Wright...has performed a virtuoso feat and given us a book of panoramic breadth ... he ranges from science to politics to economics to culture with a commanding scrutiny, managing to surprise us about even those episodes we have only recently lived through and thought we knew well ... Wright’s storytelling dexterity makes all this come alive ... Wright has laid a foundation for memorializing a terrible disaster, creating space for countless others like Iris’s daughter to keep asking what happened, and to grieve.
... incredibly-crafted ... Wright doesn’t wrap up with solace or closure in The Plague Year. How could you at this point? What he does provide is a well-wrought map covering the institutions and politicians that failed America during this stretch of the pandemic. But Wright crucially highlights those that also saved us — the first responders and the reasonable.
... lean-limbed, immersive ... Chapter by stellar chapter, Wright charts COVID-19's arc ... Wright is at his commanding best, though, when he places the pandemic in historical context — his detours into the Black Plague and the 1918 Spanish flu are narrative marvels — and in his portraits of the players ... He threads The Plague Year with delightful transatlantic calls to Gianna Pomata, a former Johns Hopkins professor now retired to her hometown of Bologna. Pomata has long studied the transformative impacts of pandemics on economies and social orders. She sees a silver lining in COVID-19, noting, with Italian brio and humor, that innovations evolve from global calamities. One could say the same about Wright's arresting book, birthed by a plague year but rich with peerless reportage and incisive critique.
Wright cuts through misinformation to present nearly every aspect of the year 2020, including the biological breakthroughs of vaccines, personal tragedies, and collective trauma. All is thoroughly discussed with empathy and compassion ... While there are already several other books about COVID-19 and its sociological impact on the United States, this wide-ranging yet deeply personal account is a great starting point. At times infuriating, unbelievable, heartbreaking, and even witty, Wright’s narrative is sorely needed.
... informative and insightful ... Wright is an extraordinary reporter, and though little in the book will be surprising for anyone who has closely followed the news, having it all recounted, chronologically and in one place (with an actual index!), will make the book indispensable as a coronavirus compendium. Very little escapes Wright's notice, and he is adept at placing the ongoing story in an enlightening context ... Beyond the contemporary chronology, the book helpfully places the pandemic within the long historical context of earlier plagues.
... generous in giving people credit for what they did achieve, even when their contribution were uneven ... Wright is particularly attentive to the disproportionate impact of the disease on people of color...His analyses of these disparities are sometimes insufficiently integrated with other elements of the text, which is frustrating as the object is to demonstrate the centrality of race to American society, but he does trace the historical foundations of differences in infection and mortality rates rather than just describing them. A more explicit discussion of class would have strengthened his argument but his emphasis on the fact that social and economic precarity substantially increased the risk from COVID-19 still demonstrates that the crisis required a political as well as a scientific response ... The speed of its composition sometimes shows in its structure and even its prose ... Despite being slightly uneven, the book is a valuable, readable early contribution to what will inevitably become a substantial body of work on the pandemic. Wright secured remarkable access to key figures in the scientific, medical, and political communities, and provides a compelling account of the complexities of COVID-19, the struggle to contain it, and the search for a vaccine. It is important to recognize the scientists, doctors, nurses, and other essential workers who did their jobs under dangerous conditions, and to expose those politicians and advisors who, from positions of relative safety, did not. The Plague Year is to be commended for both its compassion and its anger.
... dramatic, comprehensive ... Aside from his recurrent (and necessary) damning of Trump’s poor handling of the crisis, Wright manages to offer nuanced insights that place the entire period in context ... He does a fine job describing the workings of the nation’s public health system, its underfunding, and the strengths of Dr. Anthony Fauci and others who spoke from a scientific perspective ... In all, there is a surreal aspect to the calamities of the plague year, made all the more apparent when recalled in a rational, well-written narrative ... Many readers will wonder what future generations will make of this sad and epic account of failed national leadership during a health catastrophe. Nailed down by one of our finest writers, the story is almost unbelievable.
Grief and guilt, anger and blame, fear and death permeate these pages. But there are also countless examples of hope, sacrifice, and heroic feats. Wright’s interviews with experts in virology, economics, public health, history, politics, and medicine are enlightening ... By far the best book yet on COVID-19, Wright’s chronicle offers a brutal lesson on the devastation that results when a pandemic is met with a lack of planning, mixed messages, and inept leadership.
Particularly compelling is Wright’s straight-line connection of the Jan. 6 Capitol invasion and Trump’s failed attempt to maintain power to the destabilizing effects of the plague. Maddening and sobering—as comprehensive an account of the first year of the pandemic as we’ve yet seen.
... scattershot ... , 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.