Whether these charges are too sweeping or simplistic is difficult to say. In Lewis’s book, we don’t get the perspective of any neutral observers. We hear only rarely from anyone within the CDC, and usually only to disparage it. On the other hand, we get a corroborating account of the system’s failures from another main character, a California public health official named Charity Dean. By the time Lewis starts telling readers about the potential spread of a novel coronavirus in China, Dean is already convinced that her state is imperiled and that the CDC — “they do mental masturbation,” she says, and “talk in circles for an hour and reach no decision” — will not be any help at all. After a series of serendipitous events, she teams up with Mecher, who is no longer working in Washington but is now part of a loosely affiliated group of medical professionals (Wolverines, they call themselves) who are observing the federal government’s inept response to the crisis. Dean — smart, fierce and decisive, another perfect cast member for a Lewis narrative — is welcomed to the group’s conference calls and email chains, which focus on influencing policymakers. By Lewis’s account, this collaboration ultimately helps Dean persuade Gov. Gavin Newsom to shut down California, before any other state, to stop the spread of the virus. In a year of resounding failures, it constitutes a meaningful and measurable success.