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Apollo's Arrow: The Profound and Enduring Impact of Coronavirus on the Way We Live Kindle Edition
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About the Author
Nicholas A. Christakis is a physician and sociologist who explores the ancient origins and modern implications of human nature. He directs the Human Nature Lab at Yale University, where he is the Sterling Professor of Social and Natural Science. He is the co-director of the Yale Institute for Network Science and the co-author of Connected.--This text refers to an alternate kindle_edition edition.
"Nicholas Christakis is a pioneer."-- "Steven Pinker, New York Times bestselling author, on Blueprint" --This text refers to an alternate kindle_edition edition.
- ASIN : B0894J4K93
- Publisher : Little, Brown Spark; 1st edition (October 27, 2020)
- Publication date : October 27, 2020
- Language : English
- File size : 7411 KB
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Enabled
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print length : 345 pages
- Lending : Not Enabled
- Best Sellers Rank: #12,689 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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The author, Nicholas A. Christakis is a medical doctor and a Professor of Social and Natural Science at Yale. He writes lucidly, providing a clear exposition of the state of the pandemic in America by the end of the summer of 2020. He summarizes the major historical pandemics, commencing with the oldest epic in Western Civilization, the “Iliad,” from which he derives his title. Many of the Greek troops that were besieging Troy were struck down by the plague (though it may not have been the bubonic one). Homer used the literary device that they were struck down by “Apollo’s arrows.” Christakis provided me some new information: for example, the “Spanish flu” of 1918-19 might have originated in Kansas! He also provided new ways of thinking about the pandemic: it has a both a medical and sociological component. And he devoted an entire chapter as to how this pandemic might END, which is a rarity among other books and certainly the daily media, with its focus on, well, the daily numbers. My key indicator of an important book are the number of passages that I have marked (or, as is the case with this work, which was read on my Kindle, highlighted). I have highlighted portions on most pages.
Christakis says that up to a million Americans would have died by late summer, 2020, if no action had been taken. He acknowledges that COVID-19 is still very much a “moving target,” with much unknown, and outcomes changing based on our actions. Chapter One is a description of how the disease arose in China as well as America’s initial blunders in dealing with it when it came to our shores: “Americans had put on blindfolds when they should have put on masks. The lack of testing was a huge blunder…” (Note: we are still struggling with terminology conventions: most of the time he refers to the disease of COVID-19 as deriving from the virus, SARS-2, with “1” having been the almost non-contagious one of 2003-4 that had to be obtained directly from the animal and not another human). He tells the story how it was Edward Lorenz, in 1972, who posited the “chaos theory,” whereby small changes in initial parameters greatly change the outcomes, and is often described as a butterfly’s wings beating in China causing a tornado in Kansas, an apt metaphor for this pandemic.
As the epigraph for several chapters he quotes from that venerable pied noir, Albert Camus, specifically from his 1947 novel, “La Peste,” (the Plague), which struck the town of Oran in French Algeria in 1849. Camus wrote the novel during the Second World War in Le Mazet Saint Voy, a very small village high in the Auvergne. In Chapter Two the author describes other historical pandemics and how each is different in its own way, commencing with the recent SARS-1, then on to the “Spanish” flu of 1918-19 and various other more minor ones, such as the influenza of 1957, as well as the true “mother” of all pandemics, commonly referred to as the Black Death, of 1347-48, that killed up to half the population of Europe, and requiring a century until the demographics were restored.
This work is “meaty,” with a lot of solid information. He discusses in detail the various non-pharmaceutical interventions, such as the wearing of masks, as well as the pharmaceutical ones, such as the development of antibiotics and vaccines. Vaccines can be created in several different ways. For all the focus in the media about how a vaccine will be our salvation, Christakis states that it will not matter much. Eventually, by 2022, there should be “herd immunity” in America and by 2024 (gulp!) we will be in the post-pandemic period.
I appreciated the fact that he frankly gave the CDC a grade of “F” for the test kit fiasco. Further, he quotes some of the health care charlatans about the availability of PPEs and how the pandemic will be no big deal. His own assessment: “The lack of scientific literacy, capacity for nuance and honest leadership hurt us.”
One way that pandemics end is that the virulence of the virus attenuates. Of interest was his description of the influenza that struck St. Petersburg (Russia) in 1890, and moved on to London and Europe, killing many, which may be the origin of what we call the “common cold.” It should also be noted that he does succinctly cover our OTHER current pandemic: HIV/AIDS.
Actions still not being taken? Christakis says that virtually nothing is being done on educating the general public on public health matters. I fully agree.
