22 Pandemic Books to Read Before the H7N9 Virus Kills Us All

Originally published in 1912. This pre-Spanish Flu classic is a great place to start.
Originally published in 1912. This pre-Spanish Flu classic is a great place to start.

It’s been a while since the news was overrun with stories on the H7N9 bird flu – but not so long ago the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Chinese government were convincing folks not to panic…yet. But if you spent as many hours translating microblogs from Mandarin as some amateur epidemiologists do, you’d be concerned the story of H7N9 was almost too strange not to be fiction.

Imagine this on the back of a book cover:

No one knows how it is transmitted. It attacks primarily men over sixty. Infected birds don’t show symptoms and the Chinese military officials are claiming the Americans created it. Chinese citizens with mild symptoms aren’t being tested and rumors circulate that the real case statistics are being suppressed to protect Chinese economic interests as the people of China are told to sit quietly and drink their herbal teas.

Are these are the rumblings of an epic pandemic about to cover the earth? Are we all going to die? Or maybe a third of us? Perhaps just the old me? No one knows.

But, our natural fear of deadly viruses is rooted firmly in history and set ablaze by our imagination. So, before you succumb to H7N9, here are 20 books, both fictional and non-fiction, about disease and death.

1. The Decameron

Giovanni Boccaccio. One hundred stories written around and about the time of the Black Death in Italy during the 14th century.

2. The Great Influenza

John M. Barry. Deals with the Swine flu epidemic that begin at an army base in Kansas and killed more people than died in World War I.

3. The Stand

Stephen King. “Captain Trips,” a weaponized form of influenza is accidentally released on a remote U.S. Army base.

Here’s a full list of Stephen King books.

4. Journal of the Plague Year

Daniel Defoe. Provides an intimate look at the Great Plague of 1665 within the context of both history and fiction.

5. The Flu

Jacqueline Druga. During a new flu epidemic, one small town in Ohio stays healthy, but is forced to test the boundaries of what is right and wrong in that unlikely scenario.

6. Plague

Albert Camus. The plague comes to North Africa in gripping detail.

7. Year Zero

Jeff Long. In the middle of a pandemic, a man travels from Asia to the United States to find his daughter.

8. The Scarlet Plague

Jack London. The plague comes, the governments try to hide it, but it kills within an hour and wreaks havoc as people try to survive.

9. The Betrothed

by Alessandro Manzoni. Two lovers in Lombardy, Italy, coping with the plague and famine.

10. Last Man

Mary Shelley. A novel by the author of Frankenstein about the earth’s population dying from plagues and war.

11. In the Wake of the Plague

Norman F. Cantor. The mysteries of the Black Death, which wiped out a third of the world’s population in the 14th century, are revealed.

12. I am Legend

Richard Matheson. An incurable plague turns everyone into blood-thirsty creatures out to get the survivors.

13. The Way We Fall

Megan Crewe. Fallen World Series. An outbreak of a deadly virus causes a teenage girl’s island home to be quarantined.

14. The Earth Abides

George R. Stewart. Everybody dies of disease except one man who proved to be immune.

15. The Andromeda Strain.

Micheal Crichton. Disease is brought to Earth from outer space and people drop dead.

16. Dark Advent

Brian Hodge. In the era of a weaponized influenza virus, there are good guys and bad guys, but also one really bad guy who wants it all to end.

17. Fictions of Disease in Early Modern England

Margaret Healy. Explores the influence of disease on English literature, including works by Shakespeare, Milton, Heywood, and Dekker.

18. Orphan Flu

A. D. Bolivar. A family with intense survivalist preparations initiates their plan to survive the political chaos caused by the flu virus.

19. Mister Touch

Malcolm Bosse. AIDS mutated and ravaged America. A group of survivors are seeking a more suitable environment to live with their ailments.

20. Fever 1793

Laurie Halse Anderson. A young girl flees with her grandfather from an epidemic in pre-revolutionary Philadelphia.

21. The Jakarta Pandemic

Steven Konkoly. A deadly virus begins in Indonesia, but changes the quaint lives of people all over the world.

22. Killer Germs: Microbes and Disease that Threaten Humanity

Barry E. Zimmerman. Learn obscure facts about disease. In addition the well-known Black Death, did you know there is also a disease, lesser known, called the White Death?

Carrie Bailey is a post-apocalyptic humor writer who tweets as @PeevishPenman