Author: Lawrence Wright
Links: Bookshop (affiliate link) |Goodreads
Summary: It took me a bit to get into the digressions in this book, but in the end, I really appreciated the many differing perspectives on the year of 2019.
This is a history primarily focused on COVID, but it spans most of the major events of 2019, ending around the Jan 6 insurrection in 2020. The murder of George Floyd, the subsequent uprisings, and the election all feature heavily. It also includes a lot of personal experiences, both from the author’s own life and from people he interviews who had particularly representative or moving stories.
I struggled to get into this. It isn’t just a neat, linear narrative. The author sometimes includes info on the history of vaccines or prior pandemics. He includes personal anecdotes. Most chapters start with an anecdote, which makes for a great hook, but initially felt a bit disjointed to me. I was bothered by the fact that this wasn’t just a snappy, focused, chronological narrative (more like Michael Lewis’s The Premonition). That’s unusual for me. I typically like books with digressions, that blend personal stories and history into their narrative. I think the issue here for me was the topic. With everything that’s happened and is happening with COVID, I think I’m particularly predisposed to want narrative certainty. Just tell me about what’s happened in such a way that it all makes sense, please!
As I got more into this book, it did get more chronological. Stories that started out as one-off anecdotes were expanded on. I came to really appreciate the many different perspectives the author shared. He included insider info on decision making at the federal level that I was previously unaware of. He covered health officials and individuals who had incredible stories that hadn’t featured in the (minimal) prior reading that I’ve done. The writing was clear and dynamic. It’s a gripping story and the author made the most of that without becoming overly dramatic. Despite being about a topic that I evidently still find somewhat stressful, I’m glad I picked this up. It was an enjoyable read and I did learn a lot that helped contextualize the year that was 2019.