I felt that he was weak only when he strayed into the economic ramifications of the pandemic and wish he had been as blunt as to why the stock market is at record highs as to his assignment of an “F” on test kits. Yes, the lack on honest leadership has hurt us.
Overall, an excellent and informative read. 5-stars, plus.
Achieving this nuanced perspective is not easy, however, considering the amount of misinformation, disinformation, and superficial black-and-white thinking circulating the web. That’s why it’s beneficial to be able to get the full picture on the pandemic from a source that is actually qualified to discuss it.
In Apollo’s Arrow, Nicholas Christaskis, a physician and sociologist from Yale University that has been tracking the virus from the beginning, covers the pandemic from all angles, including the epidemiological characteristics of the virus, the history of pandemics, mitigation and treatment options, psychological impact and reactions (both positive and negative), sources of misinformation, political negligence and mishandling, the development of treatments and vaccines, and possible outcomes over the next few years.
Christakis is uniquely qualified to write this book; as a physician and sociologist, he is able to explain both the epidemiological characteristics of the virus (including containment and treatment protocols) as well as the psychological and social aspects of our various responses to the virus. While the pandemic has undoubtedly deepened political polarization and summoned our inner demons, it has also brought out our better angels as demonstrated through countless acts of altruism and charity.
The COVID-19 pandemic is therefore complex both biologically and socially; not only are we learning about this new virus on the fly, we are simultaneously dealing with its psychological, social, and economic ramifications, forcing us to confront difficult tradeoffs and ambiguities on a daily basis, which Christakis effectively communicates in a deep yet clearly written way.
You will learn, for example, that while the virus is not as deadly as we first assumed, it is significantly deadlier than the seasonal flu, in terms of its higher rates of mortality and community transmission and its more dangerous physiological effects on the respiratory system, captured in the greater number of deaths, in absolute terms, compared to the flu (30,000–60,000 flu-related deaths per year in the US versus 243,000 COVID-19 deaths as of 11/13/2020).
COVID-19 has proven difficult to contain because, in addition to its high rate of transmission, infected individuals can transmit COVID-19 asymptomatically (unlike SARS). This makes contact tracing nearly impossible and makes quarantining the infected far less effective (they’ve already spread the disease in an asymptomatic state). This is why non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) such as mask wearing, social distancing, and prohibiting large gatherings are necessary to slow the spread of the virus. (Christakis notes how mask wearing has been politicized, but, epidemiologically speaking, is a very uncontroversial and effective method of reducing community transmission rates.)
The reader may wonder what the point of reducing the transmission rate (“flattening the curve”) is if the virus will not stop spreading until we hit herd immunity, which occurs when a high enough percentage of the community is immune to the virus, making the spread of COVID-19 from person to person unlikely. As Christakis explains, adopting measures to flatten the curve prevents unnecessary or excess deaths by (1) preventing a large number of deaths from occurring over a short period of time and thus avoiding overwhelming our healthcare system, (2) buying time so that vaccines or better treatment options can be developed, and (3) allowing time for the virus to potentially mutate into a less lethal form. All three factors can potentially lower the total number of deaths.
An effective and safe vaccine is our best bet because it allows us to achieve herd immunity without hundreds of thousands of excess deaths, although, as Christakis points out, there is no guarantee that a vaccine will become available anytime soon, as the fastest vaccine to ever be developed was the mumps vaccine—and that took four years (although some promising vaccines are currently in trials).
There is of course the question of whether or not closing down the economy is worth the lives it will save, but the evidence seems to suggest that even if a country chooses to remain open, as Sweden did, the economy will still suffer as people refuse to go out—leaving you with a depressed economy AND a higher death count. Even Sweden—the only Nordic country not to implement widespread lockdown—has since reversed its course after experiencing higher infection rates and deaths, as Christakis points out.
The reader of course can decide for themselves how to evaluate the tradeoffs, and must confront difficult questions such as whether or not a mass lockdown is justified, whether a vaccine will actually become available in time, how much personal risk they are willing to bear, and how their own personal and political biases might be affecting their own judgment. But if you take anything away from the book, it should be (1) the pandemic is complex and these are not easy questions, (2) trust the science and credible sources and argue with facts, not conspiracy theories, and (3) our ability to bind together to fight the virus as a common enemy—and stop fighting each other—is the key to keeping the virus in check and preventing excess deaths (by following long established NPIs, not as a political badge of honor, but as scientifically-grounded measures of containment).
Top reviews from other countries
I was also interested and intrigued by how the virus will shape our generation and future and how really this is normal and happens regularly. A good book, lots to skim yet nuggets of knowledge.