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Pandemics Reading Lists


The content provided on the reading lists is for educational and informational purposes. The sources of the content are cited, and the content used represents a small portion of the whole.

The use of the content, in such context and circumstance, falls under “Fair Use” pursuant of Section 107 of the Copyright Act. If you are the copyright owner and wish to have your content removed, please contact Corey Parson at


Darwin's Radio book cover

Darwin's Radio

Greg Bear, 2000

Ancient diseases encoded in the DNA of humans wait like sleeping dragons to wake and infect again - or so molecular biologist Kaye Lang believes. And now it looks as if her controversial theory is in fact chilling reality. For Christopher Dicken, a "virus hunter" at the Epidemic Intelligence Service, has pursued an elusive flu-like disease that strikes down expectant mothers and their offspring. Then a major discovery high in the Alps - the preserved bodies of a prehistoric family - reveals a shocking link: something that has slept in our genes for millions of years is waking up.

Darwins Children book cover

Darwin's Children

Greg Bear, 2000

Ancient diseases encoded in the DNA of humans wait like sleeping dragons to wake and infect again - or so molecular biologist Kaye Lang believes. And now it looks as if her controversial theory is in fact chilling reality. For Christopher Dicken, a "virus hunter" at the Epidemic Intelligence Service, has pursued an elusive flu-like disease that strikes down expectant mothers and their offspring. Then a major discovery high in the Alps - the preserved bodies of a prehistoric family - reveals a shocking link: something that has slept in our genes for millions of years is waking up.

plague book cover

Plague: A Novel of Bioterrorism

Greg Birken, 2002

As a bizarre disease sweeps through Franklin Children's Hospital, killing the patients of pediatrician Annick Clement, the doctor is stunned to discover that the killer virus is the work of a vicious bioterrorist, a medical genius with a diabolical compulsion to kill.

The First Eagle book cover

The First Eagle

Tony Hillerman, 1998

When Acting Lt. Jim Chee catches a Hopi poacher huddled over a butchered Navajo Tribal police officer, he has an open-and-shut case - until his former boss, Joe Leaphorn, blows it wide open. Now retired from the Navajo Tribal Police, Leaphorn has been hired to find a hotheaded female biologist hunting for the key to a virulent plague lurking in the Southwest. The scientist disappeared from the same area the same day the Navajo cop was murdered. Is she a suspect or another victim? And what about a report that a skinwalker - a Navajo witch - was seen at the same time and place too? For Leaphorn and Chee, the answers lie buried in a complicated knot of superstition and science, in a place where the worlds of native peoples and outside forces converge and collide.

The Cobra Event book cover

The Cobra Event

Richard Preston, 1998

The Cobra Event describes an attempted bioterrorism attack on the United States. The perpetrator of the attack has genetically engineered a virus, called "Cobra," that fuses the incurable and highly contagious common cold with one of the world's most virulent diseases, smallpox. The disease that results from the virus, called brainpox in the novel, has symptoms that mimic those of Lesch - Nyhan syndrome and the common cold. The book is divided between descriptions of the virus and the government's attempt to stop the imminent threat posed by it.

Year of Wonders book cover

Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague

Geraldine Brooks, 2002

When an infected bolt of cloth carries plague from London to an isolated village, a housemaid named Anna Frith emerges as an unlikely heroine and healer. Through Anna's eyes we follow the story of the fateful year of 1666, as she and her fellow villagers confront the spread of disease and superstition. This tale is inspired by the true story of Eyam, a village in the rugged hill country of England.

A Journal of the Plague Year book cover

A Journal of the Plague Year

Daniel Defoe, 1722

A Journal (1722) follows Defoe's fictional narrator as he traces the devastating progress of the plague through the streets of London in 1665. Here we see a city transformed: some of its streets suspiciously empty, some - with crosses on their doors - overwhelmingly full of the sounds and smells of human suffering. And every living citizen he meets has a horrifying story that demands to be heard.

Final Epidemic book cover

Final Epidemic

Earl Merkel, 2002

Causes: Unknown At first, they thought it was a cold or maybe the flu. Then people started dropping where they stood. Symptoms: Unthinkable It could kill in hours. There was no known cure, no vaccine, and the only antidote could kill millions. Diagnosis: Unstoppable. New York, Chicago and Florida are quarantined. International travel is halted. A Japanese doomsday cult commits mass suicide, its final mission accomplished. Physician Carol Mayer was the first person to alert the Center for Disease Control, but now, as the epidemic grows, she has one last hope for finding a vaccine. His name is Beck Casey, a former CIA expert on biological warfare. And the best potential sources for stopping this plague are the worst enemies from his past. Final Epidemic has begun.

