Our Malady by Timothy Snyder [Book Summary – Review]

The United States of America has long been hailed as the embodiment of liberty. It believes itself a defender of democracy, a nation where every person is free to exercise her rights, from the Pledge of Allegiance to the Statue of Liberty.

However, freedom is meaningless without health. You can’t live a productive life if you’re unwell. And the medical system in the United States is failing to keep its inhabitants healthy. This, however, does not have to be the case. These blinks show how America’s system varies from those of other countries, as well as what has to change for its citizens to be fully free.

You’ll learn a lot in these chapters.

  • Parental leave and emotional management are linked,
  • how political leanings are reflected in opioid misuse;
  • and, that American politics can be learned from Gandalf the Grey.

Try Audible and Get Two Free Audiobooks

Chapter 1 – America’s healthcare system is woefully inadequate.

Timothy Snyder, the author, passed away on December 29th, 2019. He was brought to a New Haven hospital’s emergency department just after dawn. He was scarcely able to move. He felt terrible tremors and his hands and feet tingled. An abscess in his liver was spewing pathogenic germs into his circulation, which he didn’t realize at the time.

Although Snyder had brought his medical documents with him to the ER, it took an awful nine hours for someone to read them correctly. Snyder’s appendix had been removed two weeks prior at the same facility. His surgeon had seen a tumor on his liver but didn’t tell him about it. He would have been treated more promptly and efficiently if the ER physicians had noticed sooner. Rather, even when he began to lose consciousness, they dismissed his symptoms and indicated he had influenza. As a result, he came dangerously close to dying from sepsis.

Notwithstanding its general riches, the United States of America is a sick country. In recent years, life expectancy in the United States has decreased rather than increased, as it has in many other prosperous countries. Even if they spend more on health care, millennials in the United States are expected to die earlier than their parents or grandparents, according to a study done by Moody’s Analytics in 2019. Something is really awry.

Medicine should help individuals live longer lives. Americans, on the other hand, should expect to live four years less than those in comparable nations. People in impoverished nations like Barbados, Costa Rica, and Chile will outlast them. These countries lack better physicians and medical expertise. They have stronger healthcare systems, which allows them to live longer lives.

The unique coronavirus outbreak exposed America’s healthcare system’s weaknesses. Citizens in other wealthy nations, such as Germany and Japan, received better treatment and had more information about the illness, resulting in fewer deaths. These countries prioritized health. America was preoccupied with making money.

People pay the price for a government that does not value health. By June 2020, the government’s treatment of the coronavirus in the United States has cost the country 150,000 deaths. The next few blinks will focus on how and why this occurred.

Chapter 2 – When governments fail to offer universal health care, people suffer.

Politicians have historically exploited health as a tool to dehumanize people. In the 1930s, Hitler incited anti-Semitism among his supporters by accusing Jews of spreading sickness among healthy Germans. They were unwell when they were forced to live in ghettos with no access to medical treatment. Their condition was then utilized by the Nazis as an additional justification to deport them to concentration camps.

Stalin’s Gulag, the organization in charge of his infamous work camps, held a similar stance. The capacity to function of the inmates was tested. If medical treatment allowed a prisoner to return to work, they would receive it. They were simply put outside the gates to perish if they were assessed to be a depleted resource. Health was considered as something that the authorities might choose to bestow when it suited their goals, rather than something that every human had a right to.

After WWII, America signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, reaffirming the significance of health care. It emphasizes that everyone has the right to appropriate resources and care, which translates to the right to good health. Despite the fact that America contributed to the drafting of this document, there is no universal healthcare system there. This implies that not everyone in the United States can afford the health care they require.

When affordable health care is unavailable, however, it affects more than simply disadvantaged areas. Opponents of adequate public health care argue that it would primarily benefit the unworthy, that upstanding individuals are capable of facing pain alone, and that asking for aid is a sign of weakness. As a result, many residents turn to medications to control their discomfort, which explains the high rate of opioid usage in Trump-supporting electoral counties.

Prescription medications become an easy answer in a system like America’s, where doctors are driven by commercially owned institutions to see as many patients as possible. This approach is in stark contrast to European systems, where doctors take the time to learn about a patient’s situation before devising a treatment plan. Despite the fact that European physicians are educated to care for patients rather than merely rush them through a procedure, they are less expensive and simpler to find than their American counterparts.

