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MAR 17, 2020

Books in the Time of Coronavirus: What to Read During Self-Quarantine

By Melissa McIvor
Unsplash/John-Mark Smith

Every morning for months, we’ve woken up to news of borders shutting down, restrictions on goods, stock market hits, and climbing numbers of COVID-19 infected. Companies across the globe are working to counteract the spread by encouraging employees to self-quarantine.

If you’re one of the many stuck at home for the next week or two (or more), don’t let it get you down. Take it as an opportunity for a little self-guided professional development! Here are a few books to brighten those long days on the couch.

1. Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the Worldーand Why Things Are Better Than You Think

In times like these, it’s easy to imagine the world is falling apart, that we’re heading for WWIII, that we’re collectively diving headfirst into a dystopian sci-fi novel. Even before coronavirus started shutting down borders, the state of global affairs looked pretty grim. Hans Rosling wrote Factfulness to set the record straight and join the fight against functional illiteracy. Using hard data gathered over many years, he demonstrates how positive shifts in education, health, and other areas are actually changing our world for the better. Though these statistics are systematically under-reported by the media, it has never been more important for all of us to stay informed of good news.

2. Educated

Speaking of taking charge to inform ourselves, Tara Westover’s memoir Educated makes a strong case that it’s never too late to learn. Born into a survivalist Mormon family in the mountains of Idaho, Westover was denied any kind of formal education until her teens. The book tells the story of how she ultimately took charge of her own fate and used education as a tool to reinvent herself against the odds. After a staggering 107 weeks, Educated still ranks No. 4 on the New York Times Bestseller List. If that’s not a ringing endorsement, we don’t know what is!

3. What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions

All right, tensions are high. Fear of COVID-19 is in the air. Maybe you’re looking for a lighter, but still fascinating read? Perhaps with hilarious comics and a little physics thrown in for good measure? Look no further: try What If?

Written by Randall Munroe, the creator of the popular XKCD webcomic, What If? takes on the kinds of questions most of us stopped asking after childhood. Questions like “What if everyone on Earth stood as close to each other as they could and jumped, everyone landing on the ground at the same instant?” and “What would happen to the Earth if the Sun suddenly switched off?” Munroe takes these questions with a smirk, but answers them according to real science. He clearly lays out all any obvious barriers to such what-ifs actually happening (such as why the Sun wouldn’t spontaneously switch off), then sets them aside to answer the question at hand.

And wouldn’t you know it? One of the questions is actually pretty applicable to the here and now: “If everyone on the planet stayed away from each other for a couple of weeks, wouldn’t the common cold be wiped out?”

At the very least, with a few weeks to ourselves, we could all get a lot of reading done!