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Viruses and plagues and germs, oh my!

"What's natural is the microbe. All the rest--health, integrity, purity (if you like)--is a product of the human will, of a vigilance that must never falter." -Albert Camus, The Plague

History is full of disease. Bubonic plague killed millions and inspired heaps of medieval art and poetry, the SARS outbreak ironically hit China just 45 years after Mao Zedong bade "farewell to the God of Plagues," and Syphilitic madness may have inspired some of Nietzsche's most genius writing.  Diseases have the power to upend history, they have inspired countless advances in science and in art, and they still have the power to change our future. These non-fiction books will bring one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse right to your door, but they will also teach you how to live whether you find yourself in the middle of Earth’s next great epidemic (the zombie apocalypse perhaps), or stuck in bed with the sniffles. 

Get Well Soon: History’s Worst Plagues and the Heroes that Fought Them by Jennifer Wright
From a dancing sickness that had people literally dancing their feet off in France to Typhoid Mary and her deadly ice cream, Jennifer Wright tells the morbid stories of history's most famous plagues with dark humor that will have you laughing confusedly as her characters die in horrible ways. But Wright doesn't just leave you with the most gruesome details of the Black Death or Tuberculosis but rather highlights the heroes who fought these diseases and in most cases stopped them from killing more people than they did. Get Well Soon is one part macabre comedy and another part hopeful history lesson that will have you hooked until the end, and annoying your friends with facts about Small Pox and Leporasy for weeks to come. 

How to Survive a Plague: the Inside Story of How Citizens and Science Tamed AIDS by David France
One of the most devastating plagues of our time was the spread of HIV/AIDS and yet it went ignored by the government, religious leaders, and the American public for years, spreading rapidly and claiming hundreds of thousands of lives. In his nonfiction account of the history of AIDS, David France recounts the stories of countless men and women who, after watching AIDS claim their friends and lovers as society ignored their plight and claimed the disease was their punishment for being gay, chose to fight for their right to live. With unparalleled access to this community, David France illuminates the lives of extraordinary characters from a closeted Wall Street trader to a brilliant South African physician. His readers witness the founding of TAG and ACT UP, the rise of an underground drug market to oppose the expensive and toxic AZT and the gradual movement towards a lifesaving medical breakthrough. 

Sick: A Memoir by Porochista Khakpour
Not all diseases affect a great number of people. But it only takes a few bacteria to turn one life upside down. 
For as long as writer Porochista Khakpour can remember, she has been sick. For most of that time, she didn't know why. All of her trips to the ER and her daily anguish, pain and lethargy only ever resulted in one question: how could any one person be this sick? Several drug addictions, three major hospitalizations, and over $100,000 later, she finally had a diagnosis: late-stage Lyme disease. Sick is Khakpour's arduous, emotional journey--as a woman, a writer, and a lifelong sufferer of undiagnosed health problems--through the chronic illness that perpetually left her a victim of anxiety, living a life stymied by an unknown condition. Divided by settings, Khakpour guides the reader through her illness by way of the locations that changed her course--New York, LA, New Mexico and Germany--as she meditates on both the physical and psychological impacts of uncertainty, and the eventual challenge of accepting the diagnosis she had searched for over the course of her adult life. With candor and grace, she examines her subsequent struggles with mental illness, her addiction to the benzodiazepines prescribed by her psychiatrists, and her ever-deteriorating physical health. A story about survival, pain and transformation, Sick is a candid, illuminating narrative of hope and uncertainty, boldly examining the deep impact of illness on one woman's life.
Pale Rider: the Spanish Flu of 1918 and How it Changed the World by Laura Spinney
No war, no famine, no natural disaster has killed as many people as quickly as Spanish Influenza, which infected a third of all people on earth from the poorest immigrant in New York City to the King of Spain to Franz Kafka. But despite an estimated death toll of 50 million people, this plague is still thought of as merely an afterthought of World War I. In this gripping narrative history, Laura Spinney traces the overlooked pandemic to reveal how the virus infected people across the globe, exposing mankind’s vulnerability and putting our ingenuity to the test. The Spanish Flu dramatically disrupted--and perhaps permanently altered--global politics, race relations, and family structures, while spurring innovation in medicine, religion and the arts. It was partly responsible, Spinney argues, for pushing India to independence, South Africa to apartheid and Switzerland to the brink of civil war. Drawing on the latest research in history, epidemiology, psychology, and economics, Pale Rider masterfully recounts the little-known catastrophe that forever changed humanity.
Spillover: Animal Contagions and the Next Human Pandemic by David Quammen
Ebola, SARS, Hendra and many other human diseases all have one thing in common: the germs that cause them originated in wild animals and are passed on to humans in a process called spillover. In this Scientific American Best Book of the Year, David Quammen takes the reader on an astonishing quest to learn how, where from, and why these diseases emerge and asks the terrifying question: what might the next big one be? 

Between Hope and Fear: A History of Vaccines and Human Immunity by Michael Kinch
You may have heard stories recently about long-dormant diseases suddenly reappearing across the nation--cases of measles, mumps, rubella, and whooping cough cropping up everywhere from elementary schools to Ivy League universities because a select group of parents refuses to vaccinate their children. Between Hope and Fear tells the remarkable story of vaccine-preventable diseases and their social and political implications. While detailing this incredibly interesting history of human innovation, Michael Kinch also reminds us of the implications of vaccine denial, the dangers of failing to vaccinate and that the health we enjoy because of these vaccines is not permanent and progress could be easily undone.