19 Books About Pandemics

By Christina Ladd on

About Christina Ladd

One of the Books & Comics editors at Geekly. She/her. Sailor Rainbow. Glitter and spite and everything bright.


If you want to lean into the trend, here are fifteen books about pandemics that can hopefully take some of the stress out of distancing, quarantine, or just the general anxiety of being alive in these “interesting” times.

The Stand (Stephen King) – A superflu kills 99.4% of the world population, and that’s just the start of this tale of good vs. evil parsed on cosmic, American, and individual scales in an epic that defines the (sub-)genre.

Feed (Mira Grant) – The plague is done, but what caused it? A pair of dogged investigators might not like what they find when they look for the origins of a virus that filled the infected with a singular desire to feed.

The Girl with All the Gifts (M. R. Carey) – Rather than a virus, it’s a fungus that has engulfed the world and turned all but a precious few enclaves into zombies. Pandora, a child who idolizes her teacher, wants to understand this new world and her place in it. But everyone else might not be prepared for what she learns.

The Genius Plague (David Walton) – Similarly mycological, this plague gives people superpowers—but also strangely unified goals. Is this the next step in human evolution, or is this our doom?

Wanderers (Chuck Wendig) – A sleepwalking pandemic strikes the world and draws all the sleepers on a silent, eerie quest to walk toward an unknown destination. Where they’re all going is one mystery; whether the rest of humanity will survive to find out, or whether it will devour itself in panic and fear, is another.

Shadows Cast by Stars (Catherine Knutsson) – When it appears that Aboriginal and First Nations blood is the key to curing a pandemic, authorities begin snatching people. To escape, Cassandra heads toward an island protected by magic—and falls into her place in a legend that could save her people or destroy them.

Marrow Thieves (Cherie Dimaline) – Along similar lines, Native marrow is thought to be the key to ending an affliction that steals the ability to dream. Frenchie and his friends are fleeing to escape the government, but they soon learn they have the power to fight back.

Years of Rice and Salt (Kim Stanley Robinson) – This is an alternate history in which the Black Death all but wipes out Europe, and other empires move in to stake their claims.

Severance (Ling Ma) – Nostalgia and routine become a disease that turns normal people into mindless wanderers, only able to repeat the same patterns until they slowly starve to death. Candace has her own routines, but her past leaves little to be nostalgic about. Is she immune? Or is she only waiting for a trigger that will destroy her and those she loves most?

I Am Legend (Richard Matheson) – Vampire bacteria has infected everyone around Robert, but he keeps on fighting. But what, exactly, he’s fighting, begins to shift.

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown (Holly Black) – A plague of vampirism across the US has led to the establishment of “coldtowns,” where those afflicted by vampirism (or those who want to be) are locked in and forced to reckon with a new world order of vampire aristocrats and their blood-soaked politics.

World War Z (Max Brooks) – Want to know how the world moves on? (And do you want reassurance that it will?) Well, this is a pretty good indication if you manage to survive a zombie plague.

Mirabilis (Susan Cokal) – A wet nurse hired by a wealthy noble might be the only one able to save a town from plague and starvation, but miracles are not what you might expect, even in the middle ages. Far from preachy, this is an earthly tale full of doubt and desire.

The Book of M (Peng Shepherd) – A plague of shadows strikes humanity, but it’s not darkness that afflicts them—it’s its absence. When people lose their shadows they begin to lose their memories, and as they forget, the world forgets how to exist along with them. A surreal, beautiful book.

Afterparty (Darryl Gregory) – The Smart Drug revolution created a plague of sorts, one that induces mass madness in those seeking chemically-induced religious revelation. A fascinating take on Big Pharma, religion, and another crisis we’ve left by the wayside but should not forget: the opioid epidemic.

Bright Smoke, Cold Fire  and Endless Water, Starless Sky (Rosamund Hodge) – This retelling of Romeo & Juliet is overflowing with necromancers, swordfighters, and many kinds of love that, together, might be strong enough to hold back the plague coming for the last living city. Wondrous.

Dread Nation and Deathless Divide (Justina Ireland) – Another zombie plague book, this one is also set after the initial panic, but things are far from recovered. Now young African American ladies are pressed into serving and protecting rich white women from the undead, but Jane has other ideas. It’s a long, hard look at Reconstruction and race as well as a bloody zombie thriller.

Idlewild (Nick Sagan) – There are multiple layers of virtual reality here, and untangling them begins as Halloween’s innocent desire to try to recover from a strange malfunction. But soon he fears someone might be trying to kill him. Reader, the truth is much worse even than that.

Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids (Kenzaburo Oe) – Oe has won, among other awards, the Nobel Prize in Literature, so it feels fitting that he have the last word on plague-related novels. In this modern Japanese classic, children evacuated from a war zone to a rural town are left alone when a plague strikes. Their attempt to recreate society is beautiful, terrible, and poignant.  

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