Outbreak book cover


Robin Cook, 1987

Murder and intrigue reach epidemic proportions when a devastating plague sweeps the country. Dr. Marissa Blumenthal of the Atlanta Centers for Disease Control investigates - and soon uncovers the medical world's deadliest secret. This story is different from the movie of the same title.


Unnatural Exposure

Patricia Cornwell, 1997

When a woman turns up dismembered in a landfill, Scarpetta initially suspects the work of a serial killer she’s been tracking. But her investigation turns far more dangerous when she realizes the victim’s skin is covered in an unusual rash - and Scarpetta herself may have just been exposed to a deadly virus.


Who Goes First book cover

Who Goes First: The Story of Self-Experimentation in Medicine

Lawrence Altman, 1986

The only complete history of the controversial and understudied practice of self-experimentation. In telling the stories of pioneering researchers, Altman offers a history of many of the most important medical advancements in recent years as well as centuries past―from anesthesia to yellow fever to heart disease. With a new preface, he brings readers up to date and continues his discussion of the ethics and controversy that continue to surround a practice that benefits millions but is understood by few.

Plagues and Poxes book cover

Plagues and Poxes: The Impact of Human History on Epidemic Disease

Alfred Jay Bollet, 2004

Since publication of the initial version in 1987, the rise of new diseases such as AIDS and the deliberate modification and weaponization of diseases such as anthrax have changed the way we perceive infectious disease.

With major modifications to deal with this new reality, the author has updated and revised this series of essays about changing disease patterns in history and some of the key events and people involved in them. It deals with the history of major outbreaks of disease - both infectious diseases such as plague and smallpox and noninfectious diseases - and shows how they are in many cases caused inadvertently by human actions, including warfare, commercial travel, social adaptations, and dietary modifications. To these must now be added discussion of the intentional spreading of disease by acts of bioterrorism, and the history and knowledge of those diseases that are thought to be potential candidates for intentional spread by bioterrorists.

Secret Agents book cover

Secret Agents: The Menace of Emerging Infections

Madeline Drexler, 2002

Drawing from numerous published sources and some 250 interviews, Drexler explains how viruses and bacteria, which have an insurmountable evolutionary edge over humans, remain a constant threat to human health - even implicated, according to some recent theories, in chronic conditions like heart disease and cancer. Ironically, modern conveniences have also made life easier for pathogens: air travel has allowed diseases to cross geographic barriers; mass production of food has led to salmonellosis; overuse of broad-spectrum antibiotics has bred resistant strains of germs.

Sentinel for Health book cover

Sentinel for Health: A History of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Elizabeth Ethridge, 1992

Etheridge traces the development of the Centers for Disease Control from its inception as a malaria control unit during World War II through the mid-1980s. The eradication of smallpox, the struggle to identify an effective polio vaccine, the unraveling of the secrets of Legionnaires' disease, and the shock over the identification of the HIV virus are all chronicled here. Drawing on hundreds of interviews and source documents, Etheridge vividly recreates the vital decision-making incidents that shaped both the growth of this institution as well as the state of public health in this country for the last five decades.

When Every Moment Counts book cover

When Every Moment Counts: What You Need to Know

Bill Frist, 2002

Bioterrorism has quickly become one of the most pressing and disturbing issues of our time. Our nation's leaders warn that the threat of germ weapons by terrorists is real, and, more importantly, that the United States remains highly vulnerable. Such statements have led to a national sense of fear and unease. Every American wants answers - what can we do to protect our families and loved ones? Enter Senator Bill Frist, M.D. At this crucial time, Senator Frist wants to provide all Americans with an accessible and comprehensive guide to dealing with the realistic threat of bioterrorism. Written in an easy-to-use question and answer format, complete with photographs of the varying symptoms and a full index, When Every Moment Counts is an essential manual for every American.

The Coming Plague book cover

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

Laurie Garrett, 1994

Unpurified drinking water. Improper use of antibiotics. Local warfare. Massive refugee migration. Changing social and environmental conditions around the world have fostered the spread of new and potentially devastating viruses and diseases - HIV, Lassa, Ebola, and others. Laurie Garrett takes you on a fifty-year journey through the world's battles with microbes and examines the worldwide conditions that have culminated in recurrent outbreaks of newly discovered diseases, epidemics of diseases migrating to new areas, and mutated old diseases that are no longer curable. She argues that it is not too late to take action to prevent the further onslaught of viruses and microbes, and offers possible solutions for a healthier future.

