sharing a massive collection of pandemic books with you today.

You’re going to find a list full of pandemic novels and non-fiction pandemic books (no zombies though, I refuse to read zombies.) If you liked The Hot Zone though, you’ll like these.

I know when everything first started in March in the US I was adding pandemic books to my TBR like it was my job. I listened to one and got about halfway through another and then lost my place in it and never finished.

Now, in January 2021 I read The Hot Zone after watching the Nat Geo series and listened to another one about Ebola which fascinates me so much.

I also have the Level 4 Virus Hunters book that I’m super excited about. There are so many books on this list that I can’t wait to read, though.

So, here, I present to you, way too many books about pandemics that may or may not make you feel a little better about real life.

If you’re interested in trying Audible, you can get your first month free which includes a free audiobook!  This is a great option if you want to listen to books more.  If you’re on more of a budget, try Scribd!  You can get your first month free there.

Beating Back the Devil

Instead of running from a disease outbreak like Ebola, these doctors run toward it. They stop epidemics from happening.

This is the disease detective corps for the CDC but they are officially called the Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS). They aren’t household names but they work to hunt down and protect us from deadly viruses that we forget about until they hit the headlines.

This books takes us into the world of these medical detectives with Maryn McKenna, the only journalist given full access to the EIS in it’s history.

In the Wake of the Plague: The Black Death and the World It Made

This tells the stories of the men and women of the fourteenth century facing the Plague in England. We meet peasants, priests, merchants, kings, and more as the Black Death sweeps over Europe in wave after wave.

Cantor argues that while the devastation from the disease is undeniable, it had its benefits including more scientific thinking, an explosion of art, and an economic change.

Panic in Level 4: Cannibals, Killer Viruses, and Other Journeys to the Edge of Science

This is a collection of true stories including self-cannibals who compulsively chew their own flesh thanks to a rare genetic condition, the search for the mysterious host of Ebola virus, and the brilliant Russian brothers who built a supercomputer in their apartment to find hidden order in pi.

Deadly Feasts: Tracking the Secrets of a Terrifying New Plague

Richard Rhodes follow virus hunters across three continents to track the emergence of a new deadly brain disease that first killed cannibals in New Guinea then cattle and young people in Britain and France.

Level 4: Virus Hunters of the CDC

I’m very excited to read this one myself. I got it after I watched The Hot Zone on NatGeo!

This is an intense account of more than 25 years on the frontlines of hunting deadly viruses around the world and developing the “hot zone” lab at the CDC in Atlanta. From the villages of Sudan and Zaire to the rainforest of Brazil and nomadic settlements of northern Pakistan, the cutting edge of science meets the deadly world of viral disease.

The elite corps of virus hunters penetrate these worlds with the curiosity and guts of intrepid explorers. This is the story of a powerful team as colleagues and husband and wife that cross the world hunting these viruses down.

A Planet of Viruses

This is actually the third edition of this book and it comes out April 1, 2021 to include a new section about Coronaviruses and Covid-19.

A Planet of Viruses pulls back the curtain on the hidden world of viruses and the way the effect our lives and biosphere. We find out how they helped give rise to the first life-forms, how they produce new diseases, and how they can control out fate as long as life endures.

The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History

At the height of WWI, the most lethal case of influenza erupted in an army camp in Kansas before quickly spreading east and exploding, killing near 100 million people worldwide.

This pandemic book offers us a precise and sobering model as we face epidemics looming on our own doorstep in the future.

Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic

The phenomenon of new pathogens moving from wildlife to humans is known as spillover and it will happen again sooner than we think.

David Quammen travels the globe to better understand the devastating potential of spillover. He followed scientists to Bangladeshi rooftops, Congolese forests, and Chinese rat farms for five years, interviewing survivors, gathering stories of the dead.

Here you can read about the science, the history, the mystery, and the anguish of these disease outbreaks.

I actually just got this on a Kindle deal and I’m super excited to read it.

The Cobra Event

One spring morning in New York City a seventeen-year-old wakes up feeling a little ill and just a few hours later she is having violent seizures, blood is pouring out of her nose, and she’s begun an awful process of self-cannibalization.

A forensic pathologist from the CDC is sent to investigate after other similarly gruesome deaths are discovered.

The Rationing

This pandemic book may hit a bit too close to home as it’s set in the near future, but here we go.

The White House is struggling to control the crisis and the narrative that goes with it. A collection of government officials are working together to manage the lurking virus but little goes according to plan in the three weeks needed to restock Dormigen and some Americans will get the life-saving drugs while others don’t. Other nations with their own supply offer aid for a price.

