A Pandemic Story by Michael Lewis
This is the BEST real-life thriller I’ve read since Hot Zone, and it provides the basis for the hell year we all lived through in 2020.
Michael Lewis conducted the background research to explain why the US was horribly prepared to face the unfolding of a pandemic. In this book, we meet the behind-the-scenes heroes, who early on attempted to provide insight and guidance, and … were thwarted.
Read about Laura Glass, a 13-year-old in New Mexico, whose interest in disease spread for a science fair project becomes the nation’s starting point in understanding how to model Covid increases. Of course, this couldn’t happen except in a nation focused on external terrorist groups. Lewis also exposes the reader to the systemic failures of the public health system by taking us inside the lived experience of a Lilith-like character (Dr. Charity Dean) who buts heads time and again with the CDC, even before Covid. As a public health officer, she knew how her contemporaries would react as 5000 or so separate entities, at a time when a single strategy would be necessary to contain spread. Learn the history concerning the Swine Flu and why the CDC would never step up again and take the lead in a time of crisis. As an agency, the CDC emerges singularly unfit to fight anything. It is an academic study agency wholly unsuited to lead anyone anywhere.
Behind the scenes, like in a great movie, a team of maverick scientists gather online to share data and ideas. Many are highly placed, occupying careers in agencies throughout the government, risking their careers meeting covertly. Led by Carter Mecher of the VA, the team overturned previously held beliefs about the 1918 Pandemic showing that social distancing and mask wearing could make a difference. Mecher had also been instrumental in developing a national response plan under a previous administration. For a time, the team has an influence especially when Charity Dean gets the ear of CA. Gov. Newsom in the early days of the pandemic but soon politics force her out. If this had been a Hollywood movie, the heroes would have prevailed after the fight, but this was reality and 2020 was some kind of alternate reality at that. The book ends in the spring of 2020. Bungling government institutions fail to step up, focusing on avoiding blame, and preserving the status quo. Hundreds of thousands die, the nation is divided, we fail to contain the pandemic. Big questions remain. Have we learned anything? Will we take the steps to address pervasive governmental shortcomings, or will we be the laughingstock of the world in the next pandemic, too?
Hundreds of books will be written in the years to come to trying to capture the Covid experience. This is an eye-opening one setting the stage for what unfolds. If you were constantly puzzled by the lack of governmental leadership on all levels, this book is a good starting point into gleaning an understanding.
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