Betrayal of Trust: The Collapse of Global Public Health

Laurie Garrett, 2000

Laurie Garrett takes on perhaps the most crucial global issue of our time in this eye-opening book. She asks: is our collective health in a state of decline? If so, how dire is this crisis and has the public health system itself contributed to it? Using riveting detail and finely-honed storytelling, exploring outbreaks around the world, Garrett exposes the underbelly of the world's globalization to find out if it can still be assumed that government can and will protect the people's health, or if that trust has been irrevocably broken.

Flu book cover

Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus that Caused It

Gina Kolata, 1999

When we think of plagues, we think of AIDS, Ebola, anthrax spores, and, of course, the Black Death. But in 1918 the Great Flu Epidemic killed an estimated forty million people virtually overnight. If such a plague returned today, taking a comparable percentage of the US population with it, 1.5 million Americans would die.

In Flu, Gina Kolata, an acclaimed reporter for The New York Times, unravels the mystery of this lethal virus with the high drama of a great adventure story. From Alaska to Norway, from the streets of Hong Kong to the corridors of the White House, Kolata tracks the race to recover the live pathogen and probes the fear that has impelled government policy. A gripping work of science writing, Flu addresses the prospects for a great epidemic’s recurrence and considers what can be done to prevent it.


Level 4: Virus Hunters of the CDC

Joseph McCormick, Susan Fisher-Hoch, Leslie Alan Horvitz, 2015 (reprint)

“Level 4 is the highest degree of laboratory containment for isolation and experimentation on microbiological organisms. Level-4 organisms produce lethal illnesses in humans and, for the most part, have no treatment and no prevention. Among the most infamous are Ebola and Lassa.” - from Level 4 Virus Hunters of the CDC

With the recent outbreaks of Ebola, and its arrival on American shores, more and more people have become aware - and frightened - of this lethal virus. Husband-and-wife team Dr. Joseph B. McCormick and Dr. Susan Fisher-Hoch journey through equatorial Africa, Brazil's ghettos and rainforests, and settlements in northern Pakistan in search of those already infected by these killers. Filled with scientific knowledge, Level 4 explains how and why these viruses are so deadly and how we can prevent further devastating epidemics from breaking out.

Beating Back the Devil book cover

Beating Back the Devil: On the Front Lines with the Disease Detectives of the Epidemic Intelligence Service

Maryn McKenna, 2004

In this riveting narrative, Maryn McKenna - the only journalist ever given full access to the Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) in its fifty-three-year history - follows the first class of disease detectives to come to the CDC after September 11, the first to confront not just naturally occurring outbreaks but the man-made threat of bioterrorism. They are talented researchers - many with young families - who trade two years of low pay and extremely long hours for the chance to be part of the group that are on the frontlines, in the yellow suits and masks, that has helped eradicate smallpox, push back polio, and solve the first major outbreaks of Legionnaires’ disease, toxic shock syndrome, and E. coli O157 and works to battle every new disease before it becomes an epidemic.

CDC and the Smallpox Crusade

Horace Ogden, 1987

CDC and the Smallpox Crusade seeks to chronicle the contributions of one organization, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) of the U.S. Public Health Service, to this worldwide triumph It is written while living memories are still fresh, while the stories swapped by veterans of the smallpox campaigns can animate the memoranda already gathering dust in the files. The first chapter is intended to furnish a framework and describes the disease and extracts a few highlights from the rich history of its presumed origins and successive impacts on the world's cultures. Chapters 2 and 3 describe in greater detail the smallpox eradication and measles control program in twenty West and Central African countries as it was planned and carried out largely by CDC personnel in collaboration with the national governments, on behalf of WHO, with funding support from AID. Chapter 4 discusses changes in U.S. domestic policies and public health practices resulting from the changing smallpox situation around the world. Chapter 5 summarizes CDC's participation in the late stages of eradication in Latin America and describes the major campaigns in India and Bangladesh in the early and mid-1970s, leading to the final victory in the war-torn East African countries of Ethiopia and Somalia.

Virus Hunter book cover

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

C.J. Peters, Mark Olshaker, 1998

For three decades, Dr. C. J. Peters was on the front lines of our biological battle against “hot” viruses around the world. In the course of that career, he learned countless lessons about our interspecies turf wars with infectious agents. Because of new, emerging viruses, and the return of old, “vanquished” ones for which vaccines do not exist, there remains a very real danger of a new epidemic that could, without proper surveillance and early intervention, spread worldwide virtually overnight. And the possibility of foreign countries or terrorist groups using deadly airborne viruses - the poor man’s nuclear arsenal - looms larger than ever.

