Extraordinary measures during extraordinary times, documented meticulously if somewhat academically.

THE WUHAN LOCKDOWN

A thorough account of the events leading to the Covid-19 lockdown in Wuhan, China, in early 2020, drawing from dozens of personal accounts (“lockdown diaries”).

The outbreak of SARS (another coronavirus) in 2003 had prepared the Chinese health community for the detection of mysterious cases of pneumonia in late December 2019 and early January 2020. However, when hospitals and physicians such as Li Wenliang sounded the alarm, they were censured for spreading “unverified information.” Wenliang later died of the virus, becoming a kind of martyr. From Jan. 4 to Jan. 20, life for the city of 11 million went on as usual, with huge festivities for the Lunar New Year as well as several political congresses, despite the alarming news about the pneumonia cases. “The 20-day delay in informing the public was irresponsible state behavior, to say the least,” writes Yang, a professor of sociology and digital culture at the University of Pennsylvania, where he is the deputy director of the Center for the Study of Contemporary China. Despite authoritative strictures put in place over the past decade, and with the ascendancy of Xi Jinping and his emphasis on “civility” and “positive energy,” internet culture and netizen protests had strengthened, giving power to regular citizens. By the time of the lockdown on Jan. 23, when emergency mobilization measures were implemented, people began to take the matter into their own hands, reverting to behaviors not seen since the Cultural Revolution—e.g., the use of loudspeakers (“blunt force regulation” in order to “reduce bureaucratic discretion”) warning people to stay indoors, chanting slogans, neighborhood watchdog associations, and other instances of belligerence, resilience, and endurance among the Wuhan population. The tone may be too scholarly for some readers, but that does little to diminish the power of the diaries, which clearly demonstrate this emotionally trying period of lockdown.

Extraordinary measures during extraordinary times, documented meticulously if somewhat academically.

Pub Date: Feb. 15, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-231-20047-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Columbia Univ.

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2021

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Gates offers a persuasive, 30,000-foot view of a global problem that, he insists, can be prevented given will and money.

HOW TO PREVENT THE NEXT PANDEMIC

The tech mogul recounts the health care–related dimensions of his foundation in what amounts to a long policy paper.

“Outbreaks are inevitable, but pandemics are optional.” Thus states the epidemiologist Larry Brilliant, a Gates adviser, who hits on a critically important point: Disease is a fact of nature, but a pandemic is a political creation of a kind. Therefore, there are political as well as medical solutions that can enlist governments as well as scientists to contain outbreaks and make sure they don’t explode into global disasters. One critical element, Gates writes, is to alleviate the gap between high- and low-income countries, the latter of which suffer disproportionately from outbreaks. Another is to convince governments to ramp up production of vaccines that are “universal”—i.e., applicable to an existing range of disease agents, especially respiratory pathogens such as coronaviruses and flus—to prepare the world’s populations for the inevitable. “Doing the right thing early pays huge dividends later,” writes Gates. Even though doing the right thing is often expensive, the author urges that it’s a wise investment and one that has never been attempted—e.g., developing a “global corps” of scientists and aid workers “whose job is to wake up every day thinking about diseases that could kill huge numbers of people.” To those who object that such things are easier said than done, Gates counters that the development of the current range of Covid vaccines was improbably fast, taking a third of the time that would normally have been required. At the same time, the author examines some of the social changes that came about through the pandemic, including the “new normal” of distance working and learning—both of which, he urges, stand to be improved but need not be abandoned.

Gates offers a persuasive, 30,000-foot view of a global problem that, he insists, can be prevented given will and money.

Pub Date: May 3, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-53448-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2022

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A quirky wonder of a book.

WHY FISH DON'T EXIST

A STORY OF LOSS, LOVE, AND THE HIDDEN ORDER OF LIFE

A Peabody Award–winning NPR science reporter chronicles the life of a turn-of-the-century scientist and how her quest led to significant revelations about the meaning of order, chaos, and her own existence.

Miller began doing research on David Starr Jordan (1851-1931) to understand how he had managed to carry on after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake destroyed his work. A taxonomist who is credited with discovering “a full fifth of fish known to man in his day,” Jordan had amassed an unparalleled collection of ichthyological specimens. Gathering up all the fish he could save, Jordan sewed the nameplates that had been on the destroyed jars directly onto the fish. His perseverance intrigued the author, who also discusses the struggles she underwent after her affair with a woman ended a heterosexual relationship. Born into an upstate New York farm family, Jordan attended Cornell and then became an itinerant scholar and field researcher until he landed at Indiana University, where his first ichthyological collection was destroyed by lightning. In between this catastrophe and others involving family members’ deaths, he reconstructed his collection. Later, he was appointed as the founding president of Stanford, where he evolved into a Machiavellian figure who trampled on colleagues and sang the praises of eugenics. Miller concludes that Jordan displayed the characteristics of someone who relied on “positive illusions” to rebound from disaster and that his stand on eugenics came from a belief in “a divine hierarchy from bacteria to humans that point[ed]…toward better.” Considering recent research that negates biological hierarchies, the author then suggests that Jordan’s beloved taxonomic category—fish—does not exist. Part biography, part science report, and part meditation on how the chaos that caused Miller’s existential misery could also bring self-acceptance and a loving wife, this unique book is an ingenious celebration of diversity and the mysterious order that underlies all existence.

A quirky wonder of a book.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6027-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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