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Publisher's Summary

This "novel of contagion and collapse is also the story of love’s unlikely survival in the most hostile conditions” (Karen Russell, bestselling author of Swamplandia!)—from the National Book Award-nominated author of The Book of Aron.

In a tiny settlement on the west coast of Greenland, 11-year-old Aleq and his best friend, frequent trespassers at a mining site exposed to mountains of long-buried and thawing permafrost, carry what they pick up back into their village, and from there Shepard's harrowing and deeply moving story follows Aleq, one of the few survivors of the initial outbreak, through his identification and radical isolation as the likely index patient.

While he shoulders both a crushing guilt for what he may have done and the hopes of a world looking for answers, we also meet two Epidemic Intelligence Service investigators dispatched from the CDC--Jeannine, an epidemiologist and daughter of Algerian immigrants, and Danice, an M.D. and lab wonk. As they attempt to head off the cataclysm, Jeannine--moving from the Greeland hospital overwhelmed with the first patients to a Level 4 high-security facility in the Rocky Mountains--does what she can to sustain Aleq.

Both a chamber piece of multiple intimate perspectives and a more omniscient glimpse into the megastructures (political, cultural, and biological) that inform such a disaster, the novel reminds us of the crucial bonds that form in the midst of catastrophe, as a child and several hypereducated adults learn what it means to provide adequate support for those they love. In the process, they celebrate the precious worlds they might lose, and help to shape others that may survive.

©2021 Jim Shepard (P)2021 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

One of The A.V. Club's Best Books of the Year 

“Riveting...Shepard writes with drilling authority about Greenland, epidemiology, the challenges women doctors and scientists face, and the confounding complexities of the microbial world. With word-by-word artistry, fluid compassion, and deep insights, Shepard emphatically dramatizes epic failures, self-sacrificing dedication, desolation, and love.” (Donna Seaman, Booklist, starred review) 

“No amount of prior admiration for Jim Shepard’s fiction prepared me for the magnificent Phase Six - a book at once so wise and so funny, so bleak and so tender. With astonishing virtuosity, he conveys huge amounts of information in a way that is not only lucid but utterly gripping, and he creates characters who make me want to rush into the novel to save them from the virus and themselves. What a triumph!” (Margot Livesey, author of The Boy in the Field)

“Paced like a prophetic thriller...Shepard has frequently employed research as a foundation for his literary creations, but never before in such pulse-racing fashion.... Readers will find themselves in territory that feels eerily familiar - panic, politics, uncertainty, fear, a resistance to quarantine, an overload of media noise - as Shepard's command of tone never lets the tension ease.... All the narrative propulsion of escapist fiction without the escape.” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review) 

What listeners say about Phase Six

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Solid and very absorbing

This is a tight, well-written public health thriller about the next pandemic. Solid characters, great premise and execution. Yes, it is depressing, but it helped me wrap my head around the last year+. I appreciate authors taking this on. The narrator is excellent and I like that she doesn't try to imitate men's voices, but reads them in her own voice.

3 people found this helpful

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Do not bother

I am 15 minutes from the end and I cannot take one more sanctimonious word. What a pitiful excuse of a pandemic story. What unlikable characters. Jeneanne is worthless. The whole cast emotionally abuse a little boy. And last but not least, it was a mining village for pity's sake and none of these geniuses thought to investigate that possibility but spent the whole book worrying about whether they would get credit for a breakthrough without breaking through anything but my patience. Oh, now I get it...it was a story about the CDCl!

1 person found this helpful

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A waste of time

Other than that this book is very topical, i.e., about an out-of-control epidemic, it's not very good. As a listener, I couldn't keep the two female characters straight--there was very little character development. Maybe it's better on the page... Also, some of the plot threads are left unresolved; is this the first of a series? The first part is interesting, set on an island in a culture that is unknown to most of us. But that is left behind pretty soon.

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Great introduction, disappointing conclusion

The introduction and background of the book were excellent. They were factual and the future predictions were very realistic. Until the part, that deals with the cause of the problems. For non-medical/scientists, not enough background information was given for them to follow/explain the process. For readers with a medical/science background, it was not plausible, poorly written, and disappointing. The performance was great.

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Disappointing

Maybe if I hadn’t experienced COVID I would have found this more compelling. Too short, characters not well rounded, was completely unprepared when it abruptly ended. No insight into the actual workings of scientific system / actual meaningful discussion of why systems were not upgraded post-COVID. Just sweeping statements. Storyline in hospital abruptly ended mid-book. I didn’t find the book offered compelling insight into human relationships, as the description claims.

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A compelling listen!

This book really held my attention. In spite of the dark subject, I looked forward to every minute I could spend listening. The situations and characters were all believable and intriguing; the scientific information was challenging but not impossible for the non-scientist; the writing style was very accomplished and engaging. The narrator seemed just right to me - crisp, clear, confidently in command of the material, and free of common annoying pitfalls (over-enunciation, mispronunciations, misplaced word emphases, annoying tone.) Highly recommend.

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Very disappointing

and depressing. The narrator either does a very poor job or is trying to convey a dull sense of reportage. The story is unsatisfactory because it implies a situation that’s a man’s resolution and refuses to supply it . Had I not recently returned a number of books because up for purchasing decisions I would have to return this one.