Lewis, the author of best-selling nonfiction like “Moneyball” and “The Big Short,” is known for coaxing compelling narratives out of mind-numbingly complex subjects — mortgage-backed securities, sovereign debt, statistics, the dull but essential mechanics of government bureaucracy. His previous books have collectively sold more than 10 million copies.
With “The Premonition,” he is taking on a subject that is still unfolding. He approached the pandemic from what he describes as an underexplored vantage point: the ground-level view of people who led “a kind of secret shadow response” to the pandemic, as top government officials falsely assured the public that the coronavirus would disappear.
“The Premonition” will join a growing body of nonfiction exploring the pandemic and its impact. Recent and forthcoming books include Grace Blakeley’s “The Corona Crash,” which looks at how the pandemic will reshape capitalism; New York Times’ reporter Sheri Fink’s “Surge,” about the ethical, social and scientific dimensions of the crisis; Gabriel Sherman’s “Fever City,” about New York City’s response to the spread of the virus, and “Preventable,” a book about the missteps that led to unnecessary Covid-19 cases and deaths, by Andy Slavitt, now a senior adviser to President Biden’s Covid response team. In June, the New Yorker writer Lawrence Wright will release “The Plague Year,” which chronicles the origins of the coronavirus and its global spread.
Lewis began reporting on the pandemic last spring and started writing in the fall. When he called his longtime editor at Norton, Starling Lawrence, to tell him about what he was working on, he was so excited that he started babbling and couldn’t describe the plot.
“At one point he said, ‘Oh hell, I can’t explain it, I better just go write it,’ and I said, ‘That sounds like a wonderful idea,’” Lawrence said.
Lewis hoped to get the book out as quickly as possible, in time for Biden’s transition team to read it. “I did feel it would be more useful the sooner it was done,” he said.
At the same time, he felt he needed to wait and report on the efficacy of the government’s pandemic response, which proved to be as disastrous as he’d feared, with tens of millions of Americans infected and hundreds of thousands of deaths.