Inside the Outbreaks book cover

Inside the Outbreaks: The Elite Medical Detectives of the Epidemic Intelligence Service

Mark Pendergrast, 2010

Since its founding in 1951, the Epidemic Intelligence Service has waged war on every imaginable ailment. When an epidemic hits, the EIS will be there to crack the case, however mysterious or deadly, saving countless lives in the process. Over the years they have successfully battled polio, cholera, and smallpox, to name a few. The successful EIS model has spread internationally: former EIS officers on the staff of the Centers for Disease Control have helped to establish nearly thirty similar programs around the world. EIS veterans have gone on to become leaders in the world of public health in organizations such as the World Health Organization.

Inside the Outbreaks takes readers on a riveting journey through the history of this remarkable organization, following Epidemic Intelligence Service officers on their globetrotting quest to eliminate the most lethal and widespread threats to the world’s health.

The Hot Zone book cover

The Hot Zone: A Terrifying True Story

Richard Preston, 1995

A highly infectious, deadly virus from the central African rain forest suddenly appears in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. There is no cure. In a few days 90 percent of its victims are dead. A secret military SWAT team of soldiers and scientists is mobilized to stop the outbreak of this exotic "hot" virus. The Hot Zone tells this dramatic story, giving a hair-raising account of the appearance of rare and lethal viruses and their "crashes" into the human race. Shocking, frightening, and impossible to ignore, The Hot Zone proves that truth really is scarier than fiction.

The Demon in the Freezer book cover

The Demon in the Freezer

Richard Preston, 2003

The first major bioterror event in the United States-the anthrax attacks in October 2001 - was a clarion call for scientists who work with “hot” agents to find ways of protecting civilian populations against biological weapons. In The Demon in the Freezer, Richard Preston takes us into the heart of Usamriid, the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Maryland, once the headquarters of the U.S. biological weapons program and now the epicenter of national biodefense.

Peter Jahrling, the top scientist at Usamriid, a wry virologist who cut his teeth on Ebola, one of the world’s most lethal emerging viruses, has ORCON security clearance that gives him access to top secret information on bioweapons. His most urgent priority is to develop a drug that will take on smallpox-and win. Eradicated from the planet in 1979 in one of the great triumphs of modern science, the smallpox virus now resides, officially, in only two high-security freezers-at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta and in Siberia, at a Russian virology institute called Vector. But the demon in the freezer has been set loose. It is almost certain that illegal stocks are in the possession of hostile states, including Iraq and North Korea. Jahrling is haunted by the thought that biologists in secret labs are using genetic engineering to create a new superpox virus, a smallpox resistant to all vaccines.

Risk book cover

Risk: A Practical Guide for Deciding What’s Really Safe and What’s Really Dangerous in the World Around You

David Ropeik, George Gray, 2002

Risk is the authority for assessing threats to your health and safety. We continually face new risks in our world. This essential family reference will help you understand worrisome risks so you can decide how to stay safe and how to keeps risks in perspective. Expert authors David Ropeik and George Gray include information on: 50 top hazards; your likelihood of exposure; the consequences; ways to reduce your risk. They cover topics such as: cancer; biological weapons; indoor air pollution; pesticides; radiation.

The Medical Detectives: The Classic Collection of Award-Winning Medical Investigative Reporting

Berton Roueché, 1991

What do Lyme’s disease in Long Island, a pig from New Jersey, and am amateur pianist have in common? All are subjects in three of 24 utterly fascinating tales of strange illnesses, rare diseases, poisons, and parasites - each tale a thriller of medical suspense by the incomparable Berton Roueché. The best of his New Yorker articles are collected here to astound readers with intriguing tales of epidemics in America’s small towns, threats of contagion in our biggest cities, even bubonic plague in a peaceful urban park.

In each true story, local health authorities and epidemiologists race against time to find the clue to an unknown and possibly fatal disease. Sometimes a life hangs in the balance, and the culprit may be as innocuous as a bowl of oatmeal. Award-winning journalist Berton Roueché is unfailingly exact, informative, and able to keep anyone reading till dawn.

Virus X book cover

Virus X: Tracking the New Killer Plagues

Frank Ryan, 1998

A renowned authority on diseases, presents a radical theory about the origin of deadly microbes in a book that takes us into the "hot zones" of today's most dangerous viral outbreaks, then into the research labs and hospitals where doctors and scientists are risking their lives trying to control them.

And the Band Played On book cover

And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic

Randy Shhilts, 1987

Shilts' expose revealed why AIDS was allowed to spread unchecked during the early 80's while the most trusted institutions ignored or denied the threat. One of the few true modern classics, it changed and framed how AIDS was discussed in the following years.

