We lived through the ‘80s. We lived through the ‘90s. We lived through the ‘00s. We lived through the ‘10s. And we’ve lived through March.

Most of us, that is, have lived.

I’m still coming to terms with what is happening. It’s like grief. I go about my day, getting absorbed in work, or a book or TV show. Then I remember.

My last day out in the world was exactly three weeks ago. I spent it talking to legislators and the Train Campaign. As I left, the sun lit the golden dome of the Massachusetts State House. There was a spangling of tiny red buds on the trees. A soft breeze was blowing.

On the drive home, I made a hands-free call to my daughter in Washington DC, where there had already been an outbreak of COVID-19. I described the meetings, the progress we were making, and assured her that I hadn’t  shaken any hands.

“Just elbow bumps,” I said, “Boston seemed pretty normal. Other people were shaking hands, and kids were wandering around the State House. The only people who seemed worried were the guys at the lunch counter. They said it wasn’t as busy as usual.”

“Mom, the governor just declared a State of Emergency.”

“What governor?”

Your governor.”

While my colleague and I were in the State House with the chair of the joint transportation committee, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker had declared a State of Emergency.

Fast forward. Everything on the calendar has been canceled or moved online. (But the Train Campaign is planning for the future. Click here to read about today’s Virtual Day on the Hill.) Daughter has returned home and has set up her virtual law-school in a spare bedroom. Here’s what Amtrak and Penn Station looked like when she traveled north.

A Sustainable Future

These past few weeks, I’ve spent a lot on time on the new Encyclopedia of Sustainability. This turns out to be an ideal project for the COVID-19 crisis. One morning I heard from people in Italy, Austria, Russia, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, India, China, and Guam. These scholars and researchers (perhaps you among them) are thinking about the future, about reconfiguring our systems in ways that will benefit everyone and make it possible to endure and prosper on Planet Earth.

Their friendship and concern for us in the United States, our shared commitment to knowledge, to education, and to the next generations of global citizens, gives me hope. If the crisis leaves you with unexpected free time to write, do please let me know. As you would imagine, the new edition will include an article on infectious disease, expanded coverage of technology, infrastructure, and economics, and updates too many articles including the major essay on sustainability and the health care industry.

A New Bookstore

A distinct silver lining to the lockdown is that I’ve finally found a way to offer our books and ebooks through an online bookstore of our own, hosted by Aerio and connected to the international book distributor Ingram. This bypasses Amazon, and keeps a channel open to most parts of the world. It also lets me promote books I didn’t publish.

Let me say that again: our bookstore will offer books Berkshire didn’t publish, just like a, well, bookstore. I can only add books that are in the Ingram catalog, but that includes more than 10 million books. Click here to take a look.

I have created, for example, a collection called “Let’s Eat.” In it, you’ll find Berkshire food books (like The Way of Eating) as well as cookbooks written by our authors and editors, and other books we love. We will only offer books we truly like and recommend. I started a collection, for example, called “Eco Living” that includes books on rain gardens and resilient gardening. I own these books and consider them excellent resources.

We’re just getting started and will be adding ebooks this week, adjusting prices, and setting up some discounts and free books, too. If you’d like to recommend books to be added to the bookstore – your own or your favorites, on topics that fit with Berkshire’s subject areas (China and Asia, sustainability, world and big history, cross-cultural perspectives, leadership, community, and biography, for starters) – please use this Excel sheet or this Google Form. All we have to have is the title and the ISBN-13.

And please be in touch if I can help your school or class in some way. In fact, please just stay in touch!


The photo above was taken a few years ago in Beijing. This crisis has renewed my desire to educate Americans and Westerners about China. Ever since I began learning about US-China relations, I’ve heard that our countries need to cooperate on the big threats. The lists experts would rattle off included terrorism and climate change and, often, pandemics. As a global pandemic unfolded, our great powers were not ready to cooperate.

We need new leadership, but I’ll leave that point for another day. Today, I want to wish you health and comfort from the bottom of my heart. And I hope I can make you smile with some information about alternatives to toilet paper that bubbled up on my neighborhood email list: “Where has all the toilet paper gone?” Social distancing has led to some intimate sharing!

“North London conversation: ‘Good news and bad news. I found loo paper.’ ‘But?’ ‘It’s pink.’ Civilisation teeters on the brink.” @isabelhilton (of chinadialogue). That’s a very English joke: pink loo roll is what you find in public restrooms and such. If you want a dose of English color humor, try this skit about avocado green from Mitchell & Webb.