Archives for category: Management

Does anyone care about reviews anymore?

Well – yes we should, however, even amongst those of us who care about reviews, we quite possibly care a bit less.

Why?

As the always insightful Mike Blumenthal says in this article about the fall in user and review growth on Yelp and this article on the fall in reviews on Google Local, things are not looking great for the review space. It cannot all be blamed on COVID-19. The trends of reduced new user numbers and a significant slowing in the rate of new reviews was well in place before the pandemic.

So, what is going on?

I believe what we are seeing is what I have dubbed “The Karen Effect.” The origins of the term “Karen,” meaning in rough terms a middle-aged white woman demanding to speak to the manager, being overly officious / unreasonable, or just being downright racist, is not exactly known. However, the term Karen exploded in usage during 2020 at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and the summer of the Black Lives Matter protests after the killing of George Floyd. Karen today could mean anyone, of any gender, losing their temper over or generally overreacting to a perceived wrong.  

This rise in petty unreasonableness and overly bad behavior, towards those working in service industries or retail, during the pandemic has in turn given rise to another phenomenon: the sharing of this behavior online. I wrote about my fears about clients trying to leverage live streams and social platforms in an aggressive manner in this 2016 post. While this weaponizing of the documenting of interactions with a business has been successfully attempted, it has also backfired.

The first time I became aware of the potential for this tide to turn was after seeing this 2014 viral video:

This is an all too familiar scene that could have happened yesterday rather than eight years ago. A customer, believing they have been wronged, exacting their revenge on social media and in doing so exposes their own failings and unreasonableness. It also highlights the extremes to which employees will go to try and address customer complaints and keep their cool while doing so.

This is the Karren Effect.

What does this have to do with reviews?

Videos of front-line employees being polite, following their business’s policies, and trying to help a customer are not great social capital. In fact, they are boring. Watching a customer “lose their sh*t” over a perceived wrong is great social capital and in turn adds a measure of retribution for someone being punished for bad behavior. This, of course, is not always the case. Some businesses screw up, act badly, and can be badly represented by employees. But since the rise of the Karen, and the flooding of social media showing just how bad things can be, would you trust a stranger’s opinions about a business? Particularly a negative opinion? The embrace of video on social media, and everyone having a high definition video camera in their pocket, or more likely in their hand, has meant that good content can be generated from bad behavior – although generally not for the person behaving badly.

Likewise, influencer marketing and the dubious reputation that it has in many circles has also not helped the review space. While many social media influencers go to great lengths to inform their followers as to when posts are a paid promotion and thereby stay on the right side of the law, others do not and also try to leverage their “influence” into free products and services.

Influencers who try to abuse their Influence has also fallen foul of “The Karen Effect.” Most social media users have little tolerance for influencers those who abuse their power – a power given to the influencer by those same social media users – and businesses despise them. This leads us back to reviews. If influencers, who by definition are known to their audience, are not be trusted with their opinions due to undisclosed commercial relationships, how can review platform users trust complete strangers – regardless of whether the review is good or bad?

The Karen Effect is the loss of trust in the opinions of strangers.

One can hope that the Karen Effect leads to a resurgence of the Better Business Bureau (BBB) or gives rise to another organization of a similar ilk. I have always bemoaned that most of the complaints about Yelp and Google Local were effectively dealt with by the BBB and that it was businesses, by not supporting them, that led to their diminished standing today and the rise of Yelp and Google Local.

It seems that people are looking for someone to trust online. They are finding other users online lacking. It will be interesting to see what fills the void.

For all the time that I have been managing veterinary hospitals I have also had oversight responsibility for the computers and technological systems (I.T.) employed at those hospitals. Coming from a technical background in the entertainment lighting world, this just seemed to be a natural extension of my existing skill sets – the things that make me good (hopefully) at what I do.

One of the things that I have always been passionate about is data security. I’ve written articles and had them published on the subject. I made sure my hospitals had proper backup procedures, good anti-virus protection, updates ran regularly, and great firewalls.  I’d always felt that there is always an element of carelessness, or lack of understanding of the risks, when hearing about those that have fallen foul of hardware failures or ransomware. Nothing in my years of experience did anything to dissuade me from this impression.

