The New Michael Lewis Book

“The Premonition: A Pandemic Story”:


Michael Lewis makes ordinary people stars. Like Billy Beane. And Michael Burry. And now Charity Dean.

The “New York Times” gave this book a positive review, the “Wall Street Journal” a negative one. The WSJ said been there, done that, it’s in the past, so why bother sifting through the ashes? Well, when you read “The Premonition” you can see why. America is broken. As Lewis says, Trump exacerbated the poor coronavirus response, but he shared responsibility with our institutions, like the CDC.

I always respected the CDC. I lost some admiration during the covid crisis, but after this book I’ve lost almost all of my faith. You see the CDC does not lead. Because if you do, and you make a mistake, your head gets chopped off. Actually, this is what happened, and as a result the head of the organization is now appointed by the president, so the titular head changes regularly, the CDC has become politicized, but it’s much worse than that.

What we’ve learned this century is we need government, not only for pandemics, but natural disasters and so much more. Something bad happens, and the same people who say we must lower taxes and shrink the government expect to be rescued and made whole by it. But so many holes have been punched in the government since Reagan that you must rescue yourself, if you can do so. As for Americans’ expectation to be made whole after every bad event…this is fallacious, not only in fact but spirit. No one can lose their job, no one can lose anything in today’s country, so very few sacrifice, they hold on to what they’ve got.

So Charity Dean decided to go into public service. After her medical residency she decided to become the chief health officer of Santa Barbara County as opposed to working in the private sector. Pay was lousy, but she could make a difference. She grew up in a sheltered religious environment in the Pacific Northwest and had been shaking off its restrictions ever since she went to college. You see they don’t want you to be educated, for fear you’ll learn and change your perspective. Hell, I thought my mother knew everything before I went to college, I soon learned that she did not, and she did not like this, and I come from a liberal, questioning background!

So Charity Dean throws over the arranged husband, proceeds in medicine, and then confronts a complacent medical landscape north of Los Angeles. And the truth is no one wants change, no one wants people to stand up to power, people want to be left alone to break the rules and injure others. Like the doctor who was not observing cleanliness procedures, turns out he was spreading hepatitis C, Dean shut him down. And after mudslides wiped out a ton of expensive homes in Montecito, she insisted on evacuating an old age home in a slide path. They’d survived the first round, but this time? If they evacuated the residents some people would die, if they didn’t they all might die. Turns out Dean insisted they evacuate and some people did die and the mudslides never hit. Whew, imagine the blowback! But the truth is to survive we need big thinkers willing to go against conventional wisdom.

Like Richard Hatchett and Carter Mecher who come up with the pandemic plan. They came up with the idea of closing schools, of social distancing. And the truth is it works, assuming you do it early enough. But when it came time to make that call, nobody in government wanted to do it. Actually, they reached down to Charity Dean, the state’s deputy public-health officer, to impose on the administration…that’s one of the reasons California shut down early, to send the message to other states that they should do so too. But, this was a secret organization, people were going behind the president’s back.


So what you learn is Charity Dean is an old school American, not one of the faux freedom ignoramuses, but one who is willing to stand up for truth, justice and the American Way. You remember that, don’t you? It’s mostly gone today, everybody is fearful of being kicked out of the tribe.

But the real lesson is how inefficient and unprepared government institutions are to deal with normal, expected experiences. And since our health care is private, hospitals are locked into lab contracts, so even if you want to provide testing for free, you can’t, despite the labs delivering results so long after the fact that they’re useless.

Meanwhile, science is key, not religion. It’s the genome that allowed the virus to be tracked. Then the government wouldn’t cough up enough money to run the test on all people, allowing the virus to spread willy-nilly, with no one really knowing where it was going.

It’s scary.

But there are these unknown geniuses who make all the difference, who have been unsung before Michael Lewis writes about them in this book. Like the aforementioned Carter Mecher. His specialty is pulling the lens so far back that he can see the entire picture and draw conclusions. Sure, he’s an MD, but it’s his intellect that makes all the difference. You can’t study to be this in a rigorous business school education, you must be a freethinker, willing to tinker with accepted facts that turn out not to be. And it also turns out that when you deliver, people start looking for you and ultimately depending upon you. And Carter wants no attention, no fame, he’s the opposite of today’s influencer culture, he just wants the job done.

