Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

Book review: Pandemic Obsession: How They Feature in our Popular Culture

Arpan K. Banerjee
Solihull, UK


Cover of Pandemic Obsession: How They Feature in Our Popular Culture by Stephen Basdeo.

Following the worldwide COVID pandemic, there has been a plethora of books published on the theme of epidemics and pandemics. Readers may be forgiven if they feel they are now suffering from literary pandemic fatigue. However, this interesting new book sets out to describe how pandemics have influenced literary writing throughout the centuries. It is unique in that it is an anthology of the writings of famous authors who have written on plague and pandemics throughout the last millennium.

The opening chapter covers bubonic plague and includes extracts from the Old Testament, particularly the First Book of Samuel, which describes the Philistines being struck down by the plague after their battle with the Israelites.

Writing from the Venerable Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of England describes the first documented plague outbreak in England, which occurred in AD 664. The Decameron by Boccaccio describes the Black Death in Florence. Of particular interest is Daniel Defoe’s famous A Journal of the Plague Year, which describes London from 1665 to 1666 and remains one of the finest chronicles of this period in history.

Edgar Allan Poe, another great writer about the plague, is included with an extract from “The Mask of the Red Death” from 1841. George WM Reynolds’ Faust: A Romance of the Secret Tribunals from 1845 also provides interesting reading and describes Mephistopheles as the bringer of pestilence. The penultimate chapter titled “The End of the Human Race” has an abridged version of The Last Man written by Mary Shelley in 1826. The book concludes with Jack London’s The Scarlet Plague from 1912.

This book is a brief anthology of fictional accounts of the plagues of the past, written by a variety of authors over the last 800 years. It provides a literary chronicle and insights into plagues and pandemics and helps put the recent COVID-19 pandemic into historical perspective.


Pandemic Obsession: How They Feature in our Popular Culture
Stephen Basdeo
Pen and Sword Books, 2023
ISBN 9781399092210



DR. ARPAN K. BANERJEE qualified in medicine at St Thomas’s Hospital Medical School, London. He was a consultant radiologist in Birmingham 1995–2019. He was President of the radiology section of the RSM 2005–2007 and on the scientific committee of the Royal College of Radiologists 2012–2016. He was Chairman of the British Society for the History of Radiology 2012–2017. He is Chairman of ISHRAD. He is author/co-author of papers on a variety of clinical, radiological, and medical historical topics and seven books, including Classic Papers in Modern Diagnostic Radiology (2005) and The History of Radiology (OUP 2013).


Spring 2023  |  Sections  |  Infectious Diseases

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