I'm always excited to read books about science and infectious disease. If you find yourself with more free time in these next few weeks and searching for infectious disease and/or
science-related books, here are my recommendations.
The Hot Zone by Richard Preston
The Hot Zone focuses on Ebolaviruses. I know Preston takes liberties when describing certain events and effects of Ebola on the human body, but it is such a good read! Stephen King described it as "one of the most horrifying things I've read in my whole life". Ebolaviruses are part of the filovirus family, and 4 of the known Ebolavirus species can cause Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in humans. EVD is a hemorrhagic fever with a high mortality rate. Bats are believed to be the reservoir for ebolavirus. A reservoir is the organism or environment that hosts a pathogen, typically without causing disease in the reservoir population.
Level 4: Virus Hunters of the CDC by Dr. Joseph B. McCormick, Dr. Susan Fisher-Hoch, and Leslie Alan Horvitz
Level 4: Virus Hunters of the CDC is a book written by the cowboys of the wild, wild west of emerging infectious diseases. Biosafety Level 4 is the highest level of biosafety precautions; this level of biosafety is reserved for highly infectious agents which cause severe to fatal disease. These pathogens also have no known cure or treatment. If you remember those space suits in movies like Outbreak and Contagion, you have an idea of what BSL-4 lab wear can look. This husband-and-wife-team travel around the world in the hopes of getting ahead of these lethal viruses.
World War Z by Max Brooks
If you're looking for something infectious disease-adjacent, but totally fictional because you are scared enough of this current pandemic, look no further. World War Z is one of my favorite books! It tells the oral history of the Zombie War, 10 years after its end. Brooks explores the perspective of doctors, politicians, charlatans, soldiers, and more and they remember their encounters with zombies and, even worse, humans in crisis. I think I'm going to buy the digital version soon because it's such a great read.
Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson
Fever 1793 tells the tale of a young girl surviving the Yellow Fever plague of Philadelphia in 1793. I'm a sucker for historical fiction and Laurie Halse Anderson! Yellow Fever is a RNA viral hemorrhagic fever transmitted by mosquitoes. It's called Yellow Fever because it can cause jaundice, or the yellowing of skin and eyes due to the build up of bilirubin in the blood (think of the color of an old bruise). This buildup is a sign of liver damage, as the liver typically metabolizes and excretes bilirubin from the body. During this particular outbreak, the local government collapsed as the virus caused 100 deaths per day. A truly engrossing read.
Crisis in the Red Zone by Richard Preston
Crisis in the Red Zone is a bit of a sequel to The Hot Zone. Can you tell I like Richard Preston books? This book covers the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa and beyond. It further describes the very real dangers of spillover events. Spillover events are when a population (i.e. humans) come into contact with a reservoir population which have evolved to survive when exposed to pathogen. This happens with Ebola as well and SARS coronaviruses and a number of other infectious diseases. The more humans encroach on animal environments, the more likely they are to be exposed to novel pathogens.
Lab Girl by Hope Jahren
Are you looking for a book that is NOT about infectious disease? I've got you covered. Lab Girl was incredibly relatable to me. Dr. Jahren artfully interweaves tales of a woman in STEM with the patient life of plants. I haven't looked at trees the same since reading this book! Dr. Jahren completed her PhD at University of California Berkeley. She is the recipient of three Fulbright Awards and is one of four scientists, and the only woman, to have been awarded both of the Young Investigator Medals given within the Earth Sciences. She was a tenured professor at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu from 2008 to 2016, where she built the Isotope Geobiology Laboratories. Basically, she is GOALS.
What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions By Randall Munroe
What If? is a fun book that answers crazy questions you want to discuss at happy hour with your labmates. Questions like What if I took a swim in a spent-nuclear-fuel pool? Could you build a jetpack using downward-firing machine guns? What if a Richter 15 earthquake hit New York City? Are fire tornadoes possible? And many more! This is another read that just might get your mind off of the news and into a more creative, scientific head space. And yes, you need to be creative in STEM!
That's it for this list! Shout out to our amazing reader, Lauren, for the idea to post some book recommendations. If you have any recs, please leave a comment. I'm always looking to expand my reading list!