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10 Best Nonfiction Books Of All Time According To Evolutionary Biologist Jonathan Eisen

In a world that seems to be constantly evolving, it's essential to seek knowledge that can help us better understand the intricacies of life, science, and the world around us.

For those intrigued by the wonders of the biological world and the threats it presents, evolutionary biologist Jonathan Eisen has curated a list of great nonfiction books that every enthusiast should read.

This list delves into the captivating realm of infectious diseases and the incredible stories behind their emergence, discovery, and the battles fought to contain them.

Affiliate Disclaimer: This post features Amazon affiliate links, which means I may earn a small commission if you make a purchase through these links.

Gina Kolata's "Flu" is a meticulously researched exploration of the 1918 Spanish influenza pandemic, often regarded as the deadliest in human history. This book combines scientific inquiry, historical analysis, and gripping storytelling to unravel the mysteries surrounding the virus responsible for this global catastrophe. Kolata dives deep into the painstaking search for the virus and the scientific breakthroughs that have helped us understand and combat future flu outbreaks.

“But as the program got going, the smallest details became issues, even the very name of the disease. Pig farmers complained to the Centers for Disease Control that the name “swine flu” might frighten people away from eating pork. They asked, to no avail, that the flu’s name be changed to “New Jersey”― Gina Kolata, Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus That Caused It

Catharine Arnold's "Pandemic 1918" paints a vivid picture of the 1918 influenza pandemic through eyewitness accounts and historical records. The book delves into the human experiences of those who lived through this harrowing era, shedding light on the emotional and societal impact of the pandemic. Arnold's work offers readers a unique, poignant perspective on the devastation wrought by this deadly virus.

“In a strange twist on the concept of flu prevention, ‘vaudeville theaters were only allowed to be half full – members of the audience had to leave the seat on either side empty so that they would not breathe on one another. To further protect themselves many wore surgical masks, so that even when they laughed the sound was muffled.”― Catharine Arnold, Pandemic 1918: Eyewitness Accounts from the Greatest Medical Holocaust in Modern History

"Spillover" by David Quammen is a thought-provoking exploration of zoonotic diseases—those that jump from animals to humans. Quammen takes readers on a journey through forests, caves, and labs as he examines various pathogens that have triggered epidemics. The book underscores the importance of understanding the dynamics of these diseases to prevent future pandemics.

“Make no mistake, they are connected, these disease outbreaks coming one after another. And they are not simply happening to us; they represent the unintended results of things we are doing. They reflect the convergence of two forms of crisis on our planet. The first crisis is ecological, the second is medical.”― David Quammen, Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic

Carl Zimmer's "A Planet of Viruses" offers an intriguing perspective on viruses, presenting them as an integral part of our planet's ecosystem. The book highlights the ubiquity of viruses and their immense influence on all life forms. Zimmer's work reveals the intricate web of interactions between viruses and living organisms, ultimately deepening our understanding of the role they play in the biosphere.

“The very word virus began as a contradiction. We inherited the word from the Roman Empire, where it meant, at once, the venom of a snake or the semen of a man. Creation and destruction in one word.”― Carl Zimmer, A Planet of Viruses

In "Beating Back the Devil," Maryn McKenna provides an intimate look at the Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS), a group of fearless disease detectives working at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Through gripping stories and real-life experiences, McKenna showcases the tireless efforts of these dedicated individuals who risk their lives to protect public health, prevent outbreaks, and combat infectious diseases.

“Health and dignity are indissociable in human beings,” he said at the ceremony. “It is a duty to stay close to victims and guarantee their rights.” Urbani”― Maryn McKenna, Beating Back the Devil: On the Front Lines with the Disease Detectives of

"Microbe Hunters" by Paul de Kruif is a classic in the world of microbiology literature. It paints a vivid portrait of the pioneers who shaped our understanding of infectious diseases and microbes. De Kruif's storytelling brings to life the daring and groundbreaking work of scientists who laid the foundation for modern microbiology.

“Microbe hunting is a story of amazing stupidities, fine intuitions, insane paradoxes.”― Paul de Kruif, Microbe Hunters

"Biohazard" by Ken Alibek is a chilling account of the Soviet Union's secretive bioweapons program. Offering an insider's perspective, Alibek unveils the covert world of biological warfare. His book provides a rare glimpse into the clandestine operations and ethical dilemmas surrounding the production and deployment of deadly biological agents.

“We believe we can create a chimera virus,” he said, elliptically.”― Ken Alibek, Biohazard: The Chilling True Story of the Largest Covert Biological Weapons Program in the World--Told from the Inside by the Man Who Ran It

Richard Preston's "The Hot Zone" is a gripping narrative of the origins of the Ebola virus. The book recounts the adrenaline-pumping story of scientists racing against time to understand and contain this lethal pathogen. Preston's vivid storytelling puts readers on the front lines of a terrifying and potentially catastrophic outbreak.

“In biology, nothing is clear, everything is too complicated, everything is a mess, and just when you think you understand something, you peel off a layer and find deeper complications beneath. Nature is anything but simple.”― Richard Preston, The Hot Zone: The Terrifying True Story of the Origins of the Ebola Virus

"Level 4" by Joseph B. McCormick offers an inside look at the high-stakes world of virus hunting, particularly the efforts of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). From tracking the deadly Ebola virus to other lethal pathogens, this book provides a thrilling account of the dedicated professionals working to protect global health.

Laurie Garrett's "The Coming Plague" is an exhaustive exploration of emerging infectious diseases. Garrett investigates the complex factors driving the emergence of new diseases and the global efforts aimed at confronting these threats. Her book is a comprehensive guide to the ever-evolving landscape of infectious diseases and the collective battle to maintain global health security.

“In 1982 President Ronald Reagan called for a war on drugs: by 1990 more men were in federal prisons on drug charges alone than had comprised the entire 1980 federal prison population for all crimes combined.”― Laurie Garrett, The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance


If you enjoyed these book recommendations, check out more similar list on my on my blog —

These ten books, as recommended by evolutionary biologist Jonathan Eisen, provide a captivating and informative journey through the world of infectious diseases, microbiology, and the brave individuals who dedicate their lives to understanding and combating these threats.

Whether you're a science enthusiast or simply curious about the biological world, these nonfiction gems will broaden your knowledge and deepen your appreciation for the complex, ever-evolving world of infectious diseases.


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