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Fighting the First Wave
Why the Coronavirus Was Tackled So Differently Across the Globe


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  • Date Published: March 2021
  • availability: In stock
  • format: Hardback
  • isbn: 9781316518335

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About the Authors
  • COVID-19 is the biggest public health and economic disaster of our time. It has posed the same threat across the globe, yet countries have responded very differently and some have clearly fared much better than others. Peter Baldwin uncovers the reasons why in this definitive account of the global politics of pandemic. He shows that how nations responded depended above all on the political tools available - how firmly could the authorities order citizens' lives and how willingly would they be obeyed? In Asia, nations quarantined the infected and their contacts. In the Americas and Europe they shut down their economies, hoping to squelch the virus's spread. Others, above all Sweden, responded with a light touch, putting their faith in social consensus over coercion. Whether citizens would follow their leaders' requests and how soon they would tire of their demands were crucial to hopes of taming the pandemic.

    • A definitive comparative account of response to COVID-19 across the globe
    • Reveals why measures taken to deal with the pandemic varied so widely across countries and across different political systems
    • Assesses the relative success and failure of different responses and the lessons we can learn for future pandemics
    Read more


    • Choice Outstanding Academic Title, 2021, Choice Reviews

    Reviews & endorsements

    '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 Covid-19

    '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

    'Peter Baldwin, a very distinguished historian of epidemics and of the modern state, provides a rich, thoughtful, and accessible account of the various attempts to come to grips with COVID-19 around the world. This book will be at the center of the discussion for years to come.' Timothy Snyder, author of Our Malady: Lessons in Liberty from a Hospital Diary

    '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

    'Brisk and informative, this first draft history of the pandemic is a valuable resource for policymakers and lay readers looking to go beyond the headlines.' Publishers Weekly

    'The really disquieting possibility raised by Baldwin's history is that the central problem faced by many Western countries this past year was not political division, or libertarianism, or even Trump - it was democracy.' Benjamin Wallace-Wells, The New Yorker

    'The best book written about the pandemic, so far' Crawford Killan, The Tyee

    '(Baldwin's) breadth is impressive, and his prose often elegant.' Henry Mance, Financial Times

    'Commendably, this well-written book is accessible to all audiences … The detailed index and Baldwin's extensive notes are of particular value. This will be a welcome text for use in university public health and history programs as well as an informative resource for general readers … Highly recommended R. A. Logan, Choice

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    Product details

    • Date Published: March 2021
    • format: Hardback
    • isbn: 9781316518335
    • length: 392 pages
    • dimensions: 235 x 159 x 26 mm
    • weight: 0.71kg
    • availability: In stock
  • Table of Contents

    Introduction: One Threat, Many Responses
    1. Science, Politics, and History: Do They Explain the Variety of Approaches to Covid-19?
    2. New Dogs, Old Tricks: Fighting Covid-19 with Ancient Preventive Tactics
    3. The Politics of Prevention: How State and Citizen Interacted, Battling the Virus
    4. What Was Done? Act One of the Pandemic
    5. Why the Preventive Playing Field Was Not Level: Geography, Prosperity, Society
    6. Where and Why Science Mattered: Traditional Chinese Medicine, Herd Immunity, Asymptomatic Carriers, Superspreading, and Masks
    7. From State to Citizen: The Individualization of Public Health
    8. Who is Responsible for Our Health? How Prevention was Enforced
    9. Difficult Decisions in Hard Times: Trade-offs between Being Safe and Solvent
    Conclusion: Public Health and Public Goods: The State in a Post-Pandemic World

  • Author

    Peter Baldwin, University of California, Los Angeles
    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.


    • Choice Outstanding Academic Title, 2021, Choice Reviews

Fighting the First Wave Trailer

Which countries have performed the best and the worst when fighting Coronavirus?

Why have countries responded so differently to the pandemic?

What is the relationship between political choices and scientific advice?

Why is the virus a global problem that requires a global solution?

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Have democracies have been more or less effective than authoritarian regimes when responding to the pandemic?

How have countries responded to the Coronavirus pandemic compared to previous public health threats?

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