Atchoo! What Past Pandemics Can Teach Us About Viruses Now

If getting holed up at home during the current situation gave you plenty of time for your curiosity to wander about viruses, we’ve got you covered.

Source: Giphy

Keep calm and carry on reading these non-fiction books that’s way more fascinating than a biology class:

  1. The Ebola outbreak highlighted the link between animal control and diseases.
    The Hot Zone by Richard Preston
Anchor, 2012

In 1983, a SWAT team descended on a research facility in the town of Reston, USA.

Their goal? To annihilate every single research monkey in the facility where a new strain of Ebola was discovered. The race was on to stop the virus from escaping the doors and into the population.

Source: Giphy

Welcome to the ‘hot zone’.

Richard Preston takes us through a gripping medical thriller, tracing the emergence of the deadly virus from the rivers of West Africa to its rapid rise as a force to be reckoned with.

Get the book here: Physical Copy, eBook

2. AIDS highlighted how viruses became a political issue…
And The Band Played On by Randy Shilts

St Martin’s Griffin, 2007

In this groundbreaking case of medical journalism, Shilts tells the story of an entire generation that vanished in the face of a disease that was too taboo to speak about.

Written at the time when AIDS was ravaging the LGBT community, Shilts brings into perspective how the prejudice and indifference from politicians, scientists, and the healthcare system cost the lives of hundreds of thousands. The public refused to believe that AIDS was transmitted by blood, passing it off as a ‘lifestyle disease’. It took years of efforts from activists to change how the public viewed the AIDS crisis, prompting a timely conversation on safe sex and using clean needles.

Get the book here: Physical Copy

3. Smallpox paved the way for mass vaccination programmes today.
Smallpox by D.A. Henderson

Prometheus Books, 2009

In the span of a single generation, smallpox was declared eradicated, thanks to a global vaccination programme. For the first time in our entire history, mankind was free from the ancient disease.

Source: Giphy

This memoir of one of medicine’s greatest achievements is retold here in sparkling detail, giving us the personal view of the director behind the massive effort.

The unexpectedly touching tale of how people of all stripes crossed political, cultural, and physical borders to fight against a common enemy will get your faith in humanity restored!

Get the book here: Physical Book, eBook

4. The 1918 Great Influenza taught us that prevention is better than cure.
The Great Influenza by John M Barry

Penguin Books, 2005

People falling from their horses or collapsing in the streets. Young men and women coughing, blood dripping from their nose and ears. Death from a mysterious illness within 3 days.

Source: Giphy

This didn’t happen in the Dark Ages. It happened in 1918, only a century ago.

The influenza pandemic of 1918 (which you’d probably know better as H1N1) spread to 27% of the world’s population at the height of its virality, triggering a frantic race to find the cure. If that number were to play out today, that would be 2.16 billion people infected.

The 1918 influenza changed public healthcare by planting the idea of taking pre-emptive measures. Read this book if you’re a history buff, and to feel the legacy that the pandemic left in our modern healthcare system today.

Get the book here: Physical Copy, eBook, Audiobook

Viruses have played a significant role in shaping our history, and though they sound terrifying, you don’t have to start prepping for a zombie apocalypse just yet.

Source: Giphy


All books featured are available via the NLB Mobile app or at our public libraries.


Text by
National Reading Movement
National Library Board


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