Author: Michael Lewis
Links: Bookshop (affiliate link) |Goodreads
Summary: Every reader should check out this gripping, accessible story of the US COVID response.
As the New York Times Book Review-er John Williams says in a cover blurb “I would read an 800-page history of the stapler if [Michael Lewis] wrote it”. I know this is true, because I’ve already books by him on stats in baseball (Moneyball) and the housing crisis (The Big Short). However, I thought this was by far the best of his books I’ve read and I think part of that was due to the fascinating topic. Here, the author looks at the state of pandemic preparedness in the US pre-COVID. Then the second half of the book gives us an insider look at people who did their heroic best during the early days of the COVID crisis and at why our systems failed anyway.
I must admit that this is a book I just want to rave about and then shove into your hands as much as its one I want to write something sensible about. There are a few distinct qualities that made me love it though. The author does a great job explaining technical info. In this case, some of his best explanations come from the people he covers. They’re used to explaining things to non-experts and they use analogies to do this very well.
The author also picked two incredible people to focus on. Doctor and self-taught epidemiologist Carter Mecher is likely to feel like a familiar figure to anyone who has read The Big Short. He’s a quirky, clever person who seems more personable than the brilliant analyst Michael Burry, but has a very similar gift for spotting connections others miss. Santa Barbara County Chief Health Officer Charity Dean is easily the most impressive person I’ve read about. It seems that she’s a rarity in her field as someone willing to lose her job for making decisions that might either be overreactions or save a ton of lives. The choice to err on the side of caution while the pandemic silently raged struck me as one of the greatest errors in the US response to COVID. Dr. Dean would not have made that mistake. I was in awe of her ability to decisively make life-or-death decisions that people would only notice if she got them wrong.
As you can tell from my description of Dr. Dean, this was a story with gripping stakes. It was infuriating to watch the system to fail, but inspiring to know that people like her are trying to make sure this never happens again. I couldn’t put this book down. If it’s made into a movie – and I very much hope it is – I’ll be first in line to see it. Definitely one of those books I recommend to every reader. It’s so accessible and, especially if you’re in the US, so relevant that I think even people who don’t typically read nonfiction are likely to enjoy this one.