Dominic Green Dominic Green

Heroes and villains of the pandemic in America

Two new books describe how the American public was essentially abandoned by the CDC, and only saved by the actions of a small group known as the Wolverines

Joe DeRisi, one of the Wolverines. [Getty Images]

The most alarming aspect of living in America is the recurring sensation that no one is in charge. This is much more disconcerting than recognising that the people in charge are incompetent and corrupt: that is merely a sorry fact of everyday life. Three times in two decades the world’s most powerful state has failed its people: on 9/11, in the crash of 2007-8 and in the Covid-19 pandemic. Once is unfortunate, twice is carelessness, thrice is recklessness, and after that you’re on your own. My basement now resembles a nuclear bunker: food, water, medical supplies, a gym, a lifetime supply of lavatory paper. I live in an affluent, blue-state suburb with hardly any crime, but at night I wonder whether it’s time to go native and get a gun. We all know there’s more coming down the pike.

Michael Lewis and Lawrence Wright have written the first drafts of our dismal recent history. I don’t envy them, though the advances must have been substantial. They have attempted to fix the narrative of an American catastrophe when the facts aren’t fixed. And when the facts aren’t fixed, the fix is in. Both of them tell a good story, and both are more than qualified to do so: Wright won a Pulitzer for The Looming Tower: The Road to 9/11, and Lewis, whose books include The Big Short, is a lucid explicator of the organised lunacy of Wall Street. But both of them miss the big story here, and the ways they tell it are why they miss it.

The Premonition reads like the script of a gripping movie. Lewis transmits his facts with the speed and efficiency of a Covid-sufferer’s sneeze and lightens the heavy scientific stuff with character: ‘He [Carter Mecher] was under no illusion that he was engaged in anything resembling scholarship.

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