The American Plague: The Untold Story of the Yellow Fever, the Epidemic that Shaped our History

In 1900, the US sent three doctors to Cuba to see how Yellow Fever spread when they launched one of history’s most controversial human studies.

This is the story of Yellow Fever and it’s reign in this country and Africa where it still strikes thousands every year.

The Andromeda Strain

The US government has been warned about inadequate sterilization procedures for returning space probes that may not guarantee uncontaminated re-entry into the atmosphere.

Two years later a probe satellite lands in a desolate region of northeaster Arizona and bodies heaped in piles and flung across the ground in nearby Piedmont. There terror has begun with no end in sight.

Lab 257: the Disturbing story of the government’s Secret Germ Laboratory

Plum Island is home to beautiful beaches, cliffs and forests but is strictly off limit to visitors. Because it’s also home to the deadliest germs on the planet. This book blows the lid off the stunning true nature and checkered history of the island.

It’s based on declassified government documents, interviews, and access to the island itself and shows us a deep look at a government germ lab gone wrong.

This one actually sounds really interesting and I might have to give it a go!

Demon in the Freezer

Peter Jahrling is a wry scientist who faced Ebola virus and has access to top secret information on bioweapons and now his mission is to develop a drug that will defeat smallpox. It was eradicated from the planet in 1979 and only lives in two high-security freezers: one at the CDC in Atlanta and the other at a Russian virology institute in Siberia.

It’s been set loose and Jahrling is haunted by the thought that hostile states like North Korea and Iraq could create a super smallpox resistant to all vaccines.

This is a non-fiction pandemic book and I wasn’t sure about it at first, but this is officially on my TBR!

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

This is a first-person account of what it’s like to work in the Hot Zone from C.J. Peters. He was called to contain a deadly hemorrhagic fever in Bolivia, level 4 labs with Machupo and Ebola viruses, and high-tech safety equipment that is only as safe as the people using it.

Parasite

SymboGen engineered a tapeworm that we owe our good health to. It just needs to be implanted to protect us from illness, boost out immune systems, and even secrete designer drugs. Years later, almost every human has one but the parasites are getting restless. They want their own lives and will do anything to get them.

The Blue Death: Disease, Disaster, and the Water We Drink

English physician John Snow proved during a deadly cholera outbreak in the 19th century that it can live in just a drop of water. Massive filtration plants managed to subdue the virus but in the new millennium, the waterborne disease threatens a catastrophic reemergence.

This account from Dr. Robert Morris presents epidemics that shook nations, celebrates scientists who saved millions, and sends a timely warning that we don’t ignore the hazards in the water we drink.

This is another one I’d love to read!

Containment

When a new tick-borne virus breaks out in Pennsylvania, it’s a race against the clock to find a vaccine and get to the bottom of the biological attack originating from an extremist group in Southeast Asia.

Government epidemiologist, Mariah Rossi, and CIA agent, Curt Kennedy, track the disease to it’s source through the Philippines, Borneo, and back to the US where martial law has been declared to contain the disease.

I started listening to this one last April but never ended up finishing it. I had a hard time getting into it, but when I did, I liked it. I don’t know if I’ll finish it though because I don’t remember much of it, don’t know where I left off, and don’t want to start over.

The Pandemic Century

The Pandemic Century talks about all the pandemics the world has experienced from the Spanish Flu until Zika. We get to learn about the viruses, how they spread, where they come from, and how they were handled. It covers the Spanish Flu, Pneumonic Plague, Parrot Flu, Leggionaires Disease, AIDS, SARS, Ebola, and Zika.

Pale Rider: The Spanish Flu of 1918 and How it Changed the World

One of the greatest human disasters of all time, infecting a third of the population on Earth is the 1918 Spanish Flu.

Even with it’s death toll somewhere between 50 and 100 million, it’s still primarily an afterthought to World War I.

This traces the pandemic to show how it traveled around the globe and how it dramatically disrupted and permanently altered life.

Pandemic: Tracking Contagions, from Cholera and Ebola to Beyond

This is an intriguing weaving of history, original reporting, and personal narrative exploring the origins of epidemics, drawing parallels between one of history’s most deadly and disruptive pathogens, cholera, to new diseases threatening humans today.

It delves into convoluted science, strange politics, and the checkered history of one of the world’s deadliest diseases. We learn about the pathogens following on Cholera’s footsteps whether these never before seen killers come from China’s wet markets, surgical wards of New Delhi, or suburban backyards of the east coast.

The Virus

After a trip to Europe, a young woman mysteriously dies in New York City. It’s determined to be Marburg virus, a fatal virus that has only emerged once in history before.