Until one of my hospitals was hacked.

The story starts first thing on a Sunday morning when I get a call from the office manager on site saying that they are unable to get their practice management software up and running. I try logging in remotely and get nowhere so I make the five-minute drive to take a look. What meets me on the screen of the server is a message that runs my blood cold and leads to feeling of despair sinking into my stomach.

“Your System has been hacked. All of your data has been encrypted. To release your, data payment must be made via Bitcoin….”

We have backups, we have a replication server, we’ll be fine.

We were not.

The ransomware attack had been possible due to one the connections that we used to allow doctors to write up their medical records from home. In addition, there had been an old user with administrator rights that had somehow been overlooked and led to the hacker being able to access the server. The height of irony was that we were in the process of moving over to a more secure system to allow remote access when this attack took place. If we had been a couple of weeks further along this attack would not have been possible as it unfolded.

Our server was encrypted, our replication server was encrypted, our daily incremental backup drive was encrypted, our weekly full backup drive was encrypted, and several workstations were also encrypted. We had no internet, no practice management software, and so no access to medical records, schedule, email, or files.

Paying was not an option on general principles.

Our last hope was offsite cloud backup.

This backup had been fully protected and within 24 hours we were able to have remote access to this so we could access schedule and records.

We tried for three days to download the massive database onto a drive to allow us to restore the server. After three days of failure, in part cause by file size, an inopportune Windows automatic update, and network / computer stability issues, our cloud backup vendor arranged for a physical drive to be sent to us. Once the drive arrived (at 8PM at night several days later) the instructions were unclear as to how to access what had been sent to us and the cloud backup provider did not have anyone on staff late at night who knew how the drive had been prepared. We finally restored functionality to most of the hospital on the seventh day after the attack.

Lessons learned

Our I.T. vendor had, for the most part, been great. They understood the position we were in and I, in turn, protected them from the owners and staff who were rightly upset and frustrated. I had several moments of frustration myself , particularly when it came to getting a physical drive from the cloud backup vendor which turned into a comedy of errors. But both sides were able to work on the problem and maintain a professional atmosphere. We’ve had a long relationship with our I.T. support vendor and they have been very good to us in turn. They understood our need to go with other suppliers for things such as phone systems and servers but were still being prepared to help support those items and the overall health of our networks. Without that long term relationship, and atmosphere of mutual trust, things could have been very difficult indeed.

We used our barely functioning network to try and download a huge amount of data. We should have done this offsite, at one of our other locations. We should have also immediately requested a physical drive to be sent to us. I offered multiple times to get on plane and courier the drive personally, however, this was turned down but did add to the pressure on the cloud backup company to get their act together.

Try to be calm. After all was said the done the total loss of business for the week that we were unable to either take care of that week or squeeze into the following week was estimated at 4% – well within the normal variation from week to week. Not even close to the amount to bother our insurance company with. Clients will understand. Deal with what you can, improvise, and communicate as much as possible with everyone.

The major lesson that I learned, however, was one of humility. Anything can he hacked. All it takes is time and a willingness to spend that time. There was, in the heat of the moment, a number of times when the blame game reared its head. I made the decision to not allow that from anyone, feeling that if there was any blame it was the wrong time to even talk about it. What I ultimately realized that what is important was not in preventing a hack, but our resilience if the face of that attack. It is not a matter of if, but when. We lost no data – I consider that a great victory. We lost little to no business – I also consider that a victory. We also came out the other side of the ransomware attack with a much stronger awareness and agreement on the importance of cyber security.

Humility is not an excuse, or a reason to not try everything possible to prevent issues. But it helps with the realization that all systems are vulnerable. That the very things that make I.T. systems so great and useful, are also the things that can lead to vulnerabilities.

Humility is directly related to resilience. When bad things happen what is important is that we can recover from them as quickly and easily as possible- not to pretend that there are no bad things or that we are immune to them.

I rarely write book reviews about books I don’t like.

I don’t believe I’ve ever written about a book I despise.

