The Plague (Vintage International) (Paperback)

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“But what does it mean, the plague? It's life, that's all.”

When people think of Camus, they mostly focus on The Stranger. Which is absolutely a book everybody should read, by the way. Somehow, for reasons I can’t begin to understand, people pass over The Plague. And that’s a huge mistake. Far more than The Stranger, The Plague explores the nuances of humanity and what it means to live a meaningful life. How do people react when quarantined within a city, surrounded by death? What can people do in the face of such terror? The novel was published in 1947, while the ruins of Europe were still smoldering. Camus was confronted by the horrors of war and the results of man’s inhumanity. Yet The Plague presents such a beautiful and hopeful depiction of mankind that it’s difficult not to have faith in our ability to persevere through the darkness. Available as an audiobook or eBook.

- Recommended by Will

— From February Staff Picks for Bibliophiles

Okay, so it’s not the hottest best-seller, but sometimes you’ve got to go back to the classics to try and understand our present-day problems. 

The Plague is about exactly what it says: in a sleepy town in Algeria, northern Africa, there are suddenly a lot of dead rats, which quickly turn into a lot of dead humans. We follow the footsteps of a doctor who stoically, grimly, treats the victims of the gruesome disease as it steadily progresses in casualties and cases across the town. There is a lockdown - no one is to leave the town, no one is to come in, and correspondence is limited to telegraphs only. Camus explores the psyche of the townspeople in their unusual confinement, how their emotions expand and contract in response to the slow-moving disaster unfolding around them. I found myself nodding along with some of Camus’ more relevant passages. Here’s one of my favorites:

“All I can say is that on this earth there are pestilences and there are victims– and as far as possible one must refuse to be on the side of the pestilence.”


Check out the Audiobook and Ebook

— From Singular September Staff Picks


“Its relevance lashes you across the face.” —Stephen Metcalf, The Los Angeles Times • “A redemptive book, one that wills the reader to believe, even in a time of despair.” —Roger Lowenstein, The Washington Post 

A haunting tale of human resilience and hope in the face of unrelieved horror, Albert Camus' iconic novel about an epidemic ravaging the people of a North African coastal town is a classic of twentieth-century literature. 

The townspeople of Oran are in the grip of a deadly plague, which condemns its victims to a swift and horrifying death. Fear, isolation and claustrophobia follow as they are forced into quarantine. Each person responds in their own way to the lethal disease: some resign themselves to fate, some seek blame, and a few, like Dr. Rieux, resist the terror.

An immediate triumph when it was published in 1947, The Plague is in part an allegory of France's suffering under the Nazi occupation, and a timeless story of bravery and determination against the precariousness of human existence.

About the Author

Born in Algeria in 1913, Albert Camus published The Stranger—now one of the most widely read novels of this century—in 1942. Celebrated in intellectual circles, Camus was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957. On January 4, 1960, he was killed in a car accident.

Praise For…

“[Camus] believed that the actual historical incidents we call plagues are merely concentrations of a universal precondition, dramatic instances of a perpetual rule: that all human beings are vulnerable to being randomly exterminated at any time, by a virus, an accident or the actions of our fellow man . . . He speaks to us in our own times not because he was a magical seer who could intimate what the best epidemiologists could not, but because he correctly sized up human nature.” 
—Alain de Botton, The New York Times (“Camus on the Coronavirus”)

“Its relevance lashes you across the face . . . At first, the epidemic, like all catastrophes, secretly confirms what everyone knew already; that is, it extends the narcissism of the times into the new era, often via the forbidden hope — that it will smite one’s enemies while sparing oneself . . . Eventually, the town lapses into a kind of collective despondency with one predictable exception: the enduring complacency of ‘a privileged few, those with money to burn.’”
—Stephen Metcalf, The Los Angeles Times (“Albert Camus’ The Plague and our own Great Reset”)

“The microbe has no meaning; we seek to create one in the chaos it brings . . . The plague, as Camus insisted, exposes existing fractures in societies, in class structure and individual character; under stress, we see who we really are.” 
—Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker (“The Coronavirus Crisis Reveals New York at Its Best and Worst”)

“Through his characters, Camus examines how people respond as individuals – and as part of a collective – to suffering and death. Whether it is a solitary experience or a show of social solidarity, nobody is indifferent.” 
—Kim Willsher, The Guardian (“Albert Camus novel The Plague leads surge of pestilence fiction”)

“[In The Plague], Camus’s canonical treatment of a fictional bubonic plague outbreak in the Algerian city of Oran, the Nobel laureate trained a piercing eye on life under quarantine, with all its strangeness and misery. But the novel also takes seriously the lessons these trying moments can teach – treats them, even, as a kind of redemption.” 
—Eric Andrew-Gee, The Globe and Mail (“The hope at the heart of Albert Camus’s plague novel, La peste”)

“Camus was preoccupied with the absurd . . . In The Plague he found a lens for projecting life at once suspended and more vivid . . . It is a redemptive book, one that wills the reader to believe, even in a time of despair.”
—Roger Lowenstein, The Washington Post (“In Camus’ The Plague, lessons about fear, quarantine and the human spirit”)

“[A] gorgeous and profound meditation on life in the shadow of death . . . I can’t think of a better book to recommend to anyone just now . . . A cautionary tale on how to mismanage a crisis, an encyclopedia of human psychology, and of course a terrifying worst-case scenario for our current predicament . . . More important than the answers it provides are the questions it forces us to ask. What matters? Why do we live? How durable are our values? What do we owe one another? What is heroism? What is decency?”
—Daniel Akst, Strategy + Business (“Business Lessons from Albert Camus”)

“A humanist allegory for the trapped desolation of Nazi-occupied Europe, and the alternate cowardice and bravery in the face of a rampant death machine.” 
—Keziah Weir, Vanity Fair (“An Epidemic Novel for Every Kind of Reader”)

“[Camus] helps us understand our own responses, as a community and as individuals, in the face of extraordinary challenges.” 
—David Hage, The Star Tribune (“Albert Camus helps us understand our responses during this crisis”)

“The most telling passages in The Plague today are Camus’ beautifully crafted meditative observations of the social and psychological effects of the epidemic on the townspeople . . . Epidemics make exiles of people in their own countries, our narrator stresses. Separation, isolation, loneliness, boredom and repetition become the shared fate of all.”
—Matthew Sharpe, The Conversation (“Guide to the Classics: Albert Camus’ The Plague”)

“Surprisingly uplifting.”
—Courtney Vinopal, PBS News Hour (“8 books to read in the time of the coronavirus”)
Product Details
ISBN: 9780679720218
ISBN-10: 0679720219
Publisher: Vintage
Publication Date: May 7th, 1991
Pages: 320
Language: English
Series: Vintage International