The Killer Strain book cover

The Killer Strain: Anthrax and a Government Exposed

Marilyn Thompson, 2002

A lethal germ is unleashed in the U.S. mail. A chain of letters spreads terror from Florida to Washington, D.C., from New York to Connecticut, from the halls of Congress to the assembly lines of the U.S. Postal Service. Five people die, and ten thousand more line up for antibiotics to protect against exposure. The government, already outsmarted by the terrorist hijackers of 9/11, leaves its workers vulnerable and a diabolical killer on the loose.

Based on hundreds of hours of interviews and a review of thousands of pages of government documents, The Killer Strain is the definitive account of the year in which bioterrorism became a reality in the United States. Revealing the little-known victims and unsung heroes in the anthrax debacle, investigative reporter Marilyn Thompson also examines the FBI's slow-paced investigation of the crimes and the unprecedented scientific challenges posed by the case.

Secret Life of Germs book cover

Secret Life of Germs: Observations and Lessons from a Microbe Hunter

Philip Tierno, 2001

They're on everything we touch, eat, and breathe in - on every inch of skin. And despite the advances of science, germs are challenging medicine in ways that were unimaginable ten years ago. No wonder the world is up in arms - and using antibacterial soaps.

From the common cold, E. coli, and Lyme disease to encephalitis, mad cow disease, and flesh-eating bacteria, Tierno takes readers on a historical survey of the microscopic world. Rebuffing scare tactics behind recent "germ events" Tierno explains how the recycling of matter is the key to life. Yes, he'll tell you why it's a good idea to clean children's toys, why those fluffy towels may not be so clean, and why you never want to buy a second-hand mattress, but he also reveals that there is a lot we can do to prevent germ-induced suffering. You'll never look at anything the same way again.

Scourge: The Once and Future Threat of Smallpox

Jonathan Tucker, 2001

Jonathan B. Tucker traces the history of the smallpox virus from its first recorded outbreak around 3700 B.C. through its use as the first biological warfare agent in human history, and draws some decisively important lessons for the future. In a timely debate, Tucker addresses the ever-growing concerns about the proliferation of the deadly smallpox virus and its use by terrorist organizations. Explaining how the eradication of the disease in the late 1970s encouraged military research and production of the virus, he exposes the failure of the Russian government to secure its remaining cold-war stockpiles, and evaluates the past and present measures undertaken by the United States to counter the existing dangers of a smallpox attack.

Graphic Novels

Junior Detectives Operation Outbreak book cover

The Junior Disease Detectives: Operation Outbreak

CDC, U.S. Department of Agriculture

Operation Outbreak follows a group of teenage 4-H members who participate in a state agricultural fair and later attend CDC’s Disease Detective Camp in Atlanta. When one of the boys becomes sick following the fair, the rest of the group use their newly-acquired disease detective knowledge to help a team of public and animal health experts solve the mystery of how their friend became ill.

Preparedness 101: Zombie Pandemic book cover

Preparedness 101: Zombie Pandemic


In Preparedness 101: Zombie Pandemic, Follow Todd, Julie, and their dog Max as a strange new disease begins spreading, turning ordinary people into zombies. Stick around to the end for a surprising twist that will drive home the importance of being prepared for any emergency. Included in the novel is a Preparedness Checklist so that readers can get their family, workplace, or school ready before disaster strikes.

Shorter Works

The Last Flight of Doctor Ain

James Tiptree Jr. (Alice Bradley Sheldon), 1969 (revised 1974)

“The Last Flight of Dr. Ain” coolly recounts an international journey by a biologist who is in love with a mystical female vision of Earth. It gradually becomes clear that he’s intentionally spreading a lethal influenza virus as he goes, wiping out the human race to save the planet.

The Decameron, "Introduction"

Giovanni Boccaccio, 13th Century

The Decameron contains 100 tales told by a group of seven young women and three young men sheltering in a secluded villa just outside Florence to escape the Black Death, which was afflicting the city.


Contagion (2011)

Contagion concerns the spread of a virus transmitted by respiratory droplets and fomites, attempts by medical researchers and public health officials to identify and contain the disease, the loss of social order in a pandemic, and the introduction of a vaccine to halt its spread. Although it’s fictional, the film is used by the CDC during employee training to acquaint staff as to what to expect during a pandemic.

The Seventh Seal (1957)

The Seventh Seal (Swedish: Det sjunde inseglet) is a 1957 Swedish historical fantasy film. Set in Sweden during the Black Death, it tells of the journey of a medieval knight and a game of chess he plays with the personification of Death, who has come to take his life. An allegorical dramatic film in black and white with subtitles, its portrayal of wrestling with religion and existential angst grabs viewers - even today.

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