Failures of State
Jonathan Calvert and George Arbuthnott, Read by Ben Onwukwe

Book cover image

Narrated By: Ben Onwukwe

Duration: 16 hours and 30 minutes

What to expect


‘An astonishing book’ James O’Brien

‘A gripping, devastating read’ Sunday Times

‘This is a scandal’ Piers Morgan

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.


True stories of discovery, Political leaders & leadership, Politics & government, Political structure & processes

Listen to a sample

An astonishing book that you absolutely have to buy … the nearest we’ll get to an inquiry.’ James O’Brien

Failures of State is a Christmas-at-Argos sized catalogue of the government’s errors, page after page filled with its mistakes, misjudgments and even its possibly actionable crimes.’ Jonathan Freedland, Guardian

This book is superb. Painful but necessary reading. Underlines precisely why a public inquiry is so urgently needed…. Jonathan Calvert and George Arbuthnott’s reporting on Covid has been truly superb. It’s been essential reading throughout the pandemic.’ Rachel Clarke

A masterpiece. This is one of the most important books of our time.’ Owen Jones

Failures of State is a gripping, devastating read. It’s a piece of first-class investigative journalism… this is a work of history. It’s witness. It’s also a kind of catharsis.’ Christina Patterson, Sunday Times

Incredibly reported and wildly damning … It is impossible to read Failures of State, the frequently jaw-dropping book by Sunday Times journalists Jonathan Calvert and George Arbuthnott, and not conclude that the British people deserved far, far better from the government’ Marina Hyde, Guardian

A frightening and detailed account of the failures of the last 12 months. Some of the revelations are sickening and shocking.’ Armando Iannucci, satirist and writer

A damning indictment’ Alan Johnson, Observer

‘Superb journalism … a truly remarkable book.’ Professor Devi Sridhar, Chair of Global Public Health

Buy it and read it so you’re never tempted to forget’ John Crace, Guardian journalist

A devastating new account of Year Covid exposes the Prime Minister’s utter failure to meet the nation’s greatest health crisis for a century.’ Paul Routledge, Daily Mirror

I cannot recommend this book enough’ David Schneider, comedian and writer