A COVID-19 Reading List: 16 of the Best Books About Pandemics

In Reading Lists, Reading Lists - Staff Picks by The Editors


Does the coronavirus have you working from home, avoiding travel, practicing social distancing, and searching everywhere for hand sanitizer and a roll of toilet paper? With school closures and the cancellation of events, sports, Broadway, festivals, and more, the COVID-19 crisis is a lot, so remember to check in with friends and loved ones at risk, wash your hands regularly (and don’t forget to clean your phone!), and practice some self-care.

The CDC recommends unwinding and taking a break from media coverage by taking part in activities that make you happy. Like reading. Surprising as it may seem, publishers are reporting spikes in sales of books about pandemics and more people are watching movies like Contagion, according to The Guardian. So if you’re suddenly craving books about the plague, you’re not alone! And we’ve got you covered.

Maybe you want to escape from the daily headlines with a novel about fictional pandemics, where everything turns out alright in the end (mostly). We have 10 thrillers and sci-fi classics for you to curl up with under the covers while you’re staying home and at least six feet away from everyone else.

Or perhaps you’d prefer to arm yourself with knowledge of how coronavirus spreads by reading histories of previous deadly diseases. We’ve listed six essential nonfiction accounts of past pandemics below.

Whether you fancy fiction or nonfiction, there’s no shortage of deadly disease books to choose from to keep you company during your social isolation.




What if a killer virus came from outer space? When a scientific satellite designed to collect extraterrestrial samples crashes down to Earth, it releases a deadly microbe, and the body count starts to rise. Michael Crichton’s classic thriller imagines the panic that ensues as a totally unprepared government and scientific community desperately try to stop the spreading alien pandemic.

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Working from home because your company told employees to minimize their potential exposure by staying out of the office and off public transit? Ling Ma’s terrific debut novel — which feels like a crossover episode from The Office and The Walking Dead — imagines how a catastrophic plague sweeping through New York City impacts workplace culture. Severance manages to satirize everything from careerism to apocalyptic thrillers without sacrificing empathy or believability. A super smart page-turner.

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In this thriller originally published in 1981, Dean Koontz writes about a fictional virus with a name that now seems eerily prescient: “Wuhan-400.” The internet exploded with conspiracy theories claiming (incorrectly) that Koontz predicted the current coronavirus crisis. While the name of the fictional disease does reference Wuhan, the city in China where the COVID-19 outbreak first emerged, that’s where the similarities end. In the novel, “Wuhan-400” is a cutting-edge biological weapon created in labs, and Reuters reports that the first edition of the book called the virus “Gorki-400” after a Russian city. Koontz may not have predicted the future, but he definitely wrote a frighteningly good nail-biter (so wash your hands before you listen).

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