Unprepared: America in the Time of Coronavirus

Edited by Jon Sternfeld. Bloomsbury, $28 (384p) ISBN 978-1-63557-720-4

Freelance writer Sternfeld (coauthor, A Craftsman’s Legacy) compiles excerpts from news articles, press conferences, interviews, and medical reports in this eye-opening chronicle of the Covid-19 pandemic from Dec. 31, 2019, through June 5, 2020. The collection begins with a Chinese doctor’s WeChat message alerting colleagues to a coronavirus outbreak at a Wuhan seafood market, then shifts focus to America, where the Centers for Disease Control reports the first case in the U.S. on Jan. 21, 2020. Sternfeld paints a damning portrait of President Trump’s response to the pandemic simply by placing his public comments (“We have it totally under control”) in the context of unfolding events. As Trump complains about political rivals and media coverage, state health officials plead for ventilators and personal protective equipment, and infection and death rates climb exponentially. Other public officials and organizations, including New York governor Andrew Cuomo, virologist Anthony Fauci, labor union National Nurses United, and Ohio health department director Amy Acton, showcase steadier leadership under fire. In the book’s emotionally resonant introduction, New York Times columnist Timothy Egan urges readers to hold accountable those responsible for “perhaps the greatest collapse of American society in so short a time, ever.” Well-conceived and solidly executed, this is a vital record of an ongoing American crisis. (Sept.)