Last month, I recommended four of the books that I enjoyed reading during the lockdown caused by COVID-19. This month, I’ve decided to recommend three books that helped me understand COVID-19 and some of the issues surrounding the pandemic. I know I said I would recommend four books per month, but these three books should suffice because they’re quite technical and take longer to digest as a result.
#3 Epidemics and Society by Frank M. Snowden
I read this book a few weeks into the pandemic and it inspired my piece about a “Brief History of Pandemics.” Snowden uses accessible language to recount the fallout of every major epidemic the world has faced from the plague, smallpox, cholera and tuberculosis to more modern epidemics like HIV/AIDS, SARS and Ebola. In addition to detailing the historical facts associated with each of these outbreaks, Snowden spends a lot of time analyzing how each epidemic affected public health strategies, medicine and healthcare, the arts, religion, and warfare at the time. All of this helps him illuminate that epidemic diseases aren’t purely random, but rather exploit major societal changes that are social, economic, political and environmental. This book isn’t a page-turner and it is quite dry at times, but it’s full of great content that will help you better understand and navigate this pandemic. I also found it quite interesting how both the public health and societal responses to pandemics has remained virtually unchanged from the plague in the 14th century to COVID-19 today.
#2 Economics in the Age of COVID-19 by Joshua Gans
This book was published digitally during the pandemic in late April and made available as an ebook. There’s been plenty of information, misinformation and debate about the economic impact of COVID-19 and the economic policy decisions governments have made to minimize economic damage. In light of all this, Gans steps back from the short term chaos to look at the big picture and systematically explain how economic choices should be made during this pandemic. In addition to detailing how COVID-19 has changed the economic landscape, Gans also explores policy tools that can help aid economic recovery and incentivize innovations that will defeat this virus. Although this book is quite short, as an Economics student, I enjoyed this book because Gans adapts and applies basic economic concepts to fit the status quo very well. Regardless of your economic literacy level though, I can recommend this book to anyone because Gans keeps economic jargon and technical diagrams to a minimum to keep the book accessible to everyone.
#1 The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
The increased inequalities that the COVID-19 pandemic has led to along with the killing of George Floyd has brought about calls to reduce systemic racial injustice through policy reforms in the US. As a relative outsider to much of this, I picked up this book to understand why and how racial inequality has become such a big problem. In addition to detailing the history of racial oppression in the US by describing the rationale for and function of the slave trade and Jim Crow regulations, Alexander explains that by targeting black men through the War on Drugs and decimating communities of color, the U.S. criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control, even as it formally adheres to the principle of colorblindness.
Although they represent a smaller portion of the population, and are not more likely to engage in criminal activity, an extraordinary percentage of the African American community is warehoused in prisons according to data revealed in the book. As a result, because it is perfectly legal to discriminate against convicted criminals in nearly all the ways in which it was once legal to discriminate against African Americans, once labeled a felon, even for a minor drug crime, the old forms of discrimination are suddenly legal again. Regardless of your view or experience with the problem, I highly recommend this book because her arguments are laid out so well that it’s hard to disagree with and at times it’s quite surprising and eye-opening.
I hope this was useful and you like the monthly recommendations format. Reach out on Twitter if you have any questions or if you want to talk about any of these books. Until then, enjoy reading!