In 2018, Michael Lewis published “The Fifth Risk,” which argued, in short, that the federal government was underprepared for a variety of disaster scenarios. Guess what his new book is about? Lewis visits the podcast this week to discuss “The Premonition,” which recounts the initial response to the coronavirus pandemic.
“It wasn’t just Trump,” Lewis says. “Trump made everything worse. But there had ben changes in the American government, and changes in particular at the C.D.C., that made them less and less capable of actually controlling disease and more and more like a fine academic institution that came in after the battle and tried to assess what had happened; but not equipped for actual battlefield command. The book doesn’t get to the pandemic until Page 160. The back story tells you how the story is going to play out.”
The historian Annette Gordon-Reed visits the podcast to talk about her new book, “On Juneteenth,” which combines history about slavery in Texas and Juneteenth with more personal, essayistic writing about her own family and childhood.
“This is a departure for me, but it is actually the kind of writing that I always thought that I would be doing when I was growing up, dreaming about being a writer,” Gordon-Reed says. “I’ve always been a great admirer of James Baldwin, and Gore Vidal’s essays I thought were wonderful, better than the novels, and that’s the kind of thing that I wanted to do. So it was sort of a dream come true for me to be able to take this form and talk about some things that were very important to me.”
Also on this week’s episode, Tina Jordan looks back at Book Review history during this year of its 125th anniversary; Alexandra Alter has news from the publishing world; and Parul Sehgal and John Williams talk about the latest in literary criticism. Pamela Paul is the host.
Here are the books discussed by the critics this week:
“The Secret to Superhuman Strength” by Alison Bechdel
“Jackpot” by Michael Mechanic
The trial over George Floyd’s death is under way in Minneapolis. What to do with his memorial site has become a controversy of its own.
The advent of commercial genome sequencing has recently, and credibly, been compared to the invention of the microscope, a claim that led me to wonder whether this new, still relatively obscure technology, humming away in well-equipped labs around the world, would prove to be the most important innovation of the 21st century.
And unexpectedly, Covid-19 has proved to be the catalyst. “What the pandemic has done is accelerate the adoption of genomics into infectious disease by several years,” says deSouza, the Illumina chief executive. He also told me he believes that the pandemic has accelerated the adoption of genomics into society more broadly — suggesting that quietly, in the midst of chaos and a global catastrophe, the age of cheap, rapid sequencing has arrived.
In the coming weeks, major airlines including United, JetBlue and Lufthansa plan to introduce a health passport app, called CommonPass, that aims to verify passengers’ virus test results — and soon, vaccinations. The app will then issue confirmation codes enabling passengers to board certain international flights. It is just the start of a push for digital Covid-19 credentials that could soon be embraced by employers, schools, summer camps and entertainment venues.
The advent of electronic vaccination credentials could have a profound effect on efforts to control the coronavirus and restore the economy. They could prompt more employers and college campuses to reopen. They may also give some consumers peace of mind, developers say, by creating an easy way for movie theaters, cruise ships and sports arenas to admit only those with documented coronavirus vaccinations.
The CommonPass, IBM and Clear apps, for instance, allow users to download their virus test results — and soon their vaccinations — to their smartphones. The apps can then check the medical data and generate unique confirmation codes that users can show at airports or other locations to confirm their health status.
But the health passes do not share specific details — like where and when a user was tested — with airlines or employers, developers said. The QR codes, they said, act merely as a kind of green light, clearing users for entry.
The bestselling author of Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock ‘n’ Roll and Last Train the Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley, this dazzling new book of profiles is not so much a summation as a culmination of Peter Guralnick’s remarkable work, which from the start has encompassed the full sweep of blues, gospel, country, and rock ‘n’ roll.
It covers old ground from new perspectives, offering deeply felt, masterful, and strikingly personal portraits of creative artists, both musicians and writers, at the height of their powers.
“You put the book down feeling that its sweep is vast, that you have read of giants who walked among us,” rock critic Lester Bangs wrote of Guralnick’s earlier work in words that could just as easily be applied to this new one. And yet, for all of the encomiums that Guralnick’s books have earned for their remarkable insights and depth of feeling, Looking to Get Lost is his most personal book yet. For readers who have grown up on Guralnick’s unique vision of the vast sweep of the American musical landscape, who have imbibed his loving and lively portraits and biographies of such titanic figures as Elvis Presley, Sam Cooke, and Sam Phillips, there are multiple surprises and delights here, carrying on and extending all the themes, fascinations, and passions of his groundbreaking earlier work.
With early voting underway, states are working to reassure voters that their ballots will be counted as cast. Our video shows how states’ responses to Russian hacking and the coronavirus crisis have helped make the election more secure than ever.