An exciting, readable exploration of an extraordinary scientific breakthrough.

How the Covid-19 vaccines came to be.

Governments often dithered, but scientists and entrepreneurs were on the ball. Outsidemagazine correspondent Borrell delivers a vivid portrait of the combination of drudgery, greed, legerdemain, and brilliance that made the vaccines a reality in record time. The arrival of the pandemic in the U.S. in January 2020 galvanized America’s public health establishment and a dozen pharmaceutical companies ranging from aggressive startups such as Moderna to international behemoths like Pfizer. All were aware that developing a vaccine is horrendously expensive and risky but that governments were eager to make every effort to ensure success. Still, the path remained bumpy. The old method of growing viruses in large stainless-steel vats was facing a new technology in which a vaccine consisted of bits of viral RNA that activate the body’s immune response equally well. New or old, it had to work, and Borrell offers a meticulous, thrilling account of the testing process. First, researchers tested lab animals to determine if the vaccine protected them from the virus. It did. Then human volunteers received it to find a proper dose and check for side effects. Only then were thousands given either vaccine or placebo and then watched for months. Some vaccines flopped, but the best provided more than 90% protection. Led by Lawrence Wright’s The Plague Year, most Covid books emphasize chaotic, self-serving politics and the pandemic’s devastation, a dismal one-two punch. Borrell does not ignore ignorant or apathetic leaders, but by concentrating on the vaccines, he tells a story with a happy ending—at least as of May 2021, when his account ends. Drawing on extensive interviews, the author uncovers heroes and villains, works hard, if not always successfully, to explain virology and vaccine technology for a lay readership, and excels in recounting the cutthroat pharmaceutical world in which the process of developing a vaccine can bring riches or bankruptcy.

An exciting, readable exploration of an extraordinary scientific breakthrough.

Pub Date: Oct. 26, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-358-56984-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Mariner/Sugar23

Review Posted Online: Aug. 24, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2021


An overdue upending of art historical discourse.

An indispensable primer on the history of art, with an exclusive focus on women.

Prominent 19th-century art critic John Ruskin once proclaimed, “the woman’s intellect is not for invention or creation, but for sweet ordering, arrangement, and decision,” and traces of this misguided and malignant sentiment can still be found over a century later in art institutions around the world. A 2019 study found that “in the collections of eighteen major US art museums, 87 percent of artworks were by men, and 85 percent by white artists.” There’s a lot to be mad about, but London-based art historian Hessel nimbly pivots that energy into a constructive, revelatory project. This book is not a mere rebuttal to the aforementioned discrimination; deftly researched, the text reveals an alternate history of centuries of artistic movements. With palpable excitement, the author shifts the focus from widely known male participants to the unsung female players of the time. Art aficionados will delight in Hessel’s sleight of hand and marvel at her wide, inclusive reach. Spanning from Baroque art to the present day, she effortlessly removes “the clamour of men” and, in a series of short biographical profiles, shapes a historical arc that still feels grounded even without a familiar male presence. Art history must “reset,” Hessel writes, and she positions her book as an important first step in that reconfiguration. While the author progresses mostly movement by movement, her broader tangents are particularly profound. One of many highlights is a generous overview of queer artists of the Weimar era. Hessel is occasionally uneven with how much content she allots each artist, and some perfunctory profiles feel like the result of trying to highlight as many names as possible. Nonetheless, even the shortest gloss provides enough intrigue to be a successful introduction to an artist who might otherwise be forgotten.

An overdue upending of art historical discourse.

Pub Date: May 2, 2023

ISBN: 9780393881868

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2023


Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019