7 Books That Will Immerse You in the World of Epidemics

7 Books That Will Immerse You in the World of Epidemics

02.9.2020
Post Llibres Epidemies

[Authors: Raül Toran, Marina Tarrús and Celia Santos, members of ISGlobal’s Scientific Culture and Innovation Unit]

A Planet of Viruses

In this book, published by the University of Chicago Press, the science writer Carl Zimmer takes us deep inside the world of viruses, explaining how they were discovered and sharing fascinating facts about these infectious agents.

We learn that virus is derived from the Latin word for poison and that the ocean is filled with these tiny pathogens —up to 100 billion viruses per litre of seawater. We discover that viruses help to regulate the atmospheric temperature and can also assist in the treatment of bacterial infections. We even learn that viruses can make rabbits grow horns—yes, horns!—and that this finding contributed to the discovery of the human papillomavirus.

We discover that viruses help to regulate the atmospheric temperature and can also assist in the treatment of bacterial infections

A Planet of Viruses also describes the observation of the first consequences of the immune dysfunction caused by a pathogen we now know as the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), after several young men were hospitalised with pneumocystis pneumonia in Los Angeles.

The book closes with a chapter on the only disease that has ever been completely eradicated—smallpox—and the status of the last remaining samples of the virus.

The Rules of Contagion

Adam Kucharski, a researcher in the Department of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, is the author of The Rules of Contagion, published by the Wellcome Collection. This highly accessible book explains how epidemics emerge, expand and ultimately disappear, citing examples of how people’s behaviour influences the spread of disease.

Kucharski explains concepts such as social contagion, which describes how people who share the same environment influence each other’s behaviour.

Kucharski draws parallels between disease outbreaks and financial bubbles such as the Dutch “tulip mania” of the 17th century and, more recently, the rise of bitcoin. He explains concepts such as social contagion, which describes how people who share the same environment influence each other’s behaviour. Examples include yawning and homophily (our tendency to choose friends with whom we share certain common traits and affinities).

The book also explores a number of other concepts related to epidemiology, including the reproduction number, or “R”, which relates to SARS and COVID-19. Without a doubt, this book can help us understand past, current and future pandemics.

Pandemic

In this book, published by Sarah Crichton Books, the investigative journalist Sonia Shah explains the danger that pathogens pose to the human species. Even before COVID-19, experts knew that a new epidemic was likely to emerge, but they didn’t know whether it would be Ebola, avian flu or a completely different type of pathogen.

Shah’s book explores the origins of epidemics and draws a parallel between cholera—a disease caused by a treatable but potentially deadly bacteria—and the new diseases that stalk us today, emerging in overpopulated regions of the planet. Shah also discusses how certain human behaviours—for example, the handling of dead bodies during funeral rituals—can increase the virulence of some pathogens, including the Ebola virus.

This book can help us understand the dangers posed by viruses, bacteria and other pathogens to our health and social development.

Epidemiocracia

“Epidemics are not random phenomena without a natural history or causality; they are rooted in political systems, the structure of societies, economic practices and the environment.” Thus begins this book by Pedro Gullón and Javier Padilla, available in Spanish from the publisher Capitán Swing. In its pages, we learn about the social and political contexts of epidemics and how these factors can determine the mortality and severity of a disease outbreak.

Our position in society determines our exposure to the virus—which does, in fact, discriminate on the basis of social class

The book makes a persuasive case for health systems as elements of healing and justice, for cooperative science as a driver of knowledge, and for care as the foundation on which to build societies.

The authors invite us to consider how our position in society determines our exposure to the virus—which does, in fact, discriminate on the basis of social class—and urge us to rethink what model of society we want to build once this epidemic crisis is over.

¿Qué es el VIH? Historia, presente y futuro de una pandemia

The researcher Eduardo López-Collado, director of the Hospital La Paz Institute for Health Research (IdiPAZ), is the author of this book—available in Spanish from the publisher Oberon—on the subject of HIV, the virus behind the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, which has since claimed the lives of millions of people.

López-Collado takes us on a journey through the history of the AIDS pandemic: the initial confusion about the disease and its high prevalence in homosexual men, the incidence rates in different cities around the world, and the path taken by science to make AIDS a chronic—but not cured—disease.

The author weaves a highly informative story about the present of HIV and potential future scenarios in terms of treatments and vaccines.

The Plague

Published, aptly, by Penguin Modern Classics, this key work of philosophical absurdism earned Albert Camus the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957. In the wake of the SARS-COV-2 pandemic, it has returned to the bestseller lists in France and Italy.

The novel explores the themes of human resilience and solidarity in the most devastating context imaginable: the bubonic plague. The title refers both to the disease and to the absurdity generated by the irrational and inevitable meaning of life, pitting solidarity against lack of freedom.

The novel explores the management of the epidemic, the reactions of individual characters, the fears, and the social rebellion that arises from confinement

The story is set in the city of Oran, French Algeria—the author’s country of origin. It is presented as a chronicle of events written by a medical professional involved in the story. The reader witnesses the entire history of the disease: the first cases in animals; the reactions and media coverage unleashed by those cases; the first cases in humans; the growth of the outbreak into a full-fledged epidemic; residents taking up exile; and the complete sealing off of the city.

The novel explores the management of the epidemic, the reactions of individual characters, the fears, and the social rebellion that arises from confinement and the repression of cultural rituals and freedoms. Camus reflects on social exhaustion and human capacity in the face of a crisis of this magnitude, as well as the understanding, endurance, alignment and solidarity that such a crisis engenders.

The Ghost Map

This book by Steven Johnson, published by Riverhead Books, is set in mid-19th-century London: dirty, smelly, gloomy and rife with all the interrelated factors that led to one of the deadliest cholera outbreaks of the century.

Taking a social perspective of the city—an urban society organised around multiple socioeconomic strata—Johnson describes the recycling and management of human and urban waste, as well as the extent of the population’s ignorance regarding hygiene and sanitation.

The Ghost Map helps us understand how this cholera outbreak impacted what was, at the time, the world’s most densely populated city and how it influenced epidemiology as we know it today, from sanitation to urban renewal and the public-health overhauls of Europe’s major cities.