Thoughts from Linda:
Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World
By Fareed Zakaria
After reviewing Ray Kurzweil’s book, The Singularity is Near, this book by Fareed Zakaria, Ten Lessons, is a ‘welcome relief’ in many ways. While Kurzweil elegantly lays out future possibilities in great detail—in a pretty lengthy book, Fareed Zakaria provides a shorter book succinctly and brilliantly framing our current situation (on the planet and in the USA) and provides ten very relevant lessons that, to me, capture our current moment in time.
Ten Lessons is 242 pages as contrasted with the 496 pages of Singularity--and after the mind-bending experience of Singularity, it feels good to ‘pop up’ to a more strategic view and experience the broad span that Ten Lessons covers. This is not to imply that Ten Lessons is light reading, but in comparison to Singularity, it is an easier read, to be sure. Both provide rich footnotes, with Singularity having 105 pages of footnotes and Ten Lessons offering 60 terrific pages of rich sources. Taken together, these two amazing books provide powerful and timely experiences for their readers. They are critical books for all of us in 2021.
Fareed Zakaria was born in Bombay (present-day Mumbai), India, to a Konkani Muslim family. His father was a politician associated with the Indian National Congress and an Islamic theologian, and his mother was the editor of the Sunday Times of India for a time.
He attended the Cathedral and John Connon School in Mumbai. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from Yale University in 1986, where he was President of the Yale Political Union, editor in chief of the Yale Political Monthly, a member of the Scroll and Key society, and a member of the Party of the Right. He later gained a Ph.D. in government from Harvard University in 1993.
He went on to become managing editor of Foreign Affairs in 1992, at the age of 28. He served as an adjunct professor at Columbia University, and in 2000, he was named editor of Newsweek International and became a weekly columnist for Newsweek. In August 2010, he moved to Time to serve as editor-at-large and columnist. Today, in addition to his role at CNN, he writes a weekly column for The Washington Post. He is also contributing editor for the Atlantic Media Group, which includes The Atlantic Monthly.
I enjoyed reading this book, for the framings he provides, along with the many background issues he helps explain about the pandemic itself and current events. I follow his CNN program weekly and did hear him explain that he began writing this book about one year ago before knowing about the vaccines, much less their timelines.
As he notes in his Introduction, Lenin once said, “There are decades when nothing happens, and then there are weeks when decades happen.” He goes on to note, “The post-pandemic world is going to be, in many aspects, a sped-up version of the world we knew. Post-pandemic life will be different for countries, companies, and especially individuals. A world on steroids can suffer unpredictable side effects.”
The book is divided into chapters that teach each of the ten lessons, with the following titles: “Buckle Up, What Matters Is Not the Quantity of government but the Quality, Markets Are Not Enough, People Should Listen to the Experts—And the Experts should Listen to the People, Life Is Digital, Aristotle Was Right—We are Social Animals, Inequality Will Get Worse, Globalization Is Not Dead, The World Is Becoming Bipolar and Sometimes the Greatest Realists Are the Idealists.”
The Introduction, called “The Bat Effect,” gives you a good idea of his integrative framing skill and illustrates many of the relevant facts and stories he shares. For example, we’ve all seen the little drawing of the Corona virus, with the spikes on it. I never thought about where that came from. He explains that the CDC tasked two professional medical artists to conceive and represent what has become the standard for representation of the virus around the world, called the Eckert-Higgins rendering, named for the two artists. Another example of his skill is how he takes us on a journey through time, calling out the plagues throughout history and reflecting on the changes they wrought. What might have happened in the Peloponnesian War had Sparta suffered the plague instead of Athens, for example?
I found the information about animals also quite interesting, especially his question: “Why bats?” It turns out that they have a highly developed immune system and defense mechanisms, such as a feverishly high body temperature when flying, which select for more potent viruses. They can survive viruses that might quickly kill other animals, thus allowing these viruses to live and spread. And, of course, bats used to live farther away from humans, but today deforestation has altered this behavior and made disease transmission possible.
He notes that it is likely that bats would find an intermediary, like the pangolin (ant-eater-like animal most trafficked mammal in the world), with scales that the Chinese covet for medicinal purposes. We now better understand that the virus is in a race to stay alive and can mutate and spread with more time in a host. His clear explanations of root causes and global implications help ‘connect the dots’ of the story we have all been living in for the past 18 months.
And thus “Voila.” Here we go into the future with the kinds of consequences that are so evident and real for us today.
Plagues have consequences, and this book is about how we best live in a post-pandemic world, now that we have all experienced this phenomenon. These lessons are strong, well-conceived, and so well represented. The book is a page-turner and one that everyone should read.