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Review: COVID-19: The Pandemic that Never Should Have Happened and How to Stop the Next One

COVID-19: The Pandemic that Never Should Have Happened and How to Stop the Next One by Debora MacKenzie
My rating: (4 / 5)


Over the last 20 years of epidemics, we learned every lesson needed to stop this coronavirus outbreak in its tracks. We heeded none of them. The result is a Pandemic on a scale never before seen in our lifetimes. In this captivating, authoritative, and eye-opening book, science journalist and researcher Debora MacKenzie lays out the full story of how and why it happened: the previous viruses that should have prepared us, the shocking public health failures that paved the way, the failure to contain the outbreak, and most importantly, what we must do to prevent future pandemics.

Debora MacKenzie has been reporting on emerging diseases for more than three decades, and she draws on that experience to explain how Covid-19 went from a manageable outbreak to a global pandemic. Offering a compelling history of the most significant recent outbreaks, including SARS, MERS, H1N1, Zika, and Ebola, she gives a crash course in Epidemiology 101–how viruses spread and how pandemics end–and outlines the lessons we failed to learn from each past crisis. In vivid detail, she takes us through the arrival and spread of COVID-19, making clear the steps that governments knew they could have taken to prevent or at least prepare for this. Looking forward, MacKenzie makes a bold, optimistic argument: this pandemic might finally galvanize the world to take viruses seriously. Fighting this pandemic and preventing the next one will take political action of all kinds, globally, from governments, the scientific community, and individuals–but it is possible.


[I received a copy through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

I must be a glutton for punishment for reading this kind of book while the world is still not done with COVID-19. However, I also want to stay informed and learn things without having to wade through the dramafest that news in general have become, so all in all, this was a very appropriate read: informative, interesting, considering the ecological impact as well (no, killing all the bats is not a solution, plus it would collapse the whole ecosystem anyway), on the whistle-blowing side yet also covering what could be done (a.k.a not being alarmist just for the sake of being alarmist)… and not so depressing or anxiety-inducing as I had feared.

I didn’t know the author before reading this specific piece of her work. As a scientific journalist who’s been working that field for decades, she was able to bring her own experience and point of view, gathered from observations made on previous outbreaks, and that also gave the book a more personalised tone. In general, “COVID-19” seemed to me well-researched, easy to grasp and follow (no reliance on over-complicated scientific terms here), and a reflection on how countering such viruses is definitely not only scientists’ responsibility, but also governments’, for implementing (or choosing not to…) the policies that will help fund research and curb the spreading. (Let’s just say I wasn’t too impressed with the UK and the USA on that one… though they were far from being the only ones farting in their hands about this).

Conclusion: Perhaps not the kind of book I’d recommend to an audience who already knows a lot about SARS-CoV-2, because it reads more like an introduction—but as, well, a good intro and recap on the topic, it did the job top notch for me.

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Review: COVID-19: The Pandemic that Never Should Have Happened and How to Stop the Next One


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