While it is clear that the COVID-19 pandemic caused by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus has already been able to radically transform our world, it is still too early to know how and to what extent some of these changes will endure over the long term or whether everything will ever return to how it was before. A recent Harvard University study suggests that at least some of the health measures taken will have to be extended intermittently until 2025, or we risk a resurgence of the virus. Many experts, whose warnings about the risk of pandemics have gone unheeded for decades, say it is time to take seriously the preparation for future scourges similar or worse than the current one. Beyond the daily flood of news about COVID-19, we select here a list of books that can help us find our feet in this global crisis and the future post-pandemic world that is coming.
The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History, John M. Barry (Viking Books, 2004)
In everything related to the new coronavirus, it is impossible not make reference to the largest pandemic in modern history, the 1918-19 flu, wrongly called the “Spanish flu”, which claimed more victims than the recently ended world war. In his New York Times bestseller, John M. Barry provides us with one of the most thorough overviews of this infectious catastrophe, many of whose aspects are sadly familiar to us today: science’s race against an invisible enemy that was not seen coming, or the complicated political management of a crisis of such magnitude, when much of the success of the fight against the pandemic depends on the need to guide the population along the path of truth and transparency, without distortion or manipulation.
Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic, David Quammen (W. W. Norton, 2012)
We are now in the midst of a pandemic that no one seemed to expect, despite repeated warnings from experts and the fact that we have already had to suffer the threats of epidemic flu, Ebola, HIV or previous coronaviruses, among others. But although the extraordinary current situation may lead us to believe that SARS-CoV-2 is the pandemic of the century, scientists warn us there will be more to follow.
Since its publication in 2012, David Quammen’s book has become an essential reference as a research work on the dangers of zoonoses, diseases lurking in their animal reservoirs awaiting the opportunity to jump to humans. Through a journey from the depths of the African jungles or the caves of China to high-security biological laboratories, and giving voice to scientists, the author relates with the tension of a thriller how previous zoonoses came to us, what new dangers we can expect in the future and what humans can do to prevent them.
Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel (Pan MacMillan, 2015)
This dystopic novel about pandemics by Canadian author Emily St. John Mandel is the one that everyone talks about. Written in 2014, Station Eleven takes place between the beginning of a deadly flu outbreak and the devastated world left in the pandemic’s wake. As different groups strive to move forward and face the future that awaits them, a handful of survivors, actors and musicians tour the Great Lakes region performing Shakespeare’s plays.
Far from the clichés of the post-apocalyptic genre, with its zombie killings and guerrilla warfare to survive, the novel focuses on the human relationships of a group of characters who yearn for all the little things they have lost that they had not yet learned to value. Without a doubt, an important lesson for the times we live in.
Wave, Sonali Deraniyagala (Knopf, 2013)
With the death toll from the coronavirus now in the hundreds of thousands, millions of people will have to deal with the pain of losing their loved ones in ways they never would have expected. Rebuilding a life without the people you cherish is not easy, said Sonali Deraniyagala.
This Sri Lankan economist was staying with her family at a hotel on the coast of Sri Lanka on 26 December 2004, when the largest tsunami in modern history struck South East Asia. Deraniyagala lost her husband, her two children and her parents. As the only survivor in her family, she wrote a first-person account of her anguished journey from immense pain to overcoming it, never losing the memory of the happy times that are gone forever.
Four Futures: Life After Capitalism, Peter Frase (Verso, 2016)
The human tragedy of the deaths from the coronavirus is now compounded by immense uncertainty about the future of the economy after the pandemic. Although some books have already been published specifically dedicated to analysing this issue, it is worthwhile to take a look at a work written in 2016, before the current crisis.
In Four Futures, Peter Frase looks to the future, playing with different variables to imagine how factors such as robotization or climate change might shape possible alternative socioeconomic scenarios: communism, rentism, socialism or exterminism. Using examples and references from science fiction, the author lays out for us the menu of options so that we can choose what kind of future we would prefer to live in.
Books for children on the coronavirus
Despite the fact that the COVID-19 illness does not prey on children, they are undoubtedly one of the groups most affected by the global crisis; in many countries their schooling has been abruptly interrupted, and in many cases they are not even allowed to leave the confines of their homes for fear of being infected. They are having to live through an unprecedented situation, never experienced by their parents or grandparents, which they find difficult to understand and which may leave an indelible mark on them. But the children of today are the men and women of tomorrow, and therefore they will be both the architects and the witnesses of the post-pandemic world. Some already published books can help them understand what is happening.
In My Hero is You by Helen Patuck (IASC, 2020), created in collaboration with organisations such as UNICEF and Save the Children, a girl named Sara is rescued from her confinement by a dragon that takes her around the world to teach children and their families how to protect themselves from COVID-19. The book is available in 17 languages with a free PDF download. Coronavirus: A Book for Children (Nosy Crow, 2020), created by various experts, illustrated by Axel Scheffler and also available for free in PDF format, teaches children everything they need to know about the coronavirus and the pandemic.