- Expected 4 May 2021
- 13,99 €
"All disasters are in some sense man-made."
Setting the annus horribilis of 2020 in historical perspective, Niall Ferguson explains why we are getting worse, not better, at handling disasters.
Disasters are inherently hard to predict. Pandemics, like earthquakes, wildfires, financial crises. and wars, are not normally distributed; there is no cycle of history to help us anticipate the next catastrophe. But when disaster strikes, we ought to be better prepared than the Romans were when Vesuvius erupted, or medieval Italians when the Black Death struck. We have science on our side, after all.
Yet in 2020 the responses of many developed countries, including the United States, to a new virus from China were badly bungled. Why? Why did only a few Asian countries learn the right lessons from SARS and MERS? While populist leaders certainly performed poorly in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, Niall Ferguson argues that more profound pathologies were at work--pathologies already visible in our responses to earlier disasters.
In books going back nearly twenty years, including Colossus, The Great Degeneration, and The Square and the Tower, Ferguson has studied the foibles of modern America, from imperial hubris to bureaucratic sclerosis and online fragmentation.
Drawing from multiple disciplines, including economics, cliodynamics, and network science, Doom offers not just a history but a general theory of disasters, showing why our ever more bureaucratic and complex systems are getting worse at handing them.
Doom is the lesson of history that this country--indeed the West as a whole--urgently needs to learn, if we want to handle the next crisis better, and to avoid the ultimate doom of irreversible decline.
Incompetence, illusions, and random chance characterize the ways humans cope with disaster, according to this scattershot historical study. Hoover Institution scholar Ferguson (The Square and the Tower) surveys many natural and man-made catastrophes, including volcanic eruptions, plagues, the 1840s Irish potato famine, WWI, the Hindenburg disaster, and the Chernobyl nuclear accident; he also mulls dystopian sci-fi novels and, provocatively, welcomes the "desirable"(because it would foster American innovation) prospect of a "new cold war" between the U.S. and China. The book's centerpiece is a discussion of the Covid-19 pandemic that faults Western governments for failing to contain the virus with massive testing and tracing, but also opposes lockdowns for their economic and mental health effects. Ferguson's sharp-eyed catastrophe postmortems debunk received wisdom (more lifeboats on the Titanic might not have made much difference) and spotlight delusional responses, from medieval flagellant rituals to the current "vague deference to the science'... as if gimcrack computer simulations with made-up variables constitute science." Unfortunately, his own stabs at scientific analysis yield few new insights he invokes "scale-free network topology" to say that Covid-19 spread quickly via airports and he draws the obvious conclusion that catastrophes are unpredictable and individual leaders usually have little control over them. This colorful catalogue of misfortune and folly brings little clarity to the subject. Agent: Andrew Wylie, the Wylie Agency.