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Book Review: The Devil Never Sleeps

In a world besieged by crisis and befuddled by the paradox of preparation, how can we learn to move past the traditional manner of disaster planning? This is a new world where The Devil Never Sleeps, and Juliette Kayyem takes the reader on a guided tour through classic principles and shows how we can adapt for our new reality of reoccurring disasters.

Written amid the pandemic, Kayyem pulls both current and historical examples in a range of fields to illustrate a way forward. This book is thoroughly researched and includes numerous interviews and references to other readings. “We talk about prevention and what to do to stop bad things from happening … we focus on before or after. We walk too little about here: the moment, the situation before us, and what we can do to make this tragic moment a little less tragic” (p 34).

The traditional disaster framework is simple – there is a discrete moment where there is a “boom”, a disaster, when a crisis is not appropriately addressed and horrific consequences result. The view that success is keeping to the left of the boom and failure is to the right is one that struggles in today’s state of reoccurring disasters.

Kayyem proposes that we learn to keep it manageable and accept one foundational principle – don’t fight the boom. We need to learn that the potential for disaster is a fact, the fallacy of believing that there is a finite and permanent success needs to change. The future is where we need to focus to be better prepared, as well as learning to best manage the now, the here, the current crisis. If work toward mitigating a current crisis with a less bad strategy, then we can buy time to create layered and appropriate responses that limit the impact and prevent, for example: bleeding out, a full black out, and stupid deaths.

Constantly revising one’s preparations does not mean living in an endless state of anxiety. It allows us to refine what is needed as the situation changes because it will. But we need to beware both sunk cost fallacy and the preparedness paradox. The solution, according to Kayyem is to keep moving forward not in answer to the last crisis but to those that we haven’t thought of yet. Less bad in the current moment is our twenty-first century standard.

Who can value from reading this book? Everyone. The examples vary and include but aren’t limited to information/technology security, public health, urban warfare, and civil engineering. In addition, Kayyem shares frameworks, theories, and metaphors to explain disaster and crisis management.


Book Cover: The Devil (black text over forest fire) Never (black text over blue binary numbers) Sleeps (black text over red covid virus) learning to live in an age of disaster is in white text over black background.

The Devil Never Sleeps: Learning to Live in an Age of Disasters
by Juliette Kayyem

Public Affairs Books (Hachette Book Group) | 2022 | 240 pages | Available in hardcover, ebook and audiobook.