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Labor Day traditionally marks the end of summer. Vacations from school and work are over; time now to prepare for fall and winter and for the next stages in our lives and futures.

But leaving the summer of 2020 behind is difficult – because the experience that defined it, the COVID-19 pandemic, still determines so much of public life. Nevertheless, as schools open and close in response to fluctuations in case counts, as businesses tentatively resume operation, and as health care workers prepare for the possibility of another wave, journalists, policymakers, and researchers are seriously reflecting on the coronavirus crisis and how it might shape, in deep and permanent ways, our future.

Reading12 books to help you get through the coronavirus pandemic

The dozen books and reports listed below offer very different perspectives on the COVID-19 pandemic and its impacts – on business, education, health, and poverty – and on the prospects for an equitable and green public health and economic recovery.

As always, the descriptions of these titles are drawn from copy provided by the organizations or publishers that released them.

Consider these summer 2020 titles as constituting the first of many waves to come.


Book coverCOVID-19: The Pandemic That Never Should Have Happened and How to Stop the Next One, by Debora MacKenzie (Hachette Books 2020, 304 pages, $27.00)

Debora MacKenzie has been reporting on emerging diseases for more than three decades, and she draws on that experience to explain how COVID-19 went from a potentially manageable outbreak to a global pandemic. After giving readers a crash course in Epidemiology 101 – how viruses spread and how pandemics end – she takes us through the arrival and spread of COVID-19, making clear the steps that governments could have taken to prevent or at least prepare for this. Looking forward, MacKenzie makes a bold, optimistic argument: this pandemic might finally galvanize the world to take viruses seriously. It is too early to say where the COVID-19 pandemic will go, but it is past time to talk about what went wrong and how we can do better.

Book coverPan(dem)ic! COVID-19 Shakes the World, by Slavoj Zizek (Polity Press 2020, 140 pages, $19.95)

We live in a moment when the greatest act of love is to stay distant from the object of your affection. When governments renowned for ruthless cuts in public spending can suddenly conjure up trillions. When toilet paper becomes a commodity as precious as diamonds. And when, according to philosopher-provocateur Slavoj Zizek, a new form of communism – the outlines of which can already be seen in the very heartlands of neoliberalism – may be the only way of averting a descent into global barbarism. Written with his customary brio and love of analogies in popular culture (Quentin Tarantino and H. G. Wells sit next to Hegel and Marx), Zizek provides a concise and provocative snapshot of the crisis as it widens, engulfing us all.

Book coverThe COVID-19 Catastrophe: What’s Gone Wrong and How to Stop It Happening Again, by Richard Horton (Polity Books 2020, 140 pages, $14.95 paperback)

The global response to the Covid-19 pandemic is the greatest science policy failure in a generation. Warnings about the threat of a new pandemic have been made repeatedly since the 1980s and it was clear in January that a dangerous new virus had emerged in China. And yet the world ignored the warnings. Why? In this hard-hitting book, Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet, scrutinizes the actions that governments around the world took – and failed to take – as the virus spread from its origins in Wuhan to the global pandemic that it is today. Drawing on his own scientific and medical expertise, Horton outlines the measures that need to be put in place, nationally and internationally, to prevent this kind of catastrophe from happening again.

Book coverScaling Food Recovery and Hunger Relief: Learnings from ReFED’s Nonprofit Food Recovery Accelerator, by Alexander Coari and Angel Veza (ReFed 2020, 44 pages, free download available here.)

In today’s food system, food recovery organizations play a critical role in rescuing perfectly good food from going to waste and helping to distribute it to those in need. Since the coronavirus pandemic began, their work has become even more essential – and challenging. Recovery organizations have ramped up their operations to meet the demand, but this has caused them to deplete their resources at an accelerated rate. To help these organizations, ReFED’s new report outlines eight best practices. The report recommends enhancing the implementation of these best practices by leveraging cross-cutting technologies and human-centered design. Also included in the report are more than 20 case studies, plus insights from a worldwide network of experts.

Book coverSimulating the Potential Impacts of COVID-19 School Closures on Schooling and Learning Outcomes: A Set of Global Estimates, by João Pedro Azevedo, Amer Hasan, Diana Goldemberg, Syedah Aroob Iqbal & Koen Geven (World Bank 2020, 57 pages, free download available here)

School closures due to COVID-19 have left over a billion students out of school. Governments are pursuing a variety of approaches to mitigate school closures. At the same time, all countries are undergoing the largest economic contractions of our lifetime, reducing public budgets and household incomes. What effect might this perfect storm have on schooling attainment and learning? This report presents the results of simulations considering different lengths of school closure (3, 5, and 7 months) and different levels of mitigation effectiveness (mostly remote learning), resulting in an optimistic, intermediate, and pessimistic global scenarios. These simulations should be used to inform mitigation, recovery, and “building back better” strategies.

