World War C: Lessons from the Covid-19 Pandemic and How to Prepare for the Next One

  • By Sanjay Gupta, M.D.
  • Simon & Schuster
  • 304 pp.

A valuable primer on what we’ve been through and what may be to come.

Sanjay Gupta’s latest book, World War C: Lessons from the Covid-19 Pandemic and How to Prepare for the Next One, is powerful, highly informative, and presents an eye-opening and heartbreaking account of the pandemic and what can happen when we are “caught off guard” or choose not to acknowledge the obvious. It is a plea both to regard the lessons of the past and to prep for inevitable future outbreaks.

As the author explains, the urge to ignore what’s right in front of our eyes didn’t start when a certain novel virus landed on America’s shores in 2020:

“When faced with the unknown, we like to turn away and unsee whatever makes us uncomfortable and afraid. Pandemic denialism is hardly new. In A Journal of the Plague Year, Daniel Defoe wrote that in 1665, municipal authorities in London initially refused to accept that anything unusual was happening, then tried to shield information from the public, until the spike in deaths made it impossible to deny…”

Gupta provides a unique perspective as he takes us inside the world of public health, shares poignant stories, and answers our numerous questions. He also offers valuable context by delving into the properties of viruses and vaccines. (Although this is perhaps more appealing to a medical audience, I believe it will interest lay readers, too.) Throughout, we are reminded of how the pandemic revealed — but did not create — longstanding societal problems and how it has presented opportunities to make improvements in our lives and to demonstrate our basic humanity.  

The author emphasizes the importance of finding accurate sources of information so that we can become better prepared, both on a local and national level, for the next crisis. Further, Gupta asserts, because a pandemic is a global issue, we must learn to work more effectively with other countries to combat future threats.

World War C highlights the need for transparency and clear, honest communication from trusted leaders, the latter of which Gupta himself has become — at least to regular viewers of CNN — during the covid-19 pandemic. He writes with urgency and compassion, drawing on his own vast experience as a medical journalist and renowned neurosurgeon. Readers will benefit much from the relevant scientific information and distinctive insights shared by this trustworthy source.

Although the book’s subject matter is solemn and tells a tragic story, there is nonetheless a ring of optimism in these pages. In terms of advances in science and technology, including high-speed vaccine development, we’ve come a long way since the 1918 influenza pandemic. We’ve learned at least some of history’s lessons and now have a far better understanding of the vital roles played by scientists and public-health teams in mitigating medical disasters.

Hopefully, we will heed these lessons, turn to legitimate sources of information, and reflect on the changes needed to do better in the future. Sanjay Gupta’s World War C reminds us that we cannot be complacent and has provided practical tools to help us adapt to a new normal, cope with our losses, and thrive as we go forward.

Tania Heller, M.D., is an independent medical school admissions consultant and the author of six books, including On Becoming a Doctor (Sourcebooks), You and Your Doctor (McFarland), Eating Disorders: A Handbook for Teens, Families and Teachers (McFarland), and Overweight (McFarland). She is a regular speaker at leadership events.

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