by Michael Lewis
This is a book about the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in the US; but it’s written by Michael Lewis, so it’s not going to be a polemic or a dry history. It’s a book about a few real-life characters who had some interesting roles to play, and their unique perspectives.
– Scientist Bob Glass: his daughter’s (and, let’s face it, his) eight-grade science project is a model of communicable disease spread, which points the super-spreading finger mainly at children, for their multitudinous and highly physical social interactions. The model concluded that closing schools and keeping children isolated was the best way to stop the spread of a flu-like illness, counterintuitive though it may seen when it’s the older cohorts who suffer the most adverse effects.
– Charity Dean: a California public health officer with a hero complex; I had a hard time truly understanding her character and her motivations under different circumstances. She also just didn’t seem all that important to the story.
– Richard Hatchett: one of the first picks to work on a task force to produce a pandemic plan of action back in the George W. Bush administration; because President Bush had read a book (!) called THE GREAT INFLUENZA about the 1918 flu pandemic, and it scared him into wanting to craft a governmental plan of action to deal with pandemics. (Yes, the last Republican president whose initials were not DJT actually read books – those were the days!)
– Carter Mecher: kind of the main character, someone that Lewis obviously respects a great deal; a doctor at the Veterans Administration, and unofficial leader of the task force.
So the pandemic plan is written with its emphasis on social distancing and closing schools. During the Obama administration, there is the H1N1 scare, and the plan is considered; but they take a gamble and decide it’s too intrusive into people’s daily lives, and they don’t use it. They dodge a bullet; I think there is a comment to the effect that it wasn’t a bullet dodged, but rather that nature had chosen to spray us with buckshot. The pandemic response team is ultimately disbanded, and then we get Trump. There’s also the politicization of the CDC; the CDC is not so much a villain in the story as a tragic anti-hero. They could have been so much better, done so much more. Instead, at first they minimized.. and then surrendered.
It took about half of the volume to finally get the narrative up to 2020 talking about COVID-19. Until then, I was chomping a bit at the bit – get to the good stuff already! These people are all relatively interesting but I didn’t buy a book to read about a bunch of government scientists and doctors with some novel ideas. After all the backstory, things got very compelling indeed. I have long been a Michael Lewis fan and continue to be. Ugly cover, though. ( )