Epidemiologist Lowell Kaplan is determined to find the origin and traces it from the labs of Germany to the jungles of Central Africa but powerful sources are determined to keep the source under wraps.

Pandemic

In a remote corner of China, a farmer and his family share a waste disposal system and water supply with their livestock.

Dr. Noah Haldane, of the World Health Organization, knows humanity is overdue for a new killer flu and when a new strain is reported in the Gansu Province of China, he sends a team to investigate.

The new disease is called Acute Respiratory Collapse Syndrome and is far more deadly than SARS but can travel much faster around the world than previous deadly flu viruses. Especially when someone is spreading it on purpose.

This is currently on my Scribd TBR!

Cold Plague

This is actually a sequel to the previous book, I’m not sure if they need to be read in order.

Pristine water, hidden for millions of years, is found miles under Antarctic ice and the scientists that make the discovery stand to earn billions. While people line up to try the new therapeutic water, a cluster of new cases of mad cow disease break out in a rural French province.

Dr. Noah Haldane and his team are on it and he recognizes the deadliness of a prion (seriously, terrifying!). Despite pressure to declare it a random outbreak, he senses factors other than nature are behind the outbreak infecting animals and people in France.

During his investigation, he uncovers a conspiracy crossing the globe that the scientific find of the century may hold the key to a microscopic Jurassic Park.

This is also on my Scribd TBR!

The Gemini Virus

Bob just thinks he has a cold. Before he dies in agony four days later,, he infects dozens of people. Local healthcare is quickly overwhelmed and requests help from the CDC. Dr. Michael Beck and Cara Porter are on the case to identify the virus so they can cure it.

The superbug and the panic quickly spread out of America’s borders. On a packed plane, someone coughs and pilots are told they can’t land at their destination. Military bases are quarantined. And the virus continues to spread.

The Survivors: Pandemic

The love of Alice’s life proposed and they were proud new homeowners. She just landed a great promotion at work. Life was pretty good. Until the Red Death struck.

Now billions are dead in a matter of weeks. Survivors are far and few between and life will never be the same.

While this is more of a post-apocalyptic book than a pandemic book, I’m counting it because pandemic is in the title.

Ebola: The Natural and Human History of a Deadly Virus

In the four decades since Ebola first appeared in 1976, it has made various short appearances with devastating effects every time. This is a little bit of a history of Ebola, how it was discovered, and about the various outbreaks.

Epidemic: Ebola and the Global Scramble to Prevent the Next Killer Outbreak

In December 2013, a young boy in West Africa contracted the deadly Ebola virus that quickly spread throughout his village and neighboring communities, then across international borders. It quickly overwhelmed healthcare systems and threatened to kill millions.

With a more connected world than ever before, everyone just a flight or two away from a major city, a deadly outbreak is more threatening than ever. The next killer virus is right around the corner and the world is woefully unprepared to combat a new deadly disease (oof, yeah it is, this was published in 2018).

This tells the story of a deadly virus that spun out of control and shows how close the world came to a catastrophic global pandemic.

Rabid: A Cultural History of the World’s Most Diabolical Virus

Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy chart 4,000 years of the history, science, and mythology of rabies. It’s the most fatal virus know to science, killing nearly 100% of it’s victims once it takes root in the brain.

It spreads avidly from animals to humans and it’s history can shed light on the wave of diseases emerging today from AIDS to SARS to avian flu.

Rabies terrifies and fascinates me so I might give this one a shot, too.

Station Eleven

I think this is another fairly classic pandemic novel and one I’d like to read!

Within weeks of Arthur Leander having a heart attack on stage, life as Kristen Raymonde knew if came to an end. She’ll never forget that night.

Twenty years later she moves between settlements with a small troupe of musicians and actors, The Traveling Symphony, who dedicated themselves to keeping the arts and humanity alive. But their band of artists is threatened by a violent prophet when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water.

Afterland

Miles is twelve and one of the last boys left alive. His mother, Cole, will protect him at all costs. She’s on the run after a horrific act of violence, pursued by Billie, her ruthless sister. All Cole wants is to raise her son where he won’t be preyed on as a reproductive resource, a sex object, or a stand-in son.

To get there, they have to travel over a changed America in disguise as a mother and daughter. They race to say ahead as Billie and her sinister crew draw closer.

This also seems a little more “survivor book” than pandemic book, but I still think it fits enough.

Have you read any of these pandemic books? Which ones? What is your favorite book about pandemics?

Author: Megan Johnson

I'm Megan, a Wisconsin native currently working my way around the US. You can probably find me reading on the beach, wandering through the desert, or hanging out in a cute little coffee shop.

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