Nursing Book Club
The Premonition: A Pandemic Story by Michael Lewis
How America ignored the warnings of public health experts
In 2019, the Global Health Security Index ranked the U.S. first in overall pandemic readiness. Two years later, we lead the world in both total cases and total deaths due to COVID-19. In his recent book, The Premonition: A Pandemic Story, author Michael Lewis tries to get to the bottom of what went wrong.
This sprawling account follows the stories of a number of public health data experts — knowledgeable people who are able to look at the numbers and predict trends — whose vital information and urgent warnings were largely ignored in a political climate that ran the gamut from disinterest to outright hostility.
Lewis begins his account in 2005, when then-President George W. Bush read John M. Barry’s book The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History. Realizing that with today’s much greater U.S. population, we now stood to have an even higher death toll than in 1918, Bush ordered his staff to begin preparing contingency plans for any mass outbreak.
From there, political enthusiasm for pandemic preparedness waxed and waned. If there’s no immediate threat on the horizon, budgets gradually shrink, and experts who project worst-case scenarios are treated like the boy who cried wolf.