PREMONITION, Michael Lewis
For those who could read between the lines, the censored news out of China was terrifying. But the president insisted there was nothing to worry about.
Fortunately, we are still a nation of skeptics. Fortunately, there are those among us who study pandemics and are willing to look unflinchingly at worst-case scenarios. Michael Lewis’s taut and brilliant nonfiction thriller pits a band of medical visionaries against the wall of ignorance that was the official response of the Trump administration to the outbreak of COVID-19.
The characters you will meet in these pages are as fascinating as they are unexpected. A thirteen-year-old girl’s science project on transmission of an airborne pathogen develops into a very grown-up model of disease control. A local public-health officer uses her worm’s-eye view to see what the CDC misses and reveals great truths about American society. A secret team of dissenting doctors, nicknamed the Wolverines, has everything necessary to fight the pandemic: brilliant backgrounds, world-class labs, prior experience with the pandemic scares of bird flu and swine flu…everything, that is, except official permission to implement their work.
Michael Lewis is not shy about calling these people heroes for their refusal to follow directives that they know to be based on misinformation and bad science. Even the internet, as crucial as it is to their exchange of ideas, poses a risk to them. They never know for sure who else might be listening in.
This book is an expose, a revelation. When COVID hit the world, the American government was shockingly inept in its response. When the first case occurred in Seattle (I think), there was no great concern anywhere in the various American health agencies, other than for possibly two or three people working in California and not all in health services.
This book explains the story of how the United States was a total ‘screw up’ in its preparation and reaction to this pandemic. Any pandemic for that matter. The United States, reputed and renowned for being technologically advanced, the premier world power in that area and in engineering and science. Historically, the USA had always shown that no matter how late they come to the event, they catch up very quickly and usually jump to the front of the line. WWI, WWII, conventional warfare vs, nuclear warfare, the space race, and on and on. When a pandemic snuck into the USA, there was no panic, no alarm. The USA had proven itself as incredibly resilient and capable of resolving any problem. Within weeks, the death toll was shocking. Within months, it was beyond all credulity. In less than two years, the USA had arguably the worst track record in the world in dealing with the new pandemic.
Michael Lewis is a bestselling author who confirms his reputation with this book. But the book is a castigation of the American government as being incredibly inept, inefficient and incapable. At this writing, the United States is approaching three-quarters of a million COVID-related deaths.
Lewis points fingers, fingers of blame and fingers of heroism in relation to how the USA dealt with the pandemic, how unprepared they were, how isolated voices throughout the country were calling out warnings, were explaining how badly prepared the country was, how the health system would fail the citizens incredibly. The warnings were ignored through incompetence, political gamesmanship, bureaucracy, egotistical and bureaucratic and intransigence.
Imagine a line representing the country’s preparation for the possibility of a pandemic occurrence. Lewis’s book is a description of that line best described as one in decline as the nation was not prepared and demonstrated that even worse, nowhere in the country were health services capable of dealing with what would be soon occurring. The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta was reputed to be the be-all and end-all in dealing with the disease. Lewis destroys the CDC’s image completely.
The book is an outstanding expose of the flaws in American government and bureaucracy at every level. Flaws, ignorance, obstinacy and intransigence to the extreme, everywhere.
Well-written, polished, engaging, like watching a suspenseful movie, The Premonition, will have many readers sitting on the edge of their seat as they read page after incredible page. It simply cannot be believed but, as they stay, ‘this is based on a true story.’ And the story is unfinished.
Some readers may find some pages dull or tedious as they contain so much technical information but overall this book is a relentless revelation that the USA is a not the supreme nation in the world it is touted as being.
Still, an excellent read.