Book - Public Affairs

The Devil Never Sleeps: Learning to Live in an Age of Disasters

| March 2022


We can’t stop disasters — but we can better prepare for them.

In her latest book, The Devil Never Sleeps, Belfer Senior Lecturer in International Security Juliette Kayyem lays the groundwork for a new “fail safely” approach to dealing with disasters. She begins by distinguishing the period before the disaster itself, called “left of boom,” and the period after the disaster, or “right of boom.” “Most disaster management focuses on the period before the disaster, where prevention and protection efforts are meant to avert a crisis,” says Kayyem, Faculty Director of the Belfer Center’s Homeland Security Project. “But despite those best efforts, the boom will arrive.”

Front Cover of Devil Never Sleeps

Kayyem’s book shares lessons on how to better prepare for that moment. She examines notable crises, like the Challenger explosion, California wildfires, and the power outage at Super Bowl XLVII, detailing the choices people made along the way and how they impacted outcomes.

Kayyem’s research includes tried-and-true steps to minimize harm from such crises: making sure the risk is communicated and widely understood; preparing people to respond to a range of scenarios; ensuring redundancies in safety systems, so that none becomes the last line of defense; testing those systems; challenging the fallacy that a near miss implies immunity from a future calamity; and making adjustments after past mistakes.

This approach is different from trying to eliminate all risk. Living every day on the left of boom is not possible and cannot be a standard for success, Kayem writes. “We must now view success through the lens of what I call consequence minimization,” she writes. “Simply, did we do enough that our entry to the right of the boom will result in less horror, not none?”

When it comes to these preparations, it’s not just up to governments and businesses. Everyone is responsible for disaster management, she writes.

Praise for The Devil Never Sleeps

“Kayyem combines real-world national security experience, the everyday personal experiences of an individual, and the genius of a policy thinker for her compelling and engaging new book. Virtually anything Kayