THE GREAT INFLUENZA: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History | John M. Barry, Penguin Books, (2004), 541p. DOOM: The Politics of Catastrophe | Niall Ferguson, Penguin Press, (2021) 472p. THE YEAR THE WORLD WENT MAD: A Scientific Memoir | Mark Woolhouse, Sandstone Press (2022), 296p.
All three books - one a recap of the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic and two of Covid current events - essentially reinforce the scientific consensus of 2019. Namely, lockdowns are not a proper protocol in response to a worldwide or localized pandemic.
In 1918, some cities did full lockdowns - but quickly abandoned them. Other towns did nothing, and some cities went into total lockdown. Not surprisingly, moderation won. Cities that merely canceled large “super spreader” events but kept shops and schools open faired best. Cities that were total lockdowns and those that did nothing failed.
Yet the other two books chronicle the pervasive groupthink that swept the globe and pushed policymakers to deny the previously settled science and historical experience of dealing with pandemics. Like many first drafts of history, the two tomes focused on COVID are rife with biases that are too easily dismissed yet make compelling cases that are fact-driven relative to outcomes.
Too much, from all sides, gets generated on speculative theories of motivation. When, as usual, the most straightforward answer is likely truth: people panicked. The in-group incentives are powerful, and herd momentum is intense when atversion amidst an environment flooded with fear comes to risk.
One hopes that through the rearview mirror, history will instruct with clarity the sober lessons that our mass psychosis of the present day did not comprehend as a future pandemic prophylactic.