Inequality in society is exacerbated by a government that does not provide universal health care. A nation that cherishes equality is one in which everyone, regardless of social or economic standing, has access to the care they require.

Chapter 3 – Making children’s health a priority results in a more effective society.

Snyder and his wife Marci were living in Vienna, Austria, when they found out they were expecting their first child. They took childbirth lessons as part of the Austrian government’s free assistance. Snyder had felt his company had been exceedingly kind by granting him three months of paternity leave up to that point. His fellow fathers-to-be in the birthing class were shocked when he told them about it. Two years of paid parental leave were granted to Austrian spouses – more than a mother in the United States by 21 months!

In contrast to the United States, Austrian health care is designed to protect children’s health. The government guarantees that parents are properly supported, from enabling parents to arrive at the hospital early for the delivery to supplying babies with clothes packets. Each of these services is also completely free. Why is the Austrian government acting in this manner? It recognizes that investing in healthy children pays off in the long run.

To fully be free, you must be able to make your own decisions. When you’re afraid, your mind falls into binary thinking patterns like “me” vs “them,” or “fight” versus “flight,” and you lose your freedom.

Grown-ups who learned to control their emotions as children avoid falling into this trap because they are more receptive to good emotions, even when they are anxious. This allows them to see various options and solutions in each situation. They are able to make better judgments as a consequence of emotional management.

Youngsters cannot acquire emotional control on their own or from other children. It necessitates an adult’s undivided and intentional attention for the first five years of life. This adult helps kids learn how to communicate with others, defer gratification, and deal with disappointment. This develops the youngster into a broad thinker and an adult who does not work from a fearful mindset.

Austria, like many other European countries, recognizes the importance of parent-child relationships. That is why paid parental leave is considered a necessity rather than a luxury. They build a healthy and balanced society with fewer medical requirements and a reduced crime rate by investing in newborn health.

A parent in the United States who is under pressure to return to work is unable to offer their kid the same level of care. Most parents will be unable to cope without government assistance, and the entire population will suffer as a result.

Chapter 4 – Politicians that oppose the truth are anti-democratic.

Many members of J. R. R. Tolkien’s imaginary community disdain the wizard Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings. The message he conveys — that they are in grave danger from a dark entity that must be stopped – is unpopular. They would prefer not to hear the truth. They shrug their shoulders and say that they couldn’t have seen what was coming when the situation worsens and their lives and freedoms are on the line. They chose to be deliberately ignorant rather than accept responsibility for their part in the calamity.

In a crisis, it needs time and effort to gather knowledge in order to formulate an effective strategy, as well as bravery to look at a situation honestly. But if you don’t, the results might be disastrous. Hundreds of thousands of American lives may have been saved if Trump had chosen truth above power during the outbreak.

Leaders that propagate falsehoods to keep people from hearing terrible news end up making things worse. Rather than taking action to solve a problem, they feed people falsehoods to make them feel better. However, this does not solve the problem, and the cycle continues. When individuals are denied access to the truth, they are deprived of the knowledge they require to make educated decisions, such as how to safeguard their health.

Donald Trump has been spreading falsehoods about the new coronavirus since the beginning of 2020. Rather than creating a thorough testing strategy, he asserted in February that the infection would magically vanish. He then proposed giving hydroxychloroquine, malaria prevention, and treatment medication. The government employee who questioned Trump’s advice’s scientific legitimacy was sacked. The official who claimed a medical equipment deficit was the same way. This was the start of a barrage of disinformation and a campaign to silence truth-tellers.

Trump’s plan for dealing with the pandemic was to restrict the number of infections reported to a minimum. He said in May that the testing was making him appear terrible. He was complimenting himself by June for slowing down the testing pace. However, because the coronavirus was not tested, it spread unchecked. Trump was more concerned with his personal looks than with the safety of the people he was entrusted to defend.

Trump’s strategy for dealing with the epidemic has been to deny facts, instill fear, and suppress journalists and voters. These are the characteristics of a dictatorship, not a democracy.

Chapter 5 – Communities suffer when doctors are not appreciated and respected.

