A Burnt-Out Case by Graham Greene
A Burnt-Out Case
by Graham Greene
Vintage Greene, there are complex relationships at a Congo leper colony overseen by Catholic missionaries.

The Black Death killed millions of people in the 14th century and had immense social and economic impact on medieval Europe. Centuries later the Black Death’s influence can still be seen in a literary genre that appeals to readers who like their literature dark and threatening. (Before we continue, if this is too depressing then click here and we guarantee you’ll smile).

Plague literature covers science fiction, historical fiction, zombie fiction, alternative histories, existentialism and even romance (although you would think love would be the last thing on your mind as your neighbors go down with the Black Death). Authors have created fiction around the bubonic plague, multiple cholera outbreaks, the Spanish flu of 1918, yellow fever epidemics and set storylines in leper colonies. Life seems that much more precious when death is just around the corner.

Writers have used plagues in their stories for a long time. In the 14th century, Giovanni Boccaccio wrote The Decameron – a set of stories narrated by seven women who have fled from plague-stricken Florence. In modern times I am Legend by Richard Matheson, Earth Abides by George R. Stewart and The Stand by Stephen King have become iconic examples of post-apocalyptic science fiction where the world has been ruined by disease.

Blindness by José Saramago shows that an epidemic doesn’t have to be deadly for society to quickly fall to pieces.

If you are feeling a little under the weather, browse our selection of plague books and these gripping but bleak reads will soon have you feeling better (we hope).


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A Selection of Plague Books

The Plague Dogs by Richard Adams
The Plague Dogs
by Richard Adams

Two dogs escape from an animal testing center – were they injected with the bubonic plague?
The Plague by Albert Camus
The Plague
by Albert Camus

Get existential with Camus’ 1947 classic about medical workers fighting the plague in an Algerian city.
A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe
A Journal of the Plague Year
by Daniel Defoe

A fictional narrator chronicles the 1665 Great Plague as it kills 100,000 & turns London into a ghost city.
Company of Liars by Karen Maitland
Company of Liars
by Karen Maitland

Canterbury Tales revisited. It’s 1348 & the Black Death rules. There’s a mystery behind the storytellers.
The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson
The Years of Rice and Salt
by Kim Stanley Robinson

Alternative history, Asia takes over when 99% of Europe’s population is killed by the Black Death.
Years of Wonder: A Novel of the Plague by Geraldine Brooks
Years of Wonder: A Novel of the Plague
by Geraldine Brooks

Historical novel based on real events in 17th century Derbyshire. Do you flee or stay in the village?
The White Plague by Frank Herbert
The White Plague
by Frank Herbert

Science fiction novel mostly set in Ireland where a distraught biologist unleashes a homemade plague.
The Plague Tales by Ann Benson
The Plague Tales
by Ann Benson

1348 & 2005 meet, sort of. The fates of a Spanish physician & a modern scientist are combined.
Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
Oryx and Crake
by Margaret Atwood

A genetically-engineered plague kills most people. This novel skewers science & technology industries.
Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson
Fever 1793
by Laurie Halse Anderson

Novel based on a real epidemic of yellow fever that killed 5,000 people in Philadelphia.
At the Sign of the Sugared Plum by Mary Hooper
At the Sign of the Sugared Plum
by Mary Hooper

Hannah fails to get her sister’s message to stay away from plague-gripped 17th century London. Whoops.
A Parcel of Patterns by Jill Paton Walsh
A Parcel of Patterns
by Jill Paton Walsh

The plague sweeps through the Derbyshire village of Eyam in 1665 but the survivors struggle on.
The Black Death: A Personal History by John Hatcher
The Black Death: A Personal History
by John Hatcher

A non-too cheerful historical recreation of village life in 14th century England.
The Hot Zone by Richard Preston
The Hot Zone
by Richard Preston

A non-fiction ‘thriller’ about modern viruses like Ebola – Suzanne Collins rated it as a very scary book.
The Painted Veil by Somerset Maugham
The Painted Veil
by Somerset Maugham

Set around a Chinese cholera epidemic, Kitty’s romantic life is very complicated & full of heartbreak.
Sweet Thames by Matthew Kneale
Sweet Thames
by Matthew Kneale

Cholera bears down on London in 1849, Joshua Jeavons is building drains but then his wife disappears.
The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton
The Andromeda Strain
by Michael Crichton

Popular techno-thriller from 1969, scientists investigate a deadly extraterrestrial microorganism.
The Dress Lodger by Sheri Holman
The Dress Lodger
by Sheri Holman

In 1831 Sunderland is quarantined by a cholera epidemic & Gustine struggles to make ends meet.
Pandemic by Daniel Kalla
Pandemic
by Daniel Kalla

Written by a real doctor, a fictional doctor investigates a deadly new virus called the Gansu Flu.
The Last Town on Earth by Thomas Mullen
The Last Town on Earth
by Thomas Mullen

A small logging town in Washington takes drastic measures against the deadly flu epidemic of 1918.
Moloka’I by Alan Brennert
Moloka’I
by Alan Brennert

A Hawaiian woman contracts leprosy as a child & is deported to the quarantined island of Moloka’i.
Salvation City by Sigrid Nunez
Salvation City
by Sigrid Nunez

Set in the near future, a young orphan struggles on after a flu pandemic strikes the world.
Long Day’s Journey into Night by Eugene O'Neill
Long Day’s Journey into Night
by Eugene O'Neill

An autobiographical play where Edmond is sent to a sanitarium to recover from tuberculosis.
Run Far, Run Fast by Timothy Decker
Run Far, Run Fast
by Timothy Decker

Pen and ink drawings, a young girl tries to outrun the plague in 14th Europe.
Mirabilis by Susann Cokal
Mirabilis
by Susann Cokal

In a besieged French village beset by plague, the illegitimate daughter of a saint performs miracles.

 

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