What Our Contagion Fables Are Really About, by Jill Lepore


In the literature of pestilence, the greatest threat isn’t the loss of human life but the loss of what makes us human.

Poe’s red death becomes a pandemic in Jack London’s novel “The Scarlet Plague,” serialized in 1912. (The disease is the very same: “The whole face and body turned scarlet in an hour’s time.”) The plague had come in the year 2013, and wiped out nearly everyone, the high and the low, the powerful nations and the powerless, in all corners of the globe, and left the survivors equal in their wretchedness, and statelessness . . .