cover image The Plague Year: America in the Time of Covid

The Plague Year: America in the Time of Covid

Lawrence Wright. Knopf, $28 (336p) ISBN 978-0-593-32072-3

Pestilence, tumult, and the horror of Trumpism roil this scattershot survey of 2020. Pulitzer-winning New Yorker journalist Wright (The End of October) reviews the course of the Covid-19 pandemic and accompanying upheavals, from the first wave through the summer of protest and the frenzied aftermath of the 2020 election. He emphasizes the CDC’s delays in rolling out virus tests, skimpy and chaotic procurement of personal protective equipment, and persistent efforts by President Trump to downplay the pandemic’s seriousness. Wright paints an especially revealing portrait of White House policymaking based on insider accounts by staffers including deputy national security adviser Matt Pottinger, who lobbied the Trump administration to take the virus more seriously. Unfortunately, the treatment of major controversies tends to be one-sided and overwrought. Wright likens the Capitol rioters to “Visigoths breaking through the gates of Rome,” treats opposition to lockdowns and mask mandates as the preserve of wild-eyed conspiracy theorists, and generally bemoans the “cyclonic forces of fascism and nihilism” besieging America. The result is an immersive and richly detailed yet contentious take on recent history that provokes more than enlightens. (June)