I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll (Except When I Hate It) – Brian Boone
Between both switching to the smaller, satellite Indy library near our house from the larger Carmel library and Covid, I don’t just go wonder the library stacks very often, surprising myself with books that speak to me as I pass them. That is how I found this book, though. I was looking for another music book, it was missing, but spied this and knocked it out in a few sittings.
It is a collection of irreverent music lists and trivia nuggets. No heavy lifting, I knew some of the stuff, but also learned some new things along the way.
The Good Assassin – Paul Vidich
I have a couple lists of good espionage books that I’ve been working through. Paul Vidich’s work was recommended on one as some good, old school, Cold War noir. This, which takes place in Cuba just before Castro takes over, certainly fit that bill. In fact it was almost too noir-ish, sucking the life out of the book and making it rather bland. None of the characters were terribly interesting and the fascinating moment in history seemed wasted.
The Premonition – Michael Lewis
This is the book I read in one night, starting it sometime after lunch and finishing it a little after midnight. Which is kind of funny because I was reluctant to read it at first. It just seemed too soon to read a book about the Covid pandemic, since the light at the end of the tunnel might be wiped out by a new tunnel millions of idiots are building to protect their personal freedoms.
But, dammit, Michael Lewis found a way to write an insanely engaging accounting of how we got into the mess we are in.
As always, he focuses on personalities to explain larger problems. Also as always, he picks fascinating people for his focus. A hard-charging health commissioner in California. A cutting-edge genetic researcher at UCSF. And a pair of men who have been working on the problem of how to handle a pandemic for nearly 20 years who pull everyone together. It was these folks, and others like them scattered at various levels of government and industry, who helped to kickstart an otherwise inept and disinterested response by far too many power players in the US.
One interesting takeaway from the book, and why things are so fucked up in this country, is that there is no such thing as public health policy in the US. Each state and municipality is kind of on their own, consulting with others but often making decisions in a vacuum without any coordination from above. Thus, when a massive event like Covid hits, there is no structure for quickly making national policy. Throw in an incompetent president who was far more worried about protecting his own image than being a leader, and it’s no wonder we are in such a mess.
Another huge takeaway was that the CDC kind of sucks. Lewis shows the CDC to be a massive, overly cautious organization that would rather force others to make decisions than be held accountable for making difficult choices themselves. They attempt to thwart decision makers who have better information than the people in Atlanta if those locals go against the CDC playbook. And they collect massive amounts of incredibly important health and medical data, but hoard it for their own research purposes rather than share it so others can attempt to make rapid decisions in moments of crisis.
It isn’t until the book’s closing chapter when Lewis finally explains why the CDC might be so gun-shy. They botched the rollout of a swine flu vaccine in 1976 for a pandemic that never fully developed and both undercut its reputation and opened the door for the White House to control who ran it after decades of independence.
The personalities Lewis writes about are truly heroic, and the structural impediments they face are truly infuriating. He pulls that all together in a work of non-fiction that is as compulsive of a read as any fiction I’ve read in years.