Then there’s the scientist who comes up with a way to model the spread of viruses who no one will listen to. You see if you’re an outsider, you’re literally shut out. He ultimately cracks the code via a personal relationship, knowing someone who knows someone…but most people would not have persisted this long. Furthermore, when the right people ultimately see his work they think it’s genius and immediately track him down. Yes, those in charge can recognize genius, assuming you can reach them, and oftentimes these people are inundated with input and you can’t, or systems have to be followed. You see the government systems here, the chain of command and…

Charity Dean gets passed over to be the chief health officer in California, instead they put in a…minority person. Who’s got no clue re the pandemic and is most interested in making no waves and keeping her job, she thwarts Dean at every turn, until she is ultimately exposed and resigns. This is a very thorny issue. Yes, we want to expand opportunity for minorities, but at what cost? Do we install the best people or do we do the math and pick from column A or B because…

And so many people in this book work for free. In a world where almost no one will work for free. Where everybody’s complaining they’re not getting paid enough to begin with, that they’re being screwed by the system. But doctors will put themselves at covid risk to try and bridge the gap of testing, working nearly around the clock as volunteers. Never mind research delivering all this expertise so the wheels of progress can turn. You denigrate the elites at your peril.


So Michael Lewis has a writing style. Most people do not. It’s just the facts ma’am, and the result is boring and unreadable. Lewis tries to personalize the story, go so deep that you can relate. However, just like with “Flash Boys,” ultimately you have to go into detail about the science, and many people will be lost. In truth they can skip over these sections and get the gist, but the information is still there for those who want to take the time to comprehend it. In truth, nearly everything worth your time is difficult. But they keep telling us to make it bite-sized, dumb it down so everyone can understand it.

So should you read “The Premonition”?

Well, if you’re a Michael Lewis fan, definitely.

If you’re not?

Well, if you want to know what really happened over the last year and a half, how we got to here, this is the best book I’ve read about the coronavirus experience. But be forewarned, you’ll also find some stuff that will make your hair stand on end. Like the federal government surreptitiously flying illegal immigrants from Texas to Southern California and dumping them on the streets, because California had enough infrastructure to take care of them. It’s kind of like the recent report about the bugging of “Washington Post” reporters’ phones…this is much worse than Watergate, our democracy hung in the balance and it still does.

But “The Premonition” is not a political book. It’s really about a bunch of people not hobbled by political affiliation who are alert and trying to solve problems, in a world where most don’t want to know, refuse to accept responsibility but are quick to blame.

“The Premonition” is not long, but it’s not always easy, but you’ll feel smart after you read it, and you’ll also be inspired… The truth is oftentimes the crowd is wrong, generally accepted wisdom is not, and it’s those who refuse to cower, who are willing to go against the grain, who ultimately blow the whistle on falsehood, who get things done. And if Michael Lewis doesn’t write about them, chances are you’ll never hear of them, but thank god there are still those out there who insist on doing the right thing.


There are some lines in the book that impacted me so much that I highlighted them on my Kindle, I want to include some of them below.

“‘You can’t write a strategy by committee.'”

This was Apple’s superpower under Steve Jobs, they didn’t just throw more engineers after the problem, they just threw the right ones. This is another reason popular music is in the doldrums, it’s an assembly line churning out replicas of what came before when the truth is change comes from a limited number of individuals, maybe even one, who are willing to go against the grain.

“‘Experience is making the same mistake over and over again, only with greater confidence.”

Just because someone has been there and done that that does not mean they’re not wrong. This is the essence of disruption. Why wouldn’t people want to buy a fifteen dollar CD with just one good song on it? You have to keep your outlook open, you must change or be left behind.

“Because what do you do when you run out of options? You panic. Having something in front of you, a map, a plan, a list of treatments, even if it isn’t completely right, is better than nothing.'”

“‘We are reactive and tend to only intervene when things are getting bad,’ wrote Carter. ‘And what we underestimate is the speed that what’s bad moves.'”

When you can see it, it’s already too late.

“Why doesn’t the United States have the institutions it needs to save itself?”

“Instead of changing her mind about her ambition, she guarded it. ‘I learned to hold that card close, because no one believed it,’ she said.”

And Bob Dylan said this too. Oftentimes it’s the introverts, those outside the mainstream, who are castigated when they get attention, who change the world. If they told everybody their dreams they would be laughed out of the room and never taken seriously again. You’ve got to believe. Then again, too many believe they’re the savior when they’re not.

“‘There will be no standing ovation when you are proven right.”

And no one likes an “I told you so.” But the truth is society corrects itself and moves on, the past is in the rearview mirror and even if you blew the whistle, even changed the course of history, you probably won’t be remembered, never mind get accolades. So, you’ve got to do what you do because it’s RIGHT! Wow, what a concept.

“Even before she’d quit her job she’d had that odd thought, that the country didn’t have the institutions that it needed to survive.”

This is the essence of the book. Our belief in our nation, its government…you’ll question them when you finish “The Premonition.” But people just want things to roll on like they have been, without intervention, without any fixes, without any money. Turns out bureaucracy saves America. Sure, it lumbers, but it is necessary. But too many think we should throw the baby out with the bathwater. The truth is we need investment in procedures and enforcement of the rules and never have those been wavering more than today.

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