The End of October, Lawrence Wright 2020
So imagine a story in which a deadly flu virus appears in gay men in Indonesia, travels to Saudi Arabia via a taxi driver making a pilgrimage to Mecca, and then spreads around the world as 3 million Muslims return from Mecca to their home countries. Imagine a situation where there is inadequate planning for a pandemic, where the government leaders ignore scientific advice and spew optimistic lies, where cities like Philadelphia and Atlanta are ravaged to the point where police and fire fighters disappear and lawlessness breaks out. This would have seemed like science fiction four months ago, but Wright eerily predicted the COVID 19 pandemic months before it became the reality we are living today. Given that his Pulitzer Prize winning writing has been primarily in non-fiction, this book is scrupulously researched and surprisingly informative, even while the reader is swept along with page turning velocity. Some of Wright’s fictional elements are a bit of a stretch, e.g. there just happens to be a U.S. submarine in Bahrain heading for a base near Atlanta which is where, Henry Parsons, the physican-virologist-epidemiogist hero is trying to get to after surviving the pandemic in Mecca and being the target of a suicide bomber in Riyadh), but I was so caught up in the story that I willingly accepted these. While the pandemic predictions of world wide upheaval have become frighteningly true to date, one can only hope that Wright’s additional plot elements of an Iran/Saudi Arabia war that draws Russia and the US into a confrontation that ends up with biowar that threatens to destroy humanity are not similarly on target. The book ends with Henry standing in a dry-suit on Revolution Island near the North Pole surrounded by dead polar bears, a frozen wooly mammoth, and a US Navy Seal team. Don’t ask, just read this entertaining and discomfiting book.