The book is not a thing of stylistic beauty. The writing is clunky and there are weird, crunching gear changes from policy document to memoir. But we don’t remember Cassandra for her speaking voice, we remember her for her curse — she would know the future, and her warnings would be ignored. So with Bad News Mike, who wrote these words in the summer of 2016: “The world is living on borrowed time . . . Some time during the next president’s term, his or her national security team may be summoned to the Oval Office to discuss a catastrophic pandemic of historic proportions.” It happened: Troy is burning. But perhaps we can stop it from happening again.
Osterholm has produced a sharp, persuasive and urgent manifesto for how the world needs to think differently about natural threats, offering a blueprint for setting priorities and explaining why the infrastructure of global health needs reconfiguring. The World Health Organisation lacks accountability; instead, he argues, there should be an equivalent of Nato for health. By chance, in a nod to WHO’s apparent impotence during the pandemic, the UK parliament’s foreign affairs select committee last week advocated a “G20 for public health”.