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Books 21 December Dec 2020 0706 21 December 2020

Five books to help us understand the post-Covid world

From jobs to the environment, from the economy to psychology by way of philosophical reflections, the pandemic has accelerated some phenomena and curtailed others. Recent publications offer an abundance of writings, essays and insights on the current moment and on the repercussions we can expect in the future.

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Adapting to the post-Covid world is still work in progress. From jobs to the environment, from the economy to psychology by way of philosophical and geopolitical reflections, the pandemic has accelerated some phenomena and curtailed others. After all, as in any crisis, individuals and institutions alike are forced to make decisions about the new reality we are all experiencing. It is no coincidence then that recent publications offer an abundance of writings, essays and insights on the current moment and on the repercussions we can expect in the future.

This is indeed the starting point for “Il Dopo – Il virus che ci ha costretto a cambiare mappa mentale” (The Aftermath – The virus that forced us to change our mind maps) by the Italian virologist Ilaria Capua. The book is essentially in two parts where the scientist, who has been based in the US for some years now but regularly appeared on Italian TV during the pandemic, attempts to trace the origins of the virus and outline possible future paradigms. She touches on topics from the growing use of technology, both at work and in our relationships, to a new work-life balance and more sustainable behaviours (starting with non-essential travel) and a greater focus on safeguarding the environment. In the world after Covid, Capua sees increased female participation: one of the most vulnerable categories during the lockdown, women have an important role to play on the labour market also from a scientific point of view (on average they are less susceptible to the disease than men), she explains. But a new mindset is not without its risks. As the controversy over the vaccine has shown, too much information only serves to convince those people who have some basic knowledge whilst others will take the stance of denial, scepticism and reject science.

Taking a more practical approach is the latest book by Massimo Arcangeli entitled “L’avventurosa storia della stretta di mano. Dalla Mesopotamia al Covid-19” (The intrepid history of the handshake. From Mesopotamia to Covid-19). The book takes an historical and literary approach to one of the most common conventions in our social behaviour, now off-limits due to forces beyond our control. It starts with the meeting and handshake between Shalmaneser III of Assyria and Marduk-zakir-shumi I of Babylonia in 850 B.C. and continues up to the match between Donald Trump and Emmanuel Macron during the military parade on July 14, 2017, when the French president appeared to almost lose his balance after shaking hands with the - now former - occupant of the White House. A kind of show of strength but Macron had his revenge by leaving the mark of his thumb on Trump’s hand at the G7 in Canada. Such scenes have now been replaced by a bow, an elbow bump or placing a hand on the heart.

Of a more social style is the book “La città per l’uomo ai tempi del Covid-19” (Cities for people in Covid-19 times) edited by Massimiliano Cannata. In this book various experts attempt to analyse the effect of the coronavirus crisis on our urban models. How can we move on? There is a common thread running through the authors’ proposals as they take a new look at the design of cities. They see them as a common asset, guaranteeing their inhabitants the basic rights of the constitution as well as the freedom to be able to move around safely. To achieve this, the authors propose putting an end to uncontrolled development on agricultural land and instead upgrading or demolishing buildings that have been left derelict or have no architectural value. The goal is to foster a greater connection with nature, prevent the spread of those urban ghettos that engender inequality and exclusion, to promote urban diversity, preserve historic centres and improve services – starting with social and health services, by breathing new life into hospitals, prisons and care homes.

The next book is about those Italians who have moved abroad to study, find love or work. “Il mondo si allontana? Il Covid-19 e le nuove migrazioni” (Is the world moving away? Covid-19 and the new migrants) by Maddalena Tirasassi and Alvise Del Prà is based on interviews with thirty expats and a questionnaire sent to 1,200 Italians in 57 different countries. The authors describe how Italians abroad coped and include an account of the early days of the pandemic as people rushed back to Italy, and young people were quarantined in rented rooms and dealing with the rules to prevent the spread of infection, amid concerns for their families in Italy and worry about losing their jobs. These experiences have also led to a new set of criteria for those who do decide to move abroad, one being the health system in the countries they move to. Additionally, smart and remote working offer a new possibility: moving back to Italy!

Finally, we have a philosophical recommendation: “I non-luoghi del Coronavirus – Il Covid19, la filosofia e gli zombie” (The non-places of the Coronavirus – Covid-19, philosophy and zombies) by Pierre Dalla Vigna. The book discusses the phenomenon of the pandemic as seen through our perception of it (through the intermediary of the press) and the social and economic framework it has entered with battle terms that transform communities into a militarised collective, “an army of whistleblowers ready to report any neighbour who goes out too often, furtive lovers, friends having a chat and anyone who refuses to wear a mask and gloves outdoors.” In short, an apocalyptic zombie-like scenario where virtual reality enters our homes via Zoom, Teams, Meet and the like. Only the strongest wills can keep this technology at bay, warding off the risk of cyber excesses.

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