Recommended Books:

The following is a list of books related to plagues, epidemiology, medicine and public health that I have read and liked, in two categories. History and Politics of Epidemics and Fiction about Plagues. To discuss relevant books you have read, or to suggest your own favorites, go the Books Forum on the SARS Watch Bulletin Boards.

The History and Politics of Epidemics

coming_plagueThe Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance
by Laurie Garrett
The best single book on emerging diseases. Captivating stories, the history and science of epidemiology, this Pulitzer Prize winning book has it all. If you buy one book because of SARS, this should be the one. Very highly recommended
betrayal_of_trustBetrayal of Trust: The Collapse of Global Public Health
by Laurie Garrett
The follow up to The Coming Plague. Garrett explores the many ways in which the public health system has broken down since World War II, and demonstrates the costs that the breakdown is imposing on us. Recommended.
bookSocial Transformation of American Medicine
by Paul Starr
This Pulitzer Prize winning history of American Medicine does a lot to explain why the domain of public health is so small in the U.S., and why health in the U.S. is mostly a private, as opposed to public, matter. It takes some fortitude to get through, but it should be required reading for anyone who has ever wondered why, for better and for worse, the US is the only developed country that does not have social provision of medical care. Hint: It’s not an accident. Recommended.
tippingThe Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference
by Malcolm Gladwell
Gladwell uses a lot of insights from epidemiology to talk about social phenomena, but the book is also useful for explaining some of the basic premises of epidemiology to non-epidemiologists like myself. An easy and fun read, but I also learned a lot. Highly Recommended.
plaguesPlagues and Peoples
by William H. McNeill
I first read this classic in college 20 years ago, and I’ve never forgotten its account of how the European conquest of America was aided by the little remarked upon fact that the population of the Americas was reduced by 90% in the first century after 1492, primarily by infectious diseases. A pioneering look at the role of infectious diseases in human history, and a good and quick read. Highly recommended.
inequalityInfections and Inequalities: The Modern Plagues
by Paul Farmer
This book is not an easy read. But once you read it, you will never forget the account of one patient for whom AIDS was just one more problem. Farmer spends half each year running at TB clinic in Haiti, and the other half teaching at Harvard and working in a clinic in Boston. He very convincingly documents the connection between disease and inequality, and demonstrates the connection with vivid stories from his own practice. Highly recommended.
aidsAnd the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic
by Randy Shilts
This long and well written account of the beginning of the AIDS epidemic shows how politics and public health are always intertwined. Shilts shows how the characteristics of the first victims of AIDS delayed the medical and public health response to the disease, and how medicine went down several blind alleys before identifying the virus that causes AIDS. Recommended.
fluFlu : The Story Of The Great Influenza Pandemic
by Gina Kolata
The story of the Spanish Flu epidemic, and how we have almost wiped out of our collective memory a disease that killed over 40 million people in a year is fascinating, but this book only does a so-so job of recounting that history. There are probably better histories of the great flu epidemic of 1918, but this is the one that I have read.
meddetectThe Medical Detectives
by Berton Roueche
Wonderful, quirky and classic tales of daily epidemiology from the 1940’s to the 1980’s, the stories in ttis book originally appeared in the Annals of Medicine series in the New Yorker. I would love to have Roueche’s job, and be a paid journalist explaining medicine and public health to a lay audience. Recommended.

Fiction about Plagues

clancyExecutive Orders
by Tom Clancy
Has anybody else noticed how much recent events, (i.e. suicide crash of jetliner by terrorists, new infectious disease, and war in the Middle East) are following the plot of this novel published 5 years ago? Too bad George W. Bush is no Jack Ryan. Recommended.
andromedaThe Andromeda Strain
by Michael Crichton
The original “virus from outer space starts killing everybody on earth novel”. Let’s just hope that SARS mutates as favorably. Recommended.
horsemanThe First Horseman
by John Case
This terrifying thriller teaches a lot about the Spanish Flu. Case has done his research, and also knows how to write a page turner. Recommended.
cobraThe Cobra Event
by Richard Preston
The apocalyptic view of a horrific man-made designer plague means this pot boiler is guaranteed to keep you up all night. Recommended, if you like thrillers.buy6
doomsdayDoomsday Book
by Connie Willis
A really interesting view of how 14th century England coped with The Black Death, as the bubonic plague was then known. Also very good fiction (Won the Hugo and Nebula awards). Highly recommended.