Snyder got an email from a neighbor in April 2020. She worked as a physician at a local hospital, where she treated patients infected with the coronavirus. She worked as a doctor at a local hospital, where she treated patients infected with the coronavirus. She’d sent out a call, asking if anyone had any extra medical masks. Despite the fact that her hospital was better prepared than many others, she could only get one disposable mask every week. The hospital, on the other hand, had run out of masks in her size.

One of the luckiest physicians was this neighbor. Some medical employees in the United States were dismissed after supplying their own personal protection equipment, exposing their employer’s failure to keep them safe. The hospital preferred that its employees labor in hazardous conditions rather than jeopardize its image. As a result, fewer doctors were available to care for the sick.

After being exposed to coronavirus at work, a number of medical workers in the United States were infected. Some of them even perished when the country most needed them. Trump referred to the situation as a “war.” However, given the high number of deaths, it’s evident that the commander in chief was sending men into battle without even the most basic armor.

The United States federal government spent $2 trillion in 2020 to attempt to save the country from the epidemic. However, none of the funds were utilized to purchase protective gear for medical personnel. In fact, the government’s objective until March 2020 was to sell locally manufactured masks to China while importing none of its own to compensate.

Private equity businesses and insurance companies, not medical professionals on the front lines, were weighing heavily on American politics during the pandemic. No medical professional would be asked to work without the necessary equipment, such as masks and gowns if doctors had a say in healthcare policy.

Hospitals were driven by profit too. Hospitals in the United States are for profit. As a result, when the epidemic caused them to lose money, several companies slashed costs by terminating doctors. This just added to the already overburdened system’s stress.

This conduct is unsurprising in a culture where health is regarded as less than profit. Americans would be healthier if doctors were viewed as the authorities on health care and allowed the freedom to execute that authority.

Chapter 6 – American health has been stolen by commercial medicine.

Snyder went over his medical records while recuperating from sepsis in early 2020. He was astounded to see that doctors frequently recorded what was handy rather than what was accurate. This wasn’t totally their fault, he realized. They were obliged to choose from a list of prepared entries with digital recordings. And the entries were arranged in such a way that the hospital’s profit was maximized. Medical records have evolved from a means of documenting symptoms and observations to a means of billing.

This is due to the commercial medical system in the United States. Hospitals are run for profit, not to heal the sick. It is an algorithm that evaluates income against the cost that determines how many patients can be treated for each day, not doctors. Medical professionals used to be in charge of health. It’s now the territory of profit experts.

Lobbyists and public relations firms claim that the present system is effective. But, if that were ideal, why do Americans pay more for health care than individuals in comparable nations while still not receiving the same quality of service from physicians and hospitals? The lobbyists argue that altering the system would be too expensive. Instead, they expect profit-driven authorities to be in charge of American health.

Their reasoning, however, is incorrect. A system that can’t be afforded by millions of Americans isn’t a system that works. Because they cannot afford medical expenditures, many Americans without insurance do not seek the therapy they require. This causes people to suffer unnecessarily and spreads undiscovered illnesses throughout communities.

Before the epidemic, the situation was grim. It’s become a lot worse since then. Twenty million Americans lost their employment in the first few weeks of the outbreak. Millions of individuals have lost their insurance as a result of this. Many of these folks would not have gone to the doctor if they had coronavirus symptoms if they were facing financial hardship. They were also more likely to transfer the virus to others or become critically ill themselves if they didn’t get a diagnosis.

Initially, changing the system to ensure that every American has access to high-quality health care would be costly. However, in the long term, it would save the country money. Medical expenditures are cheaper in a healthy country. Its citizens are less vulnerable in the event of a pandemic, which safeguards the economy. When health care is seen as a fundamental right, the government guarantees that it is inexpensive. People suffer less as a consequence, and they have more freedom to enjoy their lives.

Our Malady: Lessons in Liberty from a Hospital Diary by Timothy Snyder Book Review

However, in the long term, it would save the country money. Medical expenditures are cheaper in a healthy country. Its citizens are less vulnerable in the event of a pandemic, which safeguards the economy. When health care is seen as a fundamental right, the government guarantees that it is inexpensive. People suffer less as a consequence, and they have more freedom to enjoy their lives.

Try Audible and Get Two Free Audiobooks

Download Pdf


Download Epub



Savaş Ateş

I'm a software engineer. I like reading books and writing summaries. I like to play soccer too :) Good Reads Profile: https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/106467014-sava-ate

Recent Posts