Book coverCommunicating Climate Change During the COVID-19 Crisis, by Robin Webster, Adam Corner, Jamie Clark, and Stuart Capstick (Climate Outreach 2020, 25 pages, free download available here)

The world has changed and climate advocates are having to change with it, adapting plans and campaigns to a profoundly new external environment. Timing and sensitivity are paramount in communicating climate change during Covid-19 – otherwise the climate sector risks undermining climate action for the long term. So what does the evidence say about how to engage people on climate change while we’re dealing with another crisis? Through 10 principles, our guide provides insights into what effective climate communications can look like during the ongoing Covid-19 crisis. This guide builds on key concepts outlined by Climate Outreach’s team of social scientists and communications researchers in our blog published in the first weeks of the crisis.

Book coverSustainable Development Report 2020: The Sustainable Development Goals and COVID-19, by J. Sachs, G. Schmidt-Traub, C. Kroll, G. Lafortune, G. Fuller, and F. Woelm (Cambridge University Press 2020, 520 pages, free download available here)

The world is facing the worst public health and economic crisis in a century. As of June 20th, 2020, over 463,000 people had died from Covid19 across the world. And the measures taken to respond to the threat of Covid19 have led to a global economic crisis. This is a significant setback for sustainable development. As the world plans the post-Covid-19 recovery, the SDGs must be put at the heart of policymaking. Covid-19 will not solve the climate and biodiversity crises and it is gravely amplifying inequality. Countries will only be able to protect themselves from global pandemics if health systems are strengthened in every country. SDR2020 shows that significant progress was over the past five years – and could be made again in the next five years.

Book coverA People’s Orientation to a Regenerative Economy: Protect, Repair, Invest, and Transform, by United Frontline Table (Climate Justice Alliance 2020, 48 pages, free download available here, Spanish edition here)

Prepared during the COVID-19 pandemic, which exacerbated the intersecting crises of inequality and climate change and the systemic racism and gender inequality that underlie these crises, A People’s Orientation to a Regenerative Economy offers community groups, policy advocates, and policymakers a pathway to solutions that work for frontline communities and workers. These ideas have been collectively strategized by community organizations and leaders from across multiple frontline and grassroots networks and alliances to ensure that regenerative economic solutions and ecological justice – under a framework that challenges capitalism and both white supremacy and hetero-patriarchy – are core to any and all policies.

Book coverThe Consequences of COVID-19 for the Decades Ahead: A Vision 2050 Issue Brief, by Julian Hill-Landolt and Richard Roberts (WBCSD 2020, 20 pages, free download available here)

WBCSD’s Vision 2050 Refresh project has fostered research into the operating environment that business will find itself in over the next 10 years. Building on this research, WBCSD and Volans have developed a Vision 2050 issue brief setting out the longer-term consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. The issue brief explores the systemic vulnerabilities exposed by COVID-19 and how the crisis could shape the next decade through its interaction with existing demographic, political and cultural divides and trends. In addition, it looks at the 2008-9 financial crisis to learn how COVID-19 recovery responses could affect the next 10 years and beyond. We conclude with an overview of the ways business can support efforts to build back better.

Book coverBetter Recovery, Better World: Resetting Climate Action in the Aftermath of the COVID-19 Pandemic, by Coalition Secretariat (The Coalition of Finance Ministers for Climate Action 2020, 63 pages, free download available here)

The core mandate of Ministries of Finance is the design and implementation of sound macro-economic, fiscal and financial policies. For these ministries, the economic and social impacts of climate change are becoming increasingly relevant. Adding to the urgent need for accelerated transitions to low-carbon economies, the COVID-19 pandemic has unleashed suffering and economic crises of historic proportions. How will the economic fallout from COVID-19 affect climate action? The need for sound analysis is even more critical given the challenging financial and economic circumstances. This report examines the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic crisis on climate policies and offers a set of economic policy options for governments.

Book coverStrategy, Investment, and Policy for a Strong and Sustainable Recovery: An Action Plan, by Nicholas Stern, Sam Unsworth, Ann Valero, Dimitri Zenghelis, James Rydge, and Nick Robbins (Centre for Economic Performance 2020, 29 pages, free download available here)

The world has suffered immense disruption and hardship from the COVID-19 pandemic. Together with the tragic consequences of the health crisis, there is now a real risk of protracted global depression. Strong and timely action can increase confidence, steer expectations and channel productive private and public investment into a sustainable, inclusive and resilient recovery. This briefing paper, produced by the LSE’s Centre for Economic Performance and Grantham Research Institute, sets out the key areas where strong economic policies and institutions will be needed to foster investment. It builds on the discussions that took place in the webinar series “Strong and sustainable recovery from COVID-19,” which can be streamed here.

Book coverC40 Mayors’ Agenda for a Green and Just Recovery, by Global Mayors COVID-19 Recovery Task Force (C40 Cities 2020, 43 pages, free download available here)

The newly-launched C40 Mayors Agenda for a Green and Just Recovery outlines bold steps to deliver an equitable and sustainable recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. The mayors of C40, the network of the world’s megacities committed to addressing climate change, outline specific measures for creating green jobs, investing in crucial public services, protecting mass transit, supporting essential workers, and giving public spaces back to people and nature. Alongside a global coalition of businesses, civil society organizations, climate activists and residents, the C40 mayors are already building a green and just recovery. This agenda calls on national governments, central banks and international financial institutions to join them.

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