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How Contagion Works by Paolo Giordano

How Contagion Works, Science, Awareness and Community in Times of Global Crisis by Paolo Giordano:

“We’re living through a suspension of daily activities and routines, a pause in the usual rhythm of our lives – like one of those sounds where the drums stop abruptly and the music seems to expand in the emptiness left behind”

How Contagion Works by Palo Giordano was written during lockdown in Italy. In fact, Giordano was writing on the 29th February 2020. At that point there were 3,000 confirmed global deaths from Covid-19. Upon publication by W&N on the 23rd of March there were 15,000. As I read it on the 15th April there were 129,000

It’s a lot. It’s scary. It’s growing. And as Giordano points out, it’s not linear. 

In 68 short pages, Giordano succinctly and accessibly lays out the mathematics of contagion, and how our actions will impact it. He clearly explains the principle of R0, and the SIR model (susceptible, infected, recovered).  He also gives a personal account of his experience of lockdown in Italy; which reads much like a journal.

“I’m afraid of everything that the contagion can change. Of discovering that the structure holding up civilisation as I know it is nothing but a house of cards. I’m afraid of annihilation but also of its opposite: that fear will eventually pass without leaving any trace of change behind”

How Contagion Works is an incredibly human piece of writing. The language a poetic feel to it. A lovely rhythm to the words and sentences. Giordano uses his voice to explore the feelings of nervousness and anxiety that many of us are experiencing at this time. The book reads like a conversation with a close friend over a warm cup of coffee. It is of right now, for right now.

“Our civilisation can afford anything except slowing down”

This is the second book that I have read on the topic of contagion since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. It was a great follow up read to The Rules of Contagion, which gives great detail and more specific explanations of the theories behind contagion and how it works. 

By feeling so poetic, How Contagion Works was able to restore a sense of calm. It has created space to begin to think about what happens after. What lessons do we need to learn. How do we want our community to look. 

How Contagion Works let me breathe.

“Make better use of this time, use is to think about what our busy normality prevents us from considering: how did we get here, how do we want to start again?”


‘How Contagion Works’ in Facts:

Author: Paolo Giordano
First Published: 2020
Publishing House: Wiedenfeld & Nicolson
Pages: 68

Instagram: @nonfictionmillennial
Twitter: @ReadingNonFic


  1. Michael says

    Are you finding that reading about the current situation helps you?

    I am always keen to understand more but having watched a documentary I’m not sure I want to now.

    Another great post from you though, thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Lewis says

    This looks much shorter than Rules of Contagion, if I was only going to read one which would you recommend?


    • Depends on what you’re looking for. If you want a deeper explanation of Contagion and examples from across different sectors then definitely The Rules of Contagion. If what you want is something more human and relatable then I would say How Contagion Works.

      But if you have time for both then definitely both!


  3. ปั้มไลค์ says

    Like!! Really appreciate you sharing this blog post.Really thank you! Keep writing.


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