Maddening and sobering—as comprehensive an account of the first year of the pandemic as we’ve yet seen.

THE PLAGUE YEAR

AMERICA IN THE TIME OF COVID

The Pulitzer Prize–winning author and journalist turns to an enterprise fraught with political implication: the rise and spread of Covid-19.

In 2019, the Department of Health and Human Services conducted an exercise premised on the scenario that “an international group of tourists visiting China” were “infected with a novel influenza, and then spread it across the world.” As Wright delineates, the results were not inspiring. The Trump administration admitted that the response was chaotic, with no clear chain of command and inadequate response. In the end, the influenza was projected to kill 586,000 Americans—not far from the mark of those who died in the U.S. in the pandemic’s first year. That report was buried. In China, where the virus first emerged, the government forbade doctors to wear protective gear, jailed those who tried to alert the public, and underestimated the number of dead in the first wave by tenfold. When Trump came into office, Wright notes, his administration “was handed the keys to the greatest medical-research establishment in the history of science.” Of course, it wasted the resource, politicized federal science, and tried to wish the plague away. In his characteristically rigorous and engrossing style, Wright documents innumerable episodes of ineptitude and malfeasance even as Trump officials such as Peter Navarro privately reckoned that “a full-blown…pandemic could infect as many as 100 million Americans.” The author also argues that Trump, infected with the virus at a rally in which he refused to wear a mask, was much sicker than was revealed and was terrified at the prospect of dying. Still, he consistently failed to develop a national response, so the “pandemic was broken into fifty separate epidemics.” Particularly compelling is Wright’s straight-line connection of the Jan. 6 Capitol invasion and Trump’s failed attempt to maintain power to the destabilizing effects of the plague.

Maddening and sobering—as comprehensive an account of the first year of the pandemic as we’ve yet seen.

Pub Date: June 8, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-32072-3

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: March 31, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2021

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A solid work of investigation that, while treading well-covered ground, offers plenty of surprises.

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PERIL

An account of the last gasps of the Trump administration, completing a trilogy begun with Fear (2018) and Rage (2020).

One of Woodward and fellow Washington Post reporter Costa’s most memorable revelations comes right away: Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, calling his counterpart in Beijing to assure him that even after Jan. 6 and what Milley saw as an unmistakable attempt at a coup d’état, he would keep Trump from picking a war with China. This depiction has earned much attention on the talking-heads news channels, but more significant is its follow-up: Milley did so because he was concerned that Trump “might still be looking for what Milley called a ‘Reichstag moment.’ ” Milley emerges as a stalwart protector of the Constitution who constantly courted Trump’s ire and yet somehow survived without being fired. No less concerned about Trump’s erratic behavior was Paul Ryan, the former Speaker of the House, who studied the psychiatric literature for a big takeaway: “Do not humiliate Trump in public. Humiliating a narcissist risked real danger, a frantic lashing out if he felt threatened or criticized.” Losing the 2020 election was one such humiliation, and Woodward and Costa closely track the trajectory of Trump’s reaction, from depression to howling rage to the stubborn belief that the election was rigged. There are a few other modest revelations in the book, including the fact that Trump loyalist William Barr warned him that the electorate didn’t like him. “They just think you’re a fucking asshole,” Barr told his boss. That was true enough, and the civil war that the authors recount among various offices in the White House and government reveals that Trump’s people were only ever tentatively his. All the same, the authors note, having drawn on scores of “deep background” interviews, Trump still has his base, still intends vengeance by way of a comeback, and still constitutes the peril of their title.

A solid work of investigation that, while treading well-covered ground, offers plenty of surprises.

Pub Date: Sept. 21, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982182-91-5

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 24, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2021

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A handful of pearls amid a pile of empty oyster shells.

THE COMFORT BOOK

Bestselling author Haig offers a book’s worth of apothegms to serve as guides to issues ranging from disquietude to self-acceptance.

Like many collections of this sort—terse snippets of advice, from the everyday to the cosmic—some parts will hit home with surprising insight, some will feel like old hat, and others will come across as disposable or incomprehensible. Years ago, Haig experienced an extended period of suicidal depression, so he comes at many of these topics—pain, hope, self-worth, contentment—from a hard-won perspective. This makes some of the material worthy of a second look, even when it feels runic or contrary to experience. The author’s words are instigations, hopeful first steps toward illumination. Most chapters are only a few sentences long, the longest running for three pages. Much is left unsaid and left up to readers to dissect. On being lost, Haig recounts an episode with his father when they got turned around in a forest in France. His father said to him, “If we keep going in a straight line we’ll get out of here.” He was correct, a bit of wisdom Haig turned to during his depression when he focused on moving forward: “It is important to remember the bottom of the valley never has the clearest view. And that sometimes all you need to do in order to rise up again is to keep moving forward.” Many aphorisms sound right, if hardly groundbreaking—e.g., a quick route to happiness is making someone else happy; “No is a good word. It keeps you sane. In an age of overload, no is really yes. It is yes to having space you need to live”; “External events are neutral. They only gain positive or negative value the moment they enter our mind.” Haig’s fans may enjoy this one, but others should take a pass.

A handful of pearls amid a pile of empty oyster shells.

Pub Date: July 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-14-313666-8

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Penguin Life

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2021

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