In a gripping, accessible narrative, a veteran science journalist lays out the shocking story of how the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic happened and how to make sure this never happens again
Over the last 30 years of epidemics and pandemics, we learned every lesson needed to stop this coronavirus outbreak in its tracks. We heeded almost none of them. The result is a pandemic on a scale never before seen in our lifetimes. In this captivating, authoritative, and eye-opening book, science journalist Debora MacKenzie lays out the full story of how and why it happened: the previous viruses that should have prepared us, the shocking public health failures that paved the way, the failure to contain the outbreak, and most importantly, what we must do to prevent future pandemics.
Debora MacKenzie has been reporting on emerging diseases for more than three decades, and she draws on that experience to explain how COVID-19 went from a potentially manageable outbreak to a global pandemic. Offering a compelling history of the most significant recent outbreaks, including SARS, MERS, H1N1, Zika, and Ebola, she gives a crash course in Epidemiology 101 – how viruses spread and how pandemics end – and outlines the lessons we failed to learn from each past crisis. In vivid detail, she takes us through the arrival and spread of COVID-19, making clear the steps that governments knew they could have taken to prevent or at least prepare for this. Looking forward, MacKenzie makes a bold, optimistic argument: this pandemic might finally galvanize the world to take viruses seriously. Fighting this pandemic and preventing the next one will take political action of all kinds, globally, from governments, the scientific community, and individuals – but it is possible.
No one has yet brought together our knowledge of COVID-19 in a comprehensive, informative, and accessible way. But that story can already be told, and Debora MacKenzie's urgent telling is required reading for these times and beyond. It is too early to say where the COVID-19 pandemic will go, but it is past time to talk about what went wrong and how we can do better.
"You could not hope for a better guide to the pandemic world order than Debora MacKenzie, who's been on this story from the start. This is an authoritative yet readable explanation of how this catastrophe happened – and more important, how it will happen again if we don't change"
– Tim Harford, author of The Undercover Economist, Adapt and Messy
"This definitely deserves a read – the first of the post mortems by a writer who knows what she's talking about"
– Laura Spinney, author of Pale Rider: The Spanish Flu Of 1918 and How It Changed the World
"I loved this book. Fast-paced, engaging, couldn't put it down. A heart-pounding telling of the misadventures that led to one of the worst pandemics in history. A story that we all think we know, but don't. And a story whose lessons, if unlearned, we will be condemned to repeat"
– Dr Paul Ofitt, author of Pandora's Lab and Vaccinated, Director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia
"A fascinating behind the scenes look [...] If someone asks you why the COVID-19 epidemic happened and how we can prevent the next one, hand them this book"
– Steffanie Strathdee, PhD, Associate Dean of Global Health Sciences, University of California San Diego, and co-author of The Perfect Predator: A Scientist's Race to Save Her Husband from a Deadly Superbug
"A vivid account of the origins and fortunes of coronavirus, warning that worse may be yet to come [...] Charting the etiology and course of the virus, MacKenzie observes that nearly everything about its origins and spread offers lessons on how not to act when the next pandemic comes [...] Essential, enlightening reading in a time of panic and plague"
– Starred review, Kirkus
"Debora MacKenzie is a leading science journalist, with vast experience writing about pandemic threats and neglected diseases. She uses her background to hit the ground running on one of the first books written on the emergence of COVID-19. As politicians and elected leaders increasingly work to change the narrative on COVID-19 on their steps to first contain and mitigate the pandemic, Debora's efforts lay it all out in stark terms"
– Dr Peter Hotez, Author of Vaccines Did Not Cause Rachel's Autism, Dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine
"So often, people look at the nature of disease in the midst of an outbreak when, really, it's the interaction between the disease and people that matters. That is at the heart of epidemiology, and it's what MacKenzie does beautifully in her book. Whether it's cultural practices with animals like bats, or the fear and delay in labeling it pandemic, to a woeful lack of funding for public health and vaccine research, or the misguided notion that disease will recognize boundaries just because people do – MacKenzie's fascinating book gives us the scope and scale to be able to put this pandemic in perspective and, it begs the question, will we learn from this in time to prevent to next one"
– Molly Crosby, author of The American Plague, Asleep and The Great Pearl Heist
"Some people write interesting autobiographical recollections of people, places, and events, while others offer an extensive and comprehensive anthology of a topic area. Deborah Mackenzie has not only succeeded in doing both in a single volume, but in a manner that is immensely engaging [...] an excellent work for general consumption as well as for those already involved in communicable disease control, microbiology, epidemiology, and medical journalism. In our present climate of regrettable tweets, unverified facts, and deliberate misinformation, this timely book provides a delightful and important excursion into the world of outbreaks, epidemics, and pandemics"
– Tim Sly, epidemiologist and Professor Emeritus at Ryerson University's School of Public Health