DANIEL VAUGHAN: It’s too early for any book to have the slightest clue about the pandemic

For the last few months, if you walked down the aisle of recent releases or scrolled through the list of new non-fiction books, you’d see there’s been an uptick in the number of books about the COVID-19 pandemic. They hit on lessons learned and the big takeaways you need to have as a reader.

Is it just me, or does this seem wildly inappropriate and far too soon?

Andrew Cuomo released his victory lap book at the end of the summer of 2020 — before vaccines, before the elections, and before the winter surge, which made the spring and summer surges look like picnics. His victory lap was the height of arrogance. But even though vaccinations have spread out across the country and now the globe, it’s still too early for journalists, scientists, or any public official to take a victory lap.

What do we know about the pandemic? And I mean aside from the fact that there were catastrophic lies and cover-ups in China and a miraculous turnaround brought about by the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed.

The ironic thing about those two points is that all the experts predicted one thing about those stories, and then the exact opposite turned out to be true. China lied, people died. And the experts said it would take years to get vaccines, and we did it in 10 months.

Perhaps the most premature of these books wasn’t by Cuomo, but by Dr. Anthony Fauci, who was set to release a book titled, Expect the Unexpected: Ten Lessons on Truth, Service and the Way Forward.

Notice of the book’s release went public, and then a few days later, it was announced through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests that BuzzFeed News and The Washington Post had obtained copies of several thousand of Fauci’s emails regarding the pandemic.

Those emails don’t paint Fauci in an honest light, and within hours, his upcoming book was scrubbed from pre-order availability across bookstore websites across the world. That prompted GOP Sen. Rand Paul to quip, “Oh, I don’t know. I think they should publish it. I love science fiction.”

Paul and Fauci have sparred several times in Senate hearings. It appears from emails that Paul’s accusations have far more merit than the press has indicated thus far. That includes controversial issues like masks.

But of course, the real issue here is that the Fauci emails underscore how little we know about the pandemic that has finally abated. We don’t know the true origin story. We still don’t have strong scientific evidence on what policies did and didn’t work. We don’t know what else will come to light when more government officials release their emails. Writing a book about lessons when all the main highlights still have significant question marks is an exercise in futility.

These points are also a case for Congress to step in and do a full 9/11-style investigation. They interview everyone, subpoena all the records, and get to the bottom of everything. That’s the uncomfortable part about all this. It’s going to take legal powers and subpoenas to get truthful confessions out of everyone. We’re still in the stage of not knowing what we don’t know.

And to top off everything else, there’s just the fact that I don’t personally want to relive a second of 2020 right now. I’d rather go off and enjoy life again, going to summer baseball games, eating out at restaurants, and thinking masks are just weird to see in America. There’s a sense with some of these books that some people enjoyed the quarantine periods because it reaffirmed their personal psychosis, and now they’re terrified of giving that up.

These points are all a long way of saying that any book release on the pandemic is too early. We don’t know what we don’t know, and book authors do not have access to the government emails, records, and more that will fill out the picture of the year of the pandemic. There are so many variables flying around 2020, from the pandemic to race riots to an election, that disentangling causes and effects will take decades, not years.

Albert Einstein is attributed with saying, “Any fool can know. The point is to understand.”

That sums up what a book could tell us about the pandemic. Any current author starts their process several months ago, if not a year ago. They can only tell us what we know, but we’re years away from understanding.

After watching our political leaders react to the pandemic for more than a year, it’s clear they were dealing with the same problem. They were designing solutions for a problem they knew but rarely understood.

If you’re going to write a book on the pandemic, you should endeavor to answer that point: What do we need to understand about the COVID-19 pandemic? And how does that understanding differ from what we know about the pandemic? Because the safest bet to make on all this is that what we think we know is wrong, and taking that issue apart will involve some political golden calves that appeared in 2020.