Government Failures During Coronavirus Pandemic Were Even Worse Than Mainstream Media Types Feel Safe Saying:  Book Review of The Big Fail

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The Big Fail:  What the Pandemic Revealed About Who America Protects and Who It Leaves Behind
by Joseph Nocera and Bethany Lee McLean

Penguin Random House
448 pages
October 2023


This book describes the business aspects of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the problems that resulted in multiple failures, both in the states and worldwide. The authors are working journalists with extensive experience covering business who previously collaborated on an important dissection of the 2008 financial crisis. Both are well-connected with legacy media; Nocera has been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

The Big Fail documents the underlying problems that seemed to compound during attempts to manage the pandemic as it spread around the world, including shortages of masks and related personal protective equipment, accompanied by shady dealings. The book exposes various schemes, such as taking already-used masks in Vietnam, repackaging them, and sending them to New York City for re-sale to unsuspecting buyers.

It also describes the inept response from government officials at the local, regional, and national levels, including ineffective and even harmful lockdowns, vaccine mandates, and restrictions on travel. The authors outline not only the negative impact on supply chains, but also how people of certain demographic groups were disproportionately affected. 

Much of the book focuses on financial issues, such as investment in pharmaceutical companies and patents related to the development of vaccines. The authors also examine the financial viability of hospitals and nursing homes, including the inability to retain sufficient staffing, sometimes accompanied by fraudulent activity that made matters worse. The writers argue that disadvantaged neighborhoods consistently received the lowest standard of care throughout the crisis.

The authors draw compelling conclusions from well-presented data about widespread failures by elected and appointed government officials. Yet a careful reading of this book reveals some problematic assumptions. For example, the writers unquestioningly assume that the unproven Covid-19 vaccines developed under emergency use authorization are safe and effective; in reality, much evidence points to the contrary. Unfortunately, this evidence is typically reported only by non-mainstream-media sources, while legacy media continue to push the unproven and now implausible claims that the vaccines did what they were supposed to do and caused no undue harm.

The book also isn’t laid out as well as it might be. While the authors offer more than 400 pages of information covering activities, articles, speeches, and videos, among other things, the book has essentially no supplemental evidence presented in footnotes or an index. Therefore, the reader must on some matters take the author’s attestations on faith. Thus, despite the otherwise clearly-conveyed thesis — especially the well-presented examples of financial concerns overriding people’s needs — the onus is placed on the reader to locate missing critical information, such as data about potentially harmful side-effects of the experimental vaccines, which the book hardly deals with.

To be fair, the book focuses on business failures in the pandemic, not medical failures. But they’re so closely connected, it’s hard to talk about one without mentioning the other.

Rather than seeking the “whole truth and nothing but the truth” about the Covid-19 pandemic, the authors offer only their comfortable mainstream media view of what’s important about the crisis, which leaves out even deeper failures in the system that preceded the virus outbreak of 2020.

To compensate for what’s missing or misunderstood in The Big Fail, the reader may want to check out alternative views offered on the web site Berean Watch.


Richard Mann is a graduate of Eastern Nazarene College in Quincy, Massachusetts. He earned a PhD in Chemistry at Princeton University, and after a post-doctorate at the University of Maryland, taught Chemistry at Boston University.  He left to join a start-up consulting firm, working with the Defense Intelligence Agency, and then expanding to provide computerized tools to support school bus routing and scheduling, as well as redistricting for racial balance. He later developed software for business applications.  In retirement, he has participated in lobbying and blogging for pro-family issues, and against governmental and business overreach in issues related to climate, medicine, and “wokeism.”


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