Two Pandemic Nonfiction Reviews

May 21, 2022 Uncategorized 4 ★★★★

Two Pandemic Nonfiction ReviewsTitle: The Helpers: Profiles from the Front Lines of the Pandemic
Author: Kathy Gilsinan
Source: from publisher for review
Links: Bookshop (affiliate link) |Goodreads

This is definitely the most optimistic book I’ve read about the ongoing pandemic. It was uplifting to read about the heroic individuals who put their lives on the line to help others. Many of them dropped everything and risked everything in their efforts to save lives. The author doesn’t lose track of the systemic failures that made these heroic sacrifices necessary, but the focus is on the people who were doing the work. I thought the organization of the story was very effective, with chronological glimpses of each of the six protagonists’ stories at the beginning, middle, and end of the first wave of cases. The author seems to have really done the work to get to know these people. We got intimate glimpses of their work and the rest of their lives from their perspective and the perspectives of those closest to them. This wasn’t hard-hitting journalism and I didn’t learn much I didn’t know, but it was an incredible, heart-warming personal look at some real heroes. I enjoyed it very much.

Two Pandemic Nonfiction ReviewsTitle: Until Proven Safe: The History and Future of Quarantine
Author: Geoff Manaugh, Nicola Twilley
Source: Library
Links: Bookshop (affiliate link) |Goodreads

I was surprised to learn that this second book, on the history of quarantine, was in the works before covid. There was an intro that focused on covid and a few references to modern resistance to pandemic mitigation efforts, but this wasn’t a large part of the book. The bulk of the book was about the origins of quarantine practices and the ethics of using quarantine to control disease spread today. There’s also a significant digression about interesting cases where we try to isolate things for other reasons – specifically nuclear waste disposal and space travel. These sections initially felt off-topic, but they raised some really thought-provoking questions about the limits of and uses for quarantine. This book definitely read like narrative nonfiction, but was kept engaging through many anecdotes rather than one overarching story. Historical pandemics are recounted with personal perspectives and larger narrative arcs. The authors also intersperse information with fascinating stories about their travels learning about quarantine. I love when authors use their research experience to make potentially dry information feel immediate and alive.

These two books complemented each other well, with the first focused on the stories of individuals and the second focused on systems. Neither gave a very complete overview of the beginning of the current pandemic though. Although I recommend both of these books, for a more complete picture, I’d suggest either either Lawrence Wright’s The Plague Year or Michael Lewis’s The Premonition.

4 Responses to “Two Pandemic Nonfiction Reviews”

    • DoingDewey

      Thanks for the recommendation! This is a topic I’ll probably read more about and I appreciated the optimistic approach taken by The Helpers. It seems like Pandemic Solidarity could be enjoyable in a similar way.

    • DoingDewey

      It definitely took me some time to be ready to read about! I think I’m to a point where’s it’s helpful to me to see how my experiences fit into a broader narrative, but I’m not always up for them even now and definitely get not wanting to read about it all yet. I do wish we could really be looking back on this as a purely past event!

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