In the spring of 2020, as a new and deadly virus rapidly spread across the globe, the world shut down. But a small country in Northern Europe remained open. The Swedish Covid-19 strategy has been alternately lauded and held up as a cautionary tale by international governments and journalists alike – with all eyes on what has been dubbed “The Swedish Experiment”. But what made Sweden take such a deviating path?
In The Herd, journalist Johan Anderberg narrates the improbable story of a nation that took a startlingly different approach to fighting the greatest global pandemic in over one hundred years. First, it was no restrictions. Then, it was no face masks. While the rest of the world looked on with incredulity, condemnation, admiration or even envy, Sweden stood alone.
But The Herd is more than just a look at the evolution of the Swedish Covid-19 strategy. With delightful ease, Anderberg guides the reader through the history of epidemiology, R0-rates, inoculation, and international organizations and strategies. He also presents a colorful cast of characters and the ticking-clock decisions they are faced with on a daily basis. Weaving past and present with effortless buoyancy, Anderberg has written an everyman’s guide to everything you want to know about the pandemic that reads like a thriller.
Johan Anderberg is a seasoned journalist with publications in Swedish and international media outlets, including Fokus, Expressen and Wall Street Journal. With close access to all the key players in this real-life drama that is unfolding in the present tense, he has a remarkable ear for suspense and a rare ability to make figures and facts come alive.
“Journalist Johan Anderberg makes a brave effort to tell the story about how Sweden chose its path through the pandemic. Many ought to read his reportage book The Herd. In part as a reminder of the exceptional events that occurred during this damned year, and in part because Anderberg so clearly shows what a different and free approach Sweden chose in comparison to the rest of Europe. Perhaps not big news, yet still the Swedish story is quite remarkable. Anderberg’s narrative has that effortless ease that only manifests once the writer has a clear overview and truly masters his subject without getting sidetracked and stuck on details – unlike the rest of the hobby epidemiologists of the past year.”
“The Herd is a contribution to the common good, and Johan Anderberg deserves praise for daring to take on such a loaded subject without revealing his own personal stance. And for taking us on a journey through how the Institute of Infectious Disease Control was shut down and became The Swedish Public Health Agency. What scientific and personal conflicts led to this decision and continue to color the debate today. He gives us insight into how earlier pandemics were handled and the only thing that is clear is that there are no easy answers. There isn’t one unanimous science and the only thing we can say for sure is that every measure has at least one downside. […] And when it comes to which measures the world chose to take, Anderberg demonstrates what little connection there was between decisions made and the number of infected people, mortality rates or available capacity in intensive care – things that are normally standard indicators in epidemiology. Rather, what proved more important was how many neighbouring countries had implemented similar measures. […] If anything has become apparent in this pandemic, it is the consequences of globalization on all levels. While people’s freedom of movement has been restricted, information has continued to flow. Paradoxically enough, it seems that this freedom has made it harder to go your own way. And in light of that I can’t help feeling a humble gratitude towards the fact that our own [Swedish] leaders managed to persevere for so long.”
SVENSKA DAGBLADET (SE)
“The Herd is exemplary journalism of the kind that comes close to the truth through skilled craftsmanship. Anderberg portrays the events in the right order. He relies on relevant facts. He puts the last year in a historical context. He examines without preconceived opinions. […] Anderberg’s book is like a corona commission in its own right and a beautiful example of the important role journalism plays in the service of the truth.”
“Anderberg has written a suspenseful book about the corona pandemic and the Swedish strategy. The first chapters where the catastrophe – still in the bud – starts to rumble, and where the important players are presented, are cleverly interlaced. The reader is sucked right in and stays. […] To read The Herd is to be thrown back in time, first and foremost to last spring. The Swedish tardiness and later on the unique Swedish stance, the experiment, the pariah state, or as Anderberg sometimes called it: the control group. The eyes of the world were aimed at Sweden, and they weren’t kind eyes. The country that was suddenly playing Russian roulette with its population. […] Reading Johan Anderberg’s book is not just a way to get perspective and background, detailed descriptions of how the Swedish strategy was formed and what it led to. It is also a way to be released from the debate, both in social and other media. It is extremely cooling. The Herd is no debate book, it is a nuanced report from an incredibly strange time. So strange you need help finding the words to talk about it.”
“The Herd is a book that quite noticeably changes character with each chapter. It starts out in the scenic new journalism tradition, kind of like an effort to, like Watergate legend Bob Woodward, write the definite behind-the-scenes tale about the hardships and pains of decision-making. It is a thrilling read about tight-knit groups of microbiologists and epidemiologists, old grudges, new alliances, and fiery emails. […] Anderberg is ambitious, knowledgeable and fearless.”
Dagens Nyheter (SE)
“The Herd is in many ways a successful and inspired combination of two different genres. On the one hand the societal reportage that closely examines the authorities, an art form Anderberg masters to perfection, where he effortlessly takes us into the meeting rooms and email inboxes where the Swedish Corona strategy took shape. With efficiency and humour he visualises his protagonists. […] Anderberg obviously started writing this book a year ago when it was still unclear where the road that our government and authorities had chosen for Sweden would lead us. In a climate where media personalities – myself included – often acted as supporters, critics, and hobby epidemiologists, Anderberg has instead buried himself in facts and tried to paint the overall picture. […] Questions remain after having finished reading The Herd, but this in no way takes away the honour of having accomplished this impressive pioneering work with such energy and wit from Johan Anderberg. The Herd is sure to greatly impact the debate that we’ve only seen the nascent beginnings of so far.”