An infectiously appealing overview of efforts to contain the potentially infectious.

A captivating survey of the uses and abuses of quarantines, from the days of the Black Death to the lockdowns of Covid-19.

Journalists Manaugh and Twilley meld a global view of a timely subject with vividly detailed accounts of quarantines, whether of people or hazardous plants, animals, and chemicals such as nuclear waste. The authors show how—since the emergence of “lazarettos,” the quarantine hospitals of medieval Venice and other Adriatic ports—authorities have strived to contain dreaded hazards. Among many others, these have included the bubonic plague, yellow fever, tuberculosis, Ebola, and cholera. Yet some problems resist solutions. “Although the advent of advanced contagion modeling, location tracking, and data mining offer the promise of refining quarantine, rendering it so minimal and precise as to be almost imperceptible,” the authors write, “the use of those tools during COVID-19 has demonstrated that, in many ways, effective quarantine has changed remarkably little since its origins during the Black Death.” Persistent challenges include the tedium of isolation, the architectural rigors of designing suitable facilities, and the xenophobic use of quarantine “to obstruct the passage of undesirable immigrants at the border and stigmatize those who have already arrived.” For such risks, the authors propose fresh, sensible remedies such as a “bill of rights” for the quarantined. But a larger charm of this smart book lies in their ability to bring potentially dry topics to life. They profile the delightfully “obsessive” founder of the Disinfected Mail Study Circle (which tracks epidemics through postal evidence), and, after visiting a greenhouse near London, they note that cacao-plant diseases have contributed to a shrinking global chocolate supply that may lead to a “chocpocalypse.” Chocoholics, beware: One study found that in a decade or so, “a Hershey bar may well be as rare and expensive as caviar.”

An infectiously appealing overview of efforts to contain the potentially infectious.

Pub Date: July 20, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-374-12658-2

Page Count: 416

Publisher: MCD/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: April 27, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2021


Alternately admiring and critical, unvarnished, and a closely detailed account of a troubled innovator.

A warts-and-all portrait of the famed techno-entrepreneur—and the warts are nearly beyond counting.

To call Elon Musk (b. 1971) “mercurial” is to undervalue the term; to call him a genius is incorrect. Instead, Musk has a gift for leveraging the genius of others in order to make things work. When they don’t, writes eminent biographer Isaacson, it’s because the notoriously headstrong Musk is so sure of himself that he charges ahead against the advice of others: “He does not like to share power.” In this sharp-edged biography, the author likens Musk to an earlier biographical subject, Steve Jobs. Given Musk’s recent political turn, born of the me-first libertarianism of the very rich, however, Henry Ford also comes to mind. What emerges clearly is that Musk, who may or may not have Asperger’s syndrome (“Empathy did not come naturally”), has nurtured several obsessions for years, apart from a passion for the letter X as both a brand and personal name. He firmly believes that “all requirements should be treated as recommendations”; that it is his destiny to make humankind a multi-planetary civilization through innovations in space travel; that government is generally an impediment and that “the thought police are gaining power”; and that “a maniacal sense of urgency” should guide his businesses. That need for speed has led to undeniable successes in beating schedules and competitors, but it has also wrought disaster: One of the most telling anecdotes in the book concerns Musk’s “demon mode” order to relocate thousands of Twitter servers from Sacramento to Portland at breakneck speed, which trashed big parts of the system for months. To judge by Isaacson’s account, that may have been by design, for Musk’s idea of creative destruction seems to mean mostly chaos.

Alternately admiring and critical, unvarnished, and a closely detailed account of a troubled innovator.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2023

ISBN: 9781982181284

Page Count: 688

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 12, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2023


A clearly delineated guide to finally eradicate poverty in America.

A thoughtful program for eradicating poverty from the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Evicted.

“America’s poverty is not for lack of resources,” writes Desmond. “We lack something else.” That something else is compassion, in part, but it’s also the lack of a social system that insists that everyone pull their weight—and that includes the corporations and wealthy individuals who, the IRS estimates, get away without paying upward of $1 trillion per year. Desmond, who grew up in modest circumstances and suffered poverty in young adulthood, points to the deleterious effects of being poor—among countless others, the precarity of health care and housing (with no meaningful controls on rent), lack of transportation, the constant threat of losing one’s job due to illness, and the need to care for dependent children. It does not help, Desmond adds, that so few working people are represented by unions or that Black Americans, even those who have followed the “three rules” (graduate from high school, get a full-time job, wait until marriage to have children), are far likelier to be poor than their White compatriots. Furthermore, so many full-time jobs are being recast as contracted, fire-at-will gigs, “not a break from the norm as much as an extension of it, a continuation of corporations finding new ways to limit their obligations to workers.” By Desmond’s reckoning, besides amending these conditions, it would not take a miracle to eliminate poverty: about $177 billion, which would help end hunger and homelessness and “make immense headway in driving down the many agonizing correlates of poverty, like violence, sickness, and despair.” These are matters requiring systemic reform, which will in turn require Americans to elect officials who will enact that reform. And all of us, the author urges, must become “poverty abolitionists…refusing to live as unwitting enemies of the poor.” Fortune 500 CEOs won’t like Desmond’s message for rewriting the social contract—which is precisely the point.

A clearly delineated guide to finally eradicate poverty in America.

Pub Date: March 21, 2023

ISBN: 9780593239919

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2023

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