The Premonition: A Pandemic Story by Michael Lewis

(New York: Norton, 2021), 301

  • “When a doctor stops seeing patients, they slowly start to forget. Seeing patients is how you develop a sixth sense.” (24)
  • “To do the job of a local public-health officer, you basically always need to be willing to lose your job.” (32)
    • “Sins of commission got you fired. Sins of omission you could get away with, but they left people dead.” (42)
  • Charity Dean: "Mental masturbation is actually an important concept. It's when you talk in circles for an hour and reach no decision." (38)
  • US pandemic plan began in 2005 when George W. Bush read The Great Influenza by John Barry (50)
    • the leverage of Writing and sharing writing: (53-54)
    • Rajeev’s report got $7B in funding
    • Barry’s book: aid gave it to sec of HHS, who asked for 50 copies and had it marked up to highlight the important bits, and gave it to Bush
  • “When the systems depend on human vigilance, they will fail.” (67)
  • Carter Mecher: redesign the environment to prevent mistakes (eg 120 vs 240 V plugs) (69)
    • Human Error by James Reason: “it was like reading the owners manual of the human mind”
    • “the best way to guard against error is to design systems with layered and overlapping defenses”—> think of it as layered Swiss cheese (70)
    • report near misses like aviation safety
  • Carter: I love how he dives into a problem, “reading books and interviewing authors” to find out how people learn and how good ideas spread, and then wrote a report (72)
  • Bob Glass model: no measures have significant impact, except closing schools (86-87)
    • “I couldn’t design a system better for transmitting disease than our school system.” (91)
  • Carter reconstructed and furthered Barry’s analysis of the 1918 pandemic in Philadelphia to show that deaths were lower the earlier restrictions were imposed (101-102)
  • 2009 virus left people more confident in not taking action: “Experience is making the same mistake over and over again, only with greater confidence” (124)
  • A map/plan is a starting point, even if not perfect it gives you options to keep trying” (125)
  • the Mann Gulch fire as a metaphor for pandemics (172)
    • book: Young Men and Fire by Norman Maclean (172, 186)
  • Charity Dean was in Winston Churchill’s position before WWII in Jan 2020 when Sonia Angell blocked her from pandemic preparedness, and she found solace in Alone by William Manchester (198)
  • fire extinguisher analogy: “the problem with implementing social interventions too late is you get all the downsides and little benefit, so speed it critical” (211)
  • Charity Dean: “Why doesn’t the United States have the institutions it needs to save itself?” (279, cf. We Must Found Institutions, Not Just Preserve Them: A Conservatism of Creation - Public Discourse)
  • CDC cowardice: The Swine Flu Affair smeared David Sencer for his vaccination program in 1976 and sent a message to future public health officials who might stick their necks out (286)


  • The Great Influenza by John Barry (50)
  • Young Men and Fire by Norman Maclean (172, 186)
  • The Swine Flu Affair (286)

Created: 2021-08-12
Updated: 2023-01-23-Mon