Niall Ferguson

Doom: The Politics of Catastrophe

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Disasters are hard to predict. Pandemics are not normally distributed; there is no cycle of history to help us anticipate the next catastrophe. But when disaster strikes we ought to be better prepared than medieval peoples when the Black Death struck. We have science on our side, after all. Yet the responses of a number of devloped countries to a new pathogen from China were badly bungled. Why?

The facile answer is to blame poor leadership. But more profund problems have been exposed by COVID-19. Only when we understand the central challenge posed by disaster in history can we see that this was also a failure of an administrative state and of economic elites that had grown myopic over much longer than just a few years. Why did only some countries learn the right lessons from SARS and MERS? Why do appeals to 'the science' often turn out to be mere magical thinking?

Drawing from multiple disciplines, including history, economics and network science, this book by Niall Ferguson is a global post mortem for a plague year. Niall Ferguson describes the pathologies that have done us so much damage: from imperial hubris to bureaucratic sclerosis and online schism. COVID-19 was a test failed by countries who must learn some serious lessons from history if they are to avoid the doom of irreversible decline.

Softcover.

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