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Summary

The Sunday Times best seller.

A highlight for 2021 in The Guardian.

The inside story of the UK’s response to the pandemic from the Insight investigations unit at The Sunday Times.

Failures of State: The Inside Story of Britain’s Battle with Coronavirus recounts the extraordinary political decisions taken at the heart of Boris Johnson’s government during the global pandemic.

Meticulously researched and corroborated by hundreds of inside sources, politicians, emergency planners, scientists, doctors, paramedics and bereaved families, along with leaked data and documents, this is the insider’s account of how the government sleepwalked into disaster and tried to cover up its role in the tragedy - and it exposes one of the most scandalous failures of political leadership in British history.

In the eye of the storm was Boris Johnson, a prime minister who idolised Winston Churchill and had the chance to become a hero of his own making as the crisis engulfed the nation. Instead he was fixated on Brexit, his own political destiny and a myriad of personal issues, all while presiding over the UK government’s botched response to the global coronavirus pandemic. After missing key Cobra meetings, embracing and abandoning herd immunity and dithering over lockdown, Johnson left the NHS facing an unmanageable deluge of patients. His inaction resulted in the deaths of many thousands of British people and his own hospitalisation at the hands of the pandemic, yet further reckless decisions allowed a deadly second wave to sweep across the country in the autumn months with the economy on the brink of collapse.

With access to key figures at the top of government during the most tumultuous year of modern British history, Failures of State is an exhaustive and thrillingly told story - and one of the most essential pieces of investigative reporting for a generation.

©2020 Jonathan Calvert and George Arbuthnott (P)2020 HarperCollins Publishers Limited

Critic reviews

Praise for The Sunday Times Insight team’s Coronavirus investigation:

"A devastating piece of journalism." (Andrew Marr)

"Jonathan and George’s investigative reporting has been beyond incredible and is truly historic. This is one of the most important books of our time." (Owen Jones)

"The obituary of Boris Johnson’s government. An absolutely extraordinary catalogue of complacency, error and long weekend holidays even as departments were sounding the alarm." (Caitlin Moran)

What listeners say about Failures of State

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Fascinating book, bizzare narration

This highly critical and engaging narrative of Government incompetence is sadly marred by the most bizarre narration I have ever heard. When the narrator wasn't mispronouncing words, stumbling or leaving inexplicably long pauses mid-sentence, he seemed extremely keen to show off his repertoire of accents. His posh English accent is good, his Boris impression is passable, but unfortunately his Scottish, Welsh, Irish, Mancunian, Yorkshire, Geordie, Italian, German, French, Ethiopian, Australian and Kiwi accents range from simply very bad to borderline offensive. A shudder of fear went down my spine as he paused, limbering up to read a quote from a Chinese scientist...

The frequent mispronunciations and stumbles can be put down to a poor or rushed editing job no doubt, but the awful accents really do detract from the narrative.

9 people found this helpful

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The worst narrator I've *ever* listened to

Wow. Ben Onwukwe does a truly appaling job narrating. The delivery is ponseroulsy slow, there are mispronunciations, slurring, disjointed delivery with pauses in the middle of sentences and clauses (has the audio been stitched together from multiple takes I wonder?) and some truly horrendous "accents". The chinese and american accents in particular are offensive and I'm amazed this got past the production team and that the publisher thought this was an okay thing to do in 2021.

It's clear the narrator hasn't read the text beforehand, isn't engaged with the text itself and hasn't even bothered to learn correct pronunciations. If I was being very generous I'd put this down to a combination of an actor 'performing' a more complex non fiction work and recording under Covid; but compare this appalling performance to the superlative job an actor like Paul McGann does with Frank McDonough's recent two volumes on Hitler and it's clear that Ben Onwukwe should have been replaced as soon as he'd read a few pages.

This is an important work, and for those of us with reading difficulties due to visual impairment or a learning difficulty audiobooks are key to assessing knowledge. Please Audible studios get this re recorded! In the meantime it's the text version or text to speech.

6 people found this helpful

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Is the narrator drunk?

Chapter 4 is spellbinding: the narrator slurs and mispronounces his way through the text in a way that can only be described as drunk. And no, I’m not listening on slower speed. It’s a shame to mar such an important book with such a poor performance.

