“An inspiring and informative page-turner.” -Walter Isaacson
Longlisted for the FT/McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award
The authoritative account of the race to produce the vaccines that are saving us all, from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Man Who Solved the Market
Few were ready when a mysterious respiratory illness emerged in Wuhan, China in January 2020. Politicians, government officials, business leaders, and public-health professionals were unprepared for the most devastating pandemic in a century. Many of the world’s biggest drug and vaccine makers were slow to react or couldn’t muster an effective response.
It was up to a small group of unlikely and untested scientists and executives to save civilization. A French businessman dismissed by many as a fabulist. A Turkish immigrant with little virus experience. A quirky Midwesterner obsessed with insect cells. A Boston scientist employing questionable techniques. A British scientist despised by his peers. Far from the limelight, each had spent years developing innovative vaccine approaches. Their work was met with skepticism and scorn. By 2020, these individuals had little proof of progress. Yet they and their colleagues wanted to be the ones to stop the virus holding the world hostage. They scrambled to turn their life’s work into life-saving vaccines in a matter of months, each gunning to make the big breakthrough–and to beat each other for the glory that a vaccine guaranteed.
A #1 New York Times bestselling author and award-winning Wall Street Journal investigative journalist lauded for his “bravura storytelling” (Gary Shteyngart) and “first-rate” reporting (The New York Times), Zuckerman takes us inside the top-secret laboratories, corporate clashes, and high-stakes government negotiations that led to effective shots. Deeply reported and endlessly gripping, this is a dazzling, blow-by-blow chronicle of the most consequential scientific breakthrough of our time. It’s a story of courage, genius, and heroism. It’s also a tale of heated rivalries, unbridled ambitions, crippling insecurities, and unexpected drama. A Shot to Save the World is the story of how science saved the world.
Wall Street Journal reporter Zuckerman traces the seemingly miraculous development of the Covid vaccine in this captivating account (after The Man Who Solved the Market). Through interviews with “scientists, academics, executives, government officials, investors, and others,” Zuckerman makes a case that the creation of the vaccine was the result of “years of dedication, creativity, and frustration.” He introduces a slew of scientists past and present whose work, in one way or another, impacted the efforts to cure Covid: there’s Gale Smith, a molecular biologist who “theorized that insect viruses could be used to infect insect cells to produce specific proteins” in the 1980s; Frank Volvovitz, who started a company called MicroGeneSys to pursue a vaccine for AIDS; Jon Wolff, who was a key player in mRNA research; and Moderna scientist Eric Huang, who advised the company that they should be “making vaccines, not drugs” in 2013. Things move at a fast clip as Zuckerman conveys decades of complex scientific research in a gripping fashion. His focus on the slow burn of discovery makes for a fascinating angle and offers plenty of inspiration: “The Covid-19 vaccine story is one of heroism, dedication, and remarkable persistence.” The result is tough to put down. (Oct.)
– Publishers Weekly
“One of the most exciting dramas in medical history… A Shot to Save the World is a thrilling account based on great reporting and access to all of the teams. An inspiring and informative page-turner.”
-Walter Isaacson, author of #1 New York Times bestseller, The Code Breaker
“Captivating account…gripping…tough to put down.”
-Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“An intensely researched, rewarding account of an impressive medical triumph.”
“A page-turning drama…Brings you inside the room of the largest drug makers to give readers a birds-eye view of the big decisions and behind-the-scenes machinations that span from Washington to China.”
-Andrew Ross Sorkin, columnist, The New York Times, co-anchor of CNBC’s Squawk Box
“Zuckerman answers a question still circulating among both vaccine fans and skeptics: How could scientists develop the Covid-19 vaccines so quickly? The vaccine-science book for a vaccine skeptic.”
-The New York Times
“A propulsive narrative…the single best book I’ve read on the real world of scientific entrepreneurship…Highly recommended.”
-Paul Kedrosky, Investor and partner at SK Venture
-Brian Williams, MSNBC
“An assured account of the research, the ideas and the personalities. Like many great scientific tales, the story features serendipity, failures, tenacity, frustration and temper tantrums.”
“A Must Read”
-Town & Country
“A superb scientific drama of failure, determination and triumph”
-The Economist, Best Books of 2021
Financial Times, Best Books of 2021, Business
– From the Publisher
Not the first but a thorough, journalistic history of viral vaccines culminating with Covid-19: a spectacular achievement in which entrepreneurs played as great a role as scientists.
Zuckerman, Special Writer at the Wall Street Journal, recounts the lives of brilliant researchers, but he gives equal space to drug companies, both established (Merck, Pfizer) and fairly new (Moderna, Novavax). Not charitable institutions, they give vaccines a low priority because there is little profit in them. It’s more lucrative to sell medicine taken daily for life. Drug companies perk up when governments spend money, so their responses to AIDS, MERS, SARS, and Ebola–all viral epidemics–were swift and large in scale. But nothing matched the response to the devastating Covid-19 pandemic. Zuckerman describes the massive investment, research, and testing that produced effective vaccines that have so far saved hundreds of thousands of lives and prevented at least 1.25 million additional hospitalizations. The author emphasizes that this was a dazzling advance because the average vaccine took 10 years to produce. The fastest was mumps, which took four; developing Covid vaccines took one. Rewinding the clock to 1979, Zuckerman describes the onset of the AIDS epidemic and the ongoing, still unsuccessful efforts to produce a vaccine for HIV. Moving steadily toward the present, the author delivers interesting capsule biographies of fiercely workaholic scientists and tireless promoters seeking to commercialize their ideas in the battle against subsequent epidemics. Readers will learn a great deal, perhaps more than they want to know, about vaccine science even before Covid makes its appearance more than halfway through the narrative. Thereafter, Zuckerman offers a blow-by-blow account of the cutting-edge technology and maddening politics that led to effective vaccines in record time. He carries his story to summer 2021, when the virus staged a vicious comeback and researchers scrambled for solutions. While not certain, it’s possible that Covid will not be eliminated like smallpox but remain as a seasonal disease like influenza.
An intensely researched, rewarding account of an impressive medical triumph.
– Kirkus Reviews