Of considerable interest to health policymakers and public-safety officials as well as students of epidemic disease.



The former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration assesses the systemic failures underlying the world response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Numerous public entities within the federal government, writes Gottlieb, are charged with preparing for the outbreak of epidemic diseases. Most of their energies were directed toward fighting the flu. “The federal government started off in a weak position, with plans that were ill suited to countering a coronavirus,” writes the author. “This mismatch between the scenarios we drilled for and the reality that we faced left us unprepared. Poor execution turned it into a public health tragedy.” It took time, of course, to recognize fully that Covid-19 spread through a handful of “superspreaders” and mostly indoors in areas that were both crowded and poorly ventilated—the White House during Trump’s frequent self-congratulatory public events, for one. Trump, Gottlieb makes clear, bears plenty of responsibility for the government’s inadequate response, as do lieutenants who politicized the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suppressed information, and followed Trump’s lead in rejecting mask-wearing and other safety measures. “The president could have found a middle ground on masks,” Gottlieb writes. “His message could have been: We don’t need mandates….However, we’re going to act responsibly and wear masks.” The author argues that even under different leadership, the response would likely have been little better, at least in part because there is not enough coordination among agencies. He urges that preparation for pandemics be considered a part of national security, with the Pentagon fully involved and with a system that works its way around informed consent “to address a public health emergency” so that data is quickly shared. Moreover, he argues that testing procedures be standardized, as they are not now, with a full inventory of equipment in both public and private hands. These and other measures are urgently needed: If Covid-19 was the worst pandemic in recent history, “it won’t be the last.”

Of considerable interest to health policymakers and public-safety officials as well as students of epidemic disease.

Pub Date: Sept. 21, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06-308001-0

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2021

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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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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

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