New York Times Bestseller
For those who could read between the lines, the censored news out of China was terrifying. But the president insisted there was nothing to worry about.
Fortunately, we are still a nation of skeptics. Fortunately, there are those among us who study pandemics and are willing to look unflinchingly at worst-case scenarios. Michael Lewis’s taut and brilliant nonfiction thriller pits a band of medical visionaries against the wall of ignorance that was the official response of the Trump administration to the outbreak of COVID-19.
The characters you will meet in these pages are as fascinating as they are unexpected. A thirteen-year-old girl’s science project on transmission of an airborne pathogen develops into a very grown-up model of disease control. A local public-health officer uses her worm’s-eye view to see what the CDC misses, and reveals great truths about American society. A secret team of dissenting doctors, nicknamed the Wolverines, has everything necessary to fight the pandemic: brilliant backgrounds, world-class labs, prior experience with the pandemic scares of bird flu and swine flu…everything, that is, except official permission to implement their work.
Michael Lewis is not shy about calling these people heroes for their refusal to follow directives that they know to be based on misinformation and bad science. Even the internet, as crucial as it is to their exchange of ideas, poses a risk to them. They never know for sure who else might be listening in.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Nobody could have predicted the COVID-19 pandemic, right? In an explosive piece of nonfiction that reads like a white-knuckle thriller, journalist Michael Lewis makes the case that the U.S. government—especially the Centers for Disease Control—could and should have seen the devastating scenario headed our way. It wasn’t like it was hard to predict. With startling accuracy, a 13-year-old girl’s junior-high science-fair project laid out how a COVID-19-like international pandemic could unfold—in 2004! Just as he did in bestsellers like The Big Short and Moneyball, Lewis demystifies statistics and trends in clear and sometimes terrifying detail, explaining exactly how they affected the lives of an unsuspecting public. Perhaps most chilling are the stories from scholars, doctors, and public officials who point out how easily a global emergency like COVID-19 could happen again.
Maverick doctors, scientists, and public health officials took charge of the fight against Covid-19 when the CDC and the Trump administration failed to act, according to this illuminating rehash of recent history. Lewis (The Fifth Risk) spotlights a group of doctors who overcame bureaucratic inertia and conventional wisdom to write the U.S.'s pandemic response plan in 2007, after President George W. Bush read a history of the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic and asked what the government would do in such a scenario. Carefully reinterpreting data from 1918, Veterans Affairs official Carter Mecher and other group members developed a "Swiss Cheese strategy" of multiple social interventions (school closures, bans on group gatherings, etc.) layered on top of one another to contain a disease outbreak until a vaccine could be developed. In January 2020, Mecher used sketchy, incomplete data emerging from China to forecast the spread of Covid-19 in the U.S., and shared his findings with California deputy chief health officer Charity Dean, who eventually convinced Gov. Gavin Newsom to issue the country's first statewide stay-at-home order. Though the book's first half is somewhat slow-going, Lewis draws vivid profiles of Mecher and Dean, in particular, and litters the narrative with lucid explanations of epidemiology, disease modeling, and genomic sequencing. Readers will be aghast that these experts weren't leading the battle from the start.
A great read if A bit formulaic
I love Michael Lewis’s work. The trouble with that is you read enough and you start to see the template beneath the story. The template is to find the prescient one in a million persons who saw some unlikely event before it occurred and tell their story. The trouble is it only can be done in reverse after the fact. Beforehand there’s no way to tell the cranks from the prescient. Still it makes for a fun read.