6 people found this helpful

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Must read narrative unfortunately read appallingly

I don't often review on here but quite incensed to do so. This is a must read for anyone who needs to know the failings of this Government over the pandemic especially Boris who has cost thousands of lives.
Unfortunately the narrator, although good normally, interrupts the flow with the most ludicrous and quite offensive accents and impressions. He plays to all the outdated stereotypes of regional.accents and as a Welsh man I have not heard a parody like that since the 1970s. His female voice attempts are cringeworthy. Please redo this book with another narrator - its shockingly bad.

3 people found this helpful

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Devastating account of avoidable failures

Devastating account of lethal but avoidable failures. An important book.

The format of the book is to tell the story of the pandemic in detailed chronological order. It's not a diatribe; the authors set out the facts and, largely, leave you to draw your own conclusions. The facts, however, are utterly damning.

While this may feel a little disrespectful given the gravity of the subject matter, it's compelling listening. The audio equivelent of a page-turner.

While it's not perfect, I'm a fan of the narration. Ben has a warm rich voice that I could listen to all day, and it carries gravitas. His pace is not too fast, so you get time to absorb what is said. He puts on an accent for each quoted remark, and it's fair to say not all of these land: Westminster males are often very posh, women slightly timorous. The accents aren't necessarily bad, but they are all at 100%. If someone's from, say, Yorkshire the accent will be the most full-on Yorkshire accent you can imagine.

Brace yourself for some of the international accents...

2 people found this helpful

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Absolutely horrifying

A tragedy for all that should not be forgotten or forgiven, the current success of vaccination does not compensate for thousands of lost loved ones or the hardships we all suffered. Remember this at the ballot box for all our sakes and losses

2 people found this helpful

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How dithering and arrogance cost lives

Sunday Times investigative journalists Jonathan Calvert and George Arbuthnott have written this authoritative and detailed account of the United Kingdom's disastrous handling of the Coronavirus pandemic. This is a story that has a deep impact on all of us over the past 12 months and we are all familiar with the sequence of events that have shaped our lives. We hear about the origins of the virus in Wuhan and how it may not have been a coincidence that Wuhan is the centre for virology research including coronaviruses.

The early days of the pandemic are comprehensively recounted. At this time the UK government were too obsessed with "getting Brexit done" to take the threat seriously and following this, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson took a self congratulatory extended holiday in the Caribbean with girl friend and thereafter was too embroiled in issues with his complicated private life to take his responsibilities, such as attempting COBRA meetings, seriously.

Whilst other advanced economies were protecting their citizens by locking down, the UK dithered and dabbled with "herd immunity" prior to eventually listening to the scientists and abandoned this reckless libertarian stance and followed suit with other developed countries some weeks later. The impact of this was to be devastating both in terms of death rates and the impact to the economy with the UK suffering the highest number of deaths of any country in Europe and having to lockdown the economy for longer than any other G7 country.

It is easy, perhaps, to make these analogies with the benefit of hindsight, and forgive errors early on, however, the same mistakes were made again in the Autumn; and the failure to take action in September cost yet more lives. This is a sad story of ineptitude and arrogance and it is the actions of those at the top who must take responsibility and brought to account when this is over. This book will serve as a startling reminder as to how mistakes by the UK government have lead to the excess and needless deaths of tens of thousands of people.

2 people found this helpful

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Mixed views

I'm mystified as to why the authors need to digress into personal attacks on Boris et al - the facts as they're presented are sufficient, on their own, to condemn the main government players, and deservedly so. Instead it just raises questions about their motivation for writing the book. Nevertheless focus on the chronology of the pandemic and try to avoid punching a wall because the book lays bare the repeated risible responses of the government. And please Audible; have a word with your narrators - talk about a comedy regional accents .....

1 person found this helpful

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Difficult yet compelling

It’s obviously a vital and essential book- it is depressing and terrifying and yet uplifting when looking at the struggles of frontline NHS workers to kept going. I do not like the attempts at different accents which are in my opinion distracting and unnecessary. I may buy a hard copy of the book as I want to see the sources for what the journalists are asserting. At this point of coming out of the third lockdown- let’s hope the government has it right this time. This may have been a book which is written too early- we aren’t out of this yet.

1 person found this helpful

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Johnson's negligent betrayal of the British People

An excellent evidence based account of the epic failures of Johnson and his government
throughout the course of the Coronovirus pandemic.
Failures, if and when examined by a public enquiry will show that many thousands of uk citizen's died appalling deaths due to the
ignorance and negligence of Boris Johnson, Rishi Sunak et al

Compellingly written and narrated.


1 person found this helpful