10 Novels About Disease, If You’re Not Getting Enough From the News

From bubonic plague to vampires, the best fictional pandemics literature has to offer.

1. I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

Years after a pandemic killed off the vast majority of the population, Robert Neville is the last man alive. He spends his night hunkered away in his barricaded home, and he spends his days going out to kill sleeping vampires. Because, you see, if this pandemic didn’t kill you, it turned you into a blood-sucking monstrosity. Robert’s lonely journey of survival has one of the best endings in all of horror fiction.

2. The Plague by Albert Camus

If you like smoking clove cigarettes, wearing black peacoats and contemplating the Sisyphean absurdity of life, then you’ll love Big Homie Albert. This classic Camus novel deals with a deadly disease decimating a French Algerian town. Dr. Rieux is tasked with facing the danger, amid a growing death toll. This novel’s approach to inevitable death hits the Camus sweet spot of stark realism, brutal pessimism, and the resolute will to continue living regardless.

3. Zone One by Colson Whitehead

You might know Colson Whitehead from his National Book Award and also Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Underground Railroad, but what you might not realize is that this literary darling also wrote a straight-up zombie novel. Yes, sir. Zone One is about a world overrun by an undead plague. It follows a group of sweeper in New York, who are working to kill zombies and make the city habitable again.

4. A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe

This 1772 novel deals with the OG of plagues—the bubonic. Set in 1665, it follows one man’s experience living in London during the plague years. Although fictional, it hues closely to historical truth, as Defoe extensively researched the events and gathers a convincing look at what it was like to live in that hygiene-free and deadly time.

5. The Stand by Stephen King

Opinion Alert: This is Stephen King’s best book. The complete and uncut version runs about 1200 pages and details a world in which nearly the entire human population has been wiped out by a vast pandemic, and the few survivors (shout out to Larry Underwood, that guy’s the best) are left in a deserted America. King has said this book was his attempt at a Lord of the Rings-type epic saga of good and evil, and he largely succeeded.

6. The Children of Men by PD James

The plague in this novel doesn’t kill you—it just makes your infertile. Humanity is being slowly wiped out by the inability to reproduce, and an authoritarian government has risen up to maintain order. As you might imagine, a group of dissidents has consequently risen up to oppose them. This was also made into a phenomenal movie directed by Alfsonso Cuarón.

7. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Marquez was a head honcho of the literary movement known as “magical realism,” which presented realistic life and fantastical happenings in tandem—such as his short story “A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings,” which is about a very old man with enormous wings. Love in the Time of Cholera follows a couple over years of choleric plague, where death is only a droplet away.

8. The Strain by Chuck Hogan and Guillermo Del Toro

Oscar-winning filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro and novelist Chuck Hogan teamed up for this trilogy about a mysterious disease that spreads across the globe. It begins, when a plane lands with every passenger inside found dead. Dr. Ephraim Goodweather from the CDC is called in to investigate. Things take a turn for the strange. And then vampires.

9. Blindness by Jose Saramago

This novel unleashes a plague of blindness upon an unsuspecting city. The sudden mass blindness leaves people stuck in asylums, unable to care for themselves. Violence and power struggles rise from the chaos, as the main group of characters tries desperately to survive in this wrecked society.

10. The Masque of the Red Death by Edgar Allen Poe

This is a short story, so maybe cheating here, but it’s better than a lot of stupid novels, so it deserves to be on the list. This classic story follows a group of aristocrats who barricade themselves away to avoid the “red death,” a plague that is sowing mayhem amongst the poor peasants outside their walls. Do you think things will go well for these aristocrats? Not if you know anything about allegories.



Archer is the managing editor at Milwaukee Magazine. Some say he is a great warrior and prophet, a man of boundless sight in a world gone blind, a denizen of truth and goodness, a beacon of hope shining bright in this dark world. Others say he smells like cheese.