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CNB Books: Fighting the First Wave

Why the Coronavirus Was Tackled So Differently Across the Globe


By Peter Baldwin
ISBN 9781316518335 Hardcover/$24.95 March 2020

Everyone had to accept the possibility of being quarantined for the collective weal. But until the disease was eradicated everywhere and for all, there was no end of things for anyone. A reserve of infection in one Screen Shot 2021-02-01 at 20.3.24neighborhood, among one set of citizens, or in one part of the world, spelled danger for the rest. We are only as safe as the sickest member of our community. So long as a critical mass has not been vaccinated, there will be no real security. The solution has to be global or not at all.

Why, even despite a shared scientific understanding of the etiology of COVID-19, were the responses of governments across the globe so very different?

With Fighting the First Wave, Peter Baldwin shows that the different state responses to COVID-19 can't be explained by science or politics, but depend on many historical, social and cultural factors.

Drawing on a history of public health, Fighting the First Wave begins to unravel the most puzzling aspects of the global response to the pandemic, and offers many key lessons for today, and for future pandemics that will unfortunately come.

About the Author
Peter Baldwin is Professor of History at the University of California, Los Angeles and Global

Distinguished Professor at New York University. His previous publications include Disease and Democracy: The Industrialized World Faces AIDS (2005), Contagion and the State in Europe, 1830– 1930 (1999), and The Copyright Wars: Three Centuries of Trans-Atlantic Battle (2014). His latest book, Command and Persuade: Crime, Law, and the State across History is forthcoming in the fall of 2021.

Advanced Praise for Fighting the First Wave

In this compelling guide to the coronavirus pandemic, Peter Baldwin shows that the varied state

responses to COVID-19 cannot be explained by science or politics alone but depend on range of

historical, social and cultural factors. Likely to be read long after the first wave is over. Mark

Honigsbaum, author of The Pandemic Century: A History of Global Contagion from the Spanish Flu to


Why have countries taken such different approaches to fighting COVID? How have assumptions

about behaviour, or political cultures, shaped responses? Peter Baldwin draws on the history of

public health to produce a wide ranging analysis which helps us understand such surprising national

divergences and outcomes. Virginia Berridge, author of Public Health. A Very Short Introduction

In Fighting the First Wave, one of the leading comparative historians of our era contemplates the

worst global pandemic of the past century. This book will be an essential tool for understanding our

present dilemmas, particularly those stemming from what Baldwin terms “the social contract’s fine

print,” that is, the need to balance individual rights against the public good. Nancy Tomes, author of

The Gospel of Germs: Men, Women and the Microbe in American Life

In this masterful book, Peter Baldwin unravels the most puzzling aspect of the global response to

COVID-19. His beautifully written and meticulously researched analysis spans history, science, politics,

and law. From autocracies to democracies, Baldwin offers key lessons not just for COVID-19, but for

future pandemics that most assuredly will come. Lawrence O. Gostin, author of Foundations of

Global Health and Human Rights

Peter Baldwin’s examination of the “first wave” of COVID-19 is a timely contribution and especially

valuable because of its global reach. The central question of the book is fascinating and thought-

provoking: why, despite a shared scientific understanding of the etiology of COVID-19, were the

responses of governments across the globe so divergent? Frank Snowden, author of Epidemics and

Society: From the Black Death to the Present

For more information, please contact: Diana Rissetto [email protected]