I have never read a more immoral and unethical book than Robert Greene’s “The 48 Laws of Power.” It does not have a luxury of the possible satirical nature of Machiavelli’s “The Prince;” a book that Mr. Greene quotes extensively. It also has no excuse of being from a different age given its original publication date of 1998.

The 48 Laws of Power is a book that argues that we all should lie, cheat, and steal to get what we want and hold on to what we have. It argues that customers and colleagues are marks to be taken advantage of. Friends are to be feared and loyalty is valueless; other than as something to exploit. The book seems to be saying that everyone is out for themselves, and so to do anything other than to be looking out for one’s self makes you a fool.

This outlook, of course, flies in the face of pretty much all current management theory and treats all interactions as a zero-sum game: there must be a winner and a loser in everything. It ignores the work of mathematician John Nash Jr. and the prisoner’s dilemma. In fact, it is interesting that the book does not mention the prisoner’s dilemma and the bias that groups have towards cooperation.

The book is filled with historical examples and examples from myth. However, these examples are cherry picked and contain little historical context and no moral framework. An advisor keeps quiet about their fears of following Napoleon into war, because they ultimately feel they will fail and therefore cause their own downfall – never mind all the people who died at the battle of Waterloo, so long as the advisor keeps their “power.” The book fundamentally misinterprets the failures of the Treaty of Versailles, and by way of repudiation, the success of the Marshall Plan.  It claims Claudius pretended to be a fool to seize power, rather than someone who by happenstance became emperor and, by being highly educated, a highly effective administrator.

This book endorses the worst fears about politicians and managers that are held by those who elect them or follow them. A reading of this book, taking as fact that this is how all those in power do, or should, behave essentially makes the case for revolution and collectivism. If everyone is only out for themselves, and you can’t trust anything anyone says, then what use are leaders? People infected (and I use those words with great care) by the thought processes in this book have no place in the modern workplace.

This book also provides instructions on conning people, in creating a cult (not kidding), and scapegoating the innocent to protect one’s own position. The book endorses narcissistic behavior and manipulation to seduce people and is generally sociopathic.

And it’s a shame.

For this book does contain a lot of good information. Its problems lie in its total lack of a moral framework. The book also has merit for anyone who feels they may be being manipulated, to understand the mindset and tools of the manipulator. But these arguments are a stretch for a book of this length and depth. I think a good barometer for organizations, is upon seeing this book on a bookshelf, to ask those around you what they thought of it. Those that embrace it, rather than act with revulsion at its amorality, should be treated as this book itself would recommend treating them – with distrust and suspicion.

This is not a good book. It puts forward a dangerous point of view because there are people who will, and I’m sure do, use this as a manual to scheme and manipulate those around them – and think that it is okay to do so. This book is almost everything that is wrong with the world today, and everything that is wrong with business – ever.

There way are better explanations of how to view the world and the behaviors of others, and even on how to get ahead in the workplace. It is hard to find one that has such an ugly view of people, society, and history.

There are few people who would argue with the statement that math is at the heart for most of our modern world. What is less well understood is what happens when that math goes wrong. And it does. All the time!

Mr. Parker’s highly amusing and thought-provoking book is about math and computers, but what becomes clearer as the book goes on is that this is also a book about systems and how and why systems can fail. There are lots of examples of people adding up numbers incorrectly or trying to take shortcuts to make the math simpler, which in turn leads to devastating and sometimes lethal consequences. However, it the subtler applications of mathematics where “Humble Pi” really scores.

For example, looking at 30- or 40-year-old kitchen appliance, still in use, is often accompanied by a phrase such as “they don’t make things today like they used to.” While this might seem obvious at first glance given that we are talking about an appliance working well beyond its expected lifespan, this is actually an example of “Survivor Bias.” If we looked at how many of the appliances had been manufactured, and then looked at how many were still in daily use, the chances are that we would recognize that this surviving appliance is an outlier and that the vast majority of the appliances have actually long been replaced or broken down. It is only the existence of this surviving outlier that prompts the idea even though we would likely not comment on its existence were more of the appliances in existence. The appliance’s rarity generates a false narrative that can only be understood by understanding the underlying math of the number of appliances produced.

For managers there is much to take away from Humble Pi. Mr. Parker encourages us to look at systems like layers of sliced Swiss cheese. All systems should be made of multiple layers – the checks and balances of any good system. But it is important to understand that there are possibilities for mistakes in every layer of a system – the holes in the cheese. The challenge as designers of systems is to ensure that the holes in each layer do not align. The author uses the example of two different nurses in a hospital performing a complicated drug calculation the same way and both making the same math mistake leading to a medical error.

Related to this idea of errors being a natural part of a system is the impact of a lack of tolerance for errors on new employee training. If managers terminate employees for making mistakes, the people who are left to train new employees are those who are must less likely to make mistakes. These are probably the worst people to train new employees who are obviously more prone to making mistakes. If instead, we teach employees to work a system that can detect mistakes and provide feedback, a system where the holes do not line up, then we will overall have far less mistakes – even when people are new. As the books says, humans can be very resourceful in finding ways to make mistakes.

This is not just a book about rounding errors, and why you should turn your computer off regularly. It is a book about what it means to be human in a world that relies and is built on mathematics, which humans are inherently not very good at. It is a fun and interesting read that will stay with you long after you put it down.

Who does not hate networking?

“A Friend of a Friend…” by David Burkus makes the case that we are doing networking all wrong, or not at all, and that there is a better way of thinking about personal networks. With a few caveats, I think there is a lot to learn from Mr. Burkus.

To most people, the purpose of networking is to be able to leverage your network for professional ends. That means reaching out to those people with whom you have “close ties” and seeing what they can do for you or who they can introduce you to. The author suggests, however, that “loose ties,” those that you have fallen out of touch with or never had a terribly close connection with in the first place, are a better way of leveraging your network connections. It is these loose ties that are more likely to bring a diversity of thought to your circle. With some intriguing data, the book put forward the idea that people who have similar thinking, and world view, tend to cluster together. As an example of this clustering of similar thinking patterns, Mr. Burkus uses the example of voting patterns, because voting districts tend to increase in their preference for a particular party over time – even when allowing for jerrymandering!

Trying to increase the diversity of thought to improve your exposure to ideas is not without risks. While most people would agree that they and others are subtly influenced by those around them, what is less well realized is that even the behavior and habits of friends of friends can influence our rates of obesity, smoking and stopping smoking to give just a few examples. Influence is contagious.

While for some it might seem that social media could be an ideal solution to these networking issues, the author urges us to use caution and to treat social media as a potential tool rather than as a panacea. Social Media can exacerbate the very issues highlighted above – a lack of diversity of thought, through the contagious nature of influence.

What has been known in some entrepreneurial circles and at some high-end retreats is that one of the best ways to get to know someone, without all the baggage of status and perceived worth, is to actually complete a task with a stranger – helping to prepare a meal is the most focused on example, but taking a class on almost any subject when collaboration is required works just as well.

In a refreshing change from most personal development and business books is to find the resources that accompany the book freely available from the authors website, with a commitment to keep them there. https://davidburkus.com/resources/

Where the book is lacking is in the assertion that personal friends and connections can also turn into good and productive business connections or partners and vise versa. While this is undoubtedly true, and the book serves up many examples of it working in the real world, it does not explore or even caution of the HR issues and general pitfalls of not having clear boundaries in the workplace for both those involved and those around them. While it is a relatively minor quibble, it does seem to be strange oversight given the book’s otherwise excellent attention to detail and research.

“A Friend of a Friend” is an excellent resource for those who find networking unnatural. It also explains why it looks so easy for some and borderline impossible for others. The success of its promise, and premise, still has a lot to do with personal motivation, but these tools are that are relatable and accessible for all. This book is for the introverted, extroverted, and the closet introverted alike.

This is a difficult and complicated book to review.

Being someone who has been an advocate of email, as opposed to other forms of business communications, such as text messaging and apps, I started reading this book with a certain amount of trepidation. Email does not have the sexiness factor of other tools; however, it does have distinct advantages for businesses.

Like many books with provocative titles, “A World Without Email” is arguably mistitled. The central tenant of the book is that email, and other communication tools that are often put in its place such as Slack, create a “hyperactive hive mind.” This hyperactive hive mind makes us so concerned with the work of reading and answering messages, that it frequently gets in the way of our actual jobs and that it is ill suited for most of the communication that is needed anyway. What Mr. Newport is suggesting in this book is that we reevaluate how we perform work rather than just assume that the way we have always done it is best.

The arguments for doing this are pretty compelling for a project-based workplace, where “knowledge workers” are producing materials. Where most of the arguments in the book fall down is when it comes to managers supporting other employees in a service-based industry – such as a veterinary hospital. Or a business where “training” your customers to communicate in a particular way is difficult if not impossible. Having said that what should actually be taken away from “A world Without Email” is not the title, but the idea that we should carefully look at our workflow and information exchange and build systems and protocols that actually work for what our employees need. This is of course opposed to making our employees bend to what an ad-hoc exchange of information, using a tool such as email can give rise to; a hyperactive hive mind.

A surprising recommendation from this book, is the suggestion that what is often missing from businesses for their knowledge workers is support staff. This does not mean a return to the days of typing pools and Mad Men-esque assistants outside every office door; but it does suggest that leaders need to understand that for knowledge workers, switching between their primary focus and communication, can dramatically impact the former without significant gains it the latter. Assistance in communication can result in productivity increases that far outweigh the costs of that assistance.

There is, however, a real danger that the wrong lessons from this book will be drawn. For example, that implementing a tool such as Trello, a task-based management app, will remove the need for meetings or other forms of digital communication. In fact, I find the focus on the evils of email while ignoring the much greater issues that can arise with text messaging and apps such as Slack, undermines some of the book’s credibility.

The idea, that workflow in business communications needs a more formal protocol, has been around for a while in various forms. Mr. Newport makes a good argument for devoting time and energy into a workflow protocol for you and your business. What is not so clear from “A World Without Email” is whether what actually needs to change is our relationship with email and other forms of communication – practicing good communication hygiene for example – rather than abandoning the tool all together for its own misuse.

To sum up this a book that is worth reading, thinking about, and even discussing with your team. It is not a book to adopt trite slogans from and use to justify making rash decisions.

Business is rarely one size fits all.

One of the many changes wrought by COVID-19 was not the move to working from home and the use of virtual meetings, but the discovery of the shortcomings of these modes of work and the “zoom burnout” which a significant majority of white-collar workers experienced.

Mr. Citrin and Ms. Derosa’s book, Leading at a Distance: Practical Lessons for Virtual Success, is written with these realizations in mind. Written from the perspective of mid-pandemic, the writing was finished in the fall of 2020, it was not aware, however, of how quickly people embraced returning to normal wherever possible. Remote work may be here to stay, as the book suggests, however, the tolerance for it both from employers and employees, is less than may have been expected at the time of the book’s writing.

What is interesting from the research that the authors have conducted is that there have been positive benefits to using virtual tools – particularly when it comes to expensive and complicated travel for meetings which are about getting to know people. What Leading at a Distance stresses is that it is easy to become too focused on the job of work, without allowing time, energy, and opportunity for the personal connections that make work fun and help to build trust. Checking in with teams can create an atmosphere of micromanaging, while managers who worry about micromanaging, can be seen as too distant because it is hard to causally “check-in” over Zoom. Building trust is often about personal relationships and so the authors stress the need to make time for these connections with remote teams and in particular with new remote employees.  

A problem with Leading at a Distance is that it is written with large corporate organizations in mind. This includes its research and its general outlook on company structure. While large corporate organizations are more likely to rely on virtual communication tools as a way for managers to communicate, smaller businesses have had to also embrace these tools and their challenges are often different from that of larger organizations.

What really works in Leading at a Distance, is it focus on results and culture with remote teams rather than whether they are busy at any particular moment. The book suggests that managers need to set goals and be happy that they are being met rather than on the how those goals are being met. What is surprising is the effectiveness of location when meeting with remote employees. There is always the temptation to multitask, or try to, when coaching, or being coached, over zoom while sitting at one’s desk. The authors suggest that having coaching conversations, particularly when it comes to difficult conversations, while on a walk or a calm setting such as a park or beach. This makes sense for anyone who appreciates the benefits of meeting out of the office, but it is rarely adopted virtually.

Having a hybrid team has its own challenges, say the authors. In particular, it is important to ensure that remote workers do not feel isolated or experience unconscious bias due to their remote role. This may require special attention from HR to ensure that there is a level playing field if we are to ensure that remote workers are a success.

Remote working is here to stay in some form. While the pandemic has shown what is possible, it has also shown how the tools are lacking for remote workers and that management will also need additional tools and training to allow remote teams to succeed. Leading at a distance is a good first step in a field that will continue to evolve and grow but is lacking in literature to help it do so.  

Subtitled “Getting Smarter about Visual Information,” How Charts Lie is a plea for the public to educate itself as to how we are misled everyday but the very tools that are there to make our understanding easier. As the economist Ronald Coase once stated, and then was forever quoted or misattributed to others, “If you torture the data long enough, it will confess.”

How Charts Lie is a sublime book. A book that actually makes you smarter, or certainly appear so. Reading it leads to an understanding of how statistics, and in particular charts, are misused to bolster some cases and discredit others. Using real world examples, Mr. Cairo shows how charts are often the unwilling accomplices as data is cherry picked, zoomed too far in on, zoomed too far out on, and data sets that have no business being used together are presented as unquestionable truths because they come in the form of a chart.

This is less a book about how charts themselves lie than how they are misused and how to read charts properly in the first place. A chart only shows what is there is an often-used refrain throughout. How Charts Lie is also a great introduction into some of the most often used charts and how they should, and should not, be used. That it is easy to produce a chart that seems to show that smoking leads to long life spans throughout the world is an example that should give us all pause and adopt “correlation is not causation” as our mantra.

An easy and fun read, How Charts Lie is colorfully illustrated with charts, both good and bad, which make what could be a dry academic text come alive in the mind of the reader. It should be noted that this is my second reading of “How Charts Lie.” The audio edition I originally purchased did not come with the PDF of charts and illustrations as it was supposed to – I’m looking at you estories.com. This rendered the book, interesting but fatally flawed and led to me also purchasing the latest hardback edition. I am so glad I did as it contains a new afterward written on May 3rd, 2020. This inclusion of how charts have affected the world’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic – he postulates that the CDC’s “flattening the curve” graphic will become one of the most iconic visuals in history – brings added urgency to our quest for better visual data.

In a world where fake news, false equivalency, bad charts, and just plain lies are daily scourges which have real world consequences it is great to see a non-partisan work standing up for facts and truth.

That people have a seemingly unquenchable thirst for data presented visually, means that increasing our visual vocabulary has never been more important. Not adding to the problem and ensuring that our own charts are truthful and accurate is a great place to start.

How Charts Lie is guide to doing that and so much more.

Self-Help books, of which Resilience: Powerful Practices for Bouncing Back from Disappointment, Difficulty, and Even Disaster, undoubtedly is; seem to fall into the two categories. The overly new age, “everything will be alright as long as you are positive” and the so grounded in psychology and psychiatry that you need a degree in medicine to even begin. Resilience is neither of these; yet bridges both worlds and in such a way as to take value in both approaches.


It is telling the Ms. Graham is a marriage and family therapist. Her ability to speak in plan language but also to explain the scientific underpinnings to what can sound, and I am sure does, sound like hogwash to a lot of people, if it were not for these explanations. This is a book for rational people, willing to embrace change – even of they are a little reluctant. It is worth noting that this book was given to me to read by a colleague who recognized how useful it could be for the workplace – particularly in a profession dogged by mental health issues and suicide; but was unwilling to embrace even the small leap of faith that the book asks.


Resilience is a book of exercises – 133 in all. Some will not be right for you, and undoubtedly, some will. Each chapter deals with a different type of intelligence and general resilience. Each chapter is broken down into different mode of how the brain processes; conditioning, new conditioning, reconditioning, and deconditioning. These modes are then in turn broken down into three levels of need; “barely a wobble,” “glitches and heartaches, sorrows and struggles,” and “too much.”


This is a book to refer to and reference as the reader grows and their needs change. One of the most exciting chapters for managers is on “Practices of Relational Intelligence with Others.” The tools and exercises which are explained in detail, have significant uses in getting third parties to communicate with each other, and for improving with interpersonal communication. I am often someone who talks to others about whatever I am currently reading. Resilience, however, has had me proselytizing to co-workers significantly more than normal.


Its use as a tool to help train our brains, something we often pay scant attention to, cannot be disputed. It is a little long and dense, but as mentioned earlier this is a book to refer back to – not to ingest over a few days like I did. That the book strays into areas more normally associated with meditation and yoga is not says a lot more about the positive nature of those practices, than it does as a criticism of the book. This is a book for cynics, and self-help believers alike.
We all struggle from time to time and as this book’s title suggests, Resilience is about making us better and more adaptable. Being able to adjust and influence our thinking and emotions, rather than allowing them to influence and dominate our lives.


This should be required reading for the veterinary profession, and for anyone who wants to improve how the inside of their head works. I can’t recommend it enough, and it is not hyperbole to suggest that it could save your life.


I am keeping this copy of Resilience; it is on my nightstand.


I will have to buy my colleague another copy.

Any book that tries to deal with a subject that is as current as the COVID 19 pandemic is going to face an uphill battle. It will be out of date as soon as it is written, never mind published.


With that in mind, Nicholas A. Christakis has done a remarkable job. An epidemiologist, Dr. Christakis in Apollo’s Arrow places the COVID 19 pandemic into is historical context as a plague and also provides a definitive account of how this pandemic played out and where mistakes were made – spoiler alert; there is plenty of blame to go around. Where Apollo’s Arrow really shines, however, is in its examination of the social impact, both positive and negative of COVID 19 on individuals, countries, and our culture.


Due to his background, Dr. Christakis is able to not only make sense of the confusing early decisions made by multiple parties, but also in understanding the motivations behind those decisions. There is also no coddling of the reader in Apollo’s Arrow. In a time when most people’s expertise in epidemics comes from the movie “Contagion” – and I have to include myself in those numbers – it is refreshing to gain an understanding of why more well know terms are problematic, such as R-0, and others that are less well known such as NPI (non-pharmaceutical interventions) are used and why.


While it is impossible the remove the politics of the response to COVID 19, particularly in the United States, Dr. Christakis does try his best and it is noticeable that in his initial timeline he tries to keep politicians out of the picture. That’s is not to say that there is any mincing of words; “If the United States had been a student in my class, I would have failed them,” is an early example.
The debunking of wrongheaded ideas from politicians is also a key element of Apollo’s Arrow. The Swedish solution – “herd immunity” as soon as possible, is an example. Sweden has small healthy population, universal health care, and low levels of poverty; all of which make it distinctly different from the United States. Testing and the approach to testing is also examined in depth. If you only test those with symptoms, the ratio of positives to negatives will be high. If you only test those that are worried, the ratio will below. Randomized samples are the only way to know levels of infection.


As mentioned above, it is in the social science arena that Apollo’s Arrow really shines. That “fear has its own epidemiology, its own spreading dynamics,” is one such revelatory idea. Dr. Christakis does not spare the conspiracy theorists; “There is a feeling that we can change our reality if we change the words or images – the virus is real. Reality matters.” A surprising part of Apollo’s Arrow is how positive it is, with a recognition of the successes we have had and also that our species is capable of extreme examples of altruism. We probably do not hear enough about that.


Where Apollo’s Arrow fails is in relationship to the vaccine. It points out that while there is hope, the quickest previously created vaccine as for Ebola; and that took five years. That a significant proportion of the population of the United States, and several other countries, has been vaccinated for COVID 19 by early 2021 is an almost impossible hope by the vantage point of the author at the time of writing. This is a very welcome shortcoming; however, and given the variants that now exist and the unknown levels of protection that the various vaccines may provide to these variants, we should probably not be so smug.


For anyone who wants to stand back and view the early days of the COVID 19 pandemic, and its effects on our society, it hard to imagine a better book; written without the benefit of hindsight, to read on the subject than Apollo’s Arrow. I can’t recommend it enough.

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