Geographies in Depth

5 books to read for context on the coronavirus outbreak

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A list of 5 books to read to offer some context about COVID-19. Image: Unplash/Patrick Tomasso

Charlotte Edmond
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  • Since the coronavirus outbreak, sales of Albert Camus’ classic book The Plague have rocketed.
  • Here are five other books that give context on outbreaks.
  • For example, the popular Oxford University Press series, Viruses, A Very Short Introduction explains how global warming is having an impact on the spread of disease.

It was written more than 70 years ago, but Albert Camus’ celebrated classic La Peste (The Plague) is speaking to us as loudly as ever. The book, which tells of the spread of a plague in a North African town and the human response to death, has seen a major uptick in sales since the outbreak of the coronavirus.

In the first eight weeks of 2020, there have already been 40% of the sales normally seen in an entire year.

Have you read?

With concern about the disease spreading, it is little wonder that the book is resonating with new audiences. And the moral and personal questions it raises are as relevant now as they were when it was written.


What is the World Economic Forum doing about the coronavirus outbreak?

From psychology to history, these books will give you context on the coronavirus outbreak. Image: World Economic Forum

Here are five more books to give context and information about disease throughout human history.

1. Epidemics and Society, From the Black Death to the Present - Frank M Snowden

Image: Yale University Press

Snowden explores how mass infectious outbreaks have shaped society, looking at their impact on medical science and public health, as well as the arts, religion, intellectual history and warfare.

He gives historical perspective on diseases such as smallpox, cholera, and tuberculosis, and examines the fallout from recent epidemics such as HIV/AIDS, SARS, and Ebola.

2. Viruses, A Very Short Introduction - Dorothy H Crawford

Image: Oxford University Press

Short and accessible, this book gives an overview of the origins and method of infection of a range of diseases, including recent epidemics such as Ebola, Zika and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).

Crawford also looks at how global warming is changing the spread of vector-borne diseases and the impact this has on populations not previously brought into contact with these viruses.

3. Spillover, Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic - David Quammen

Image: Goodreads

Deadly viruses including Ebola, SARS and HIV/AIDS have all been transmitted from animals. Quammen details how this happened, what we can do to limit the spread and what the other likely contenders are for spillover into the human population.

4. The Pandemic Century, One Hundred Years of Panic, Hysteria, and Hubris - Mark Honigsbaum

Image: Norton

As a medical historian, Honigsbaum charts the scientific struggle and progress against deadly disease over the last century. From the 1918 Spanish Flu to modern-day outbreaks, he looks at how disease spread is influenced by health officials, scientists and others. He also discusses how racial, religious and ethnic tensions are exacerbated by outbreaks.

5. The Psychology of Pandemics, Preparing for the Next Global Outbreak of Infectious Disease - Steven Taylor

Image: Cambridge Scholars

Vaccinations and behaviours are key methods for limiting the spread of infectious diseases, but little attention is paid to the psychological factors involved. This book looks into the emotional and social disruption disease can cause, and the role psychological factors have in areas such as nonadherence to vaccine programmes.

Taylor also covers how these issues can be central to managing societal issues associated with pandemics such as spreading fear and stigma.

For further coronavirus-related reading check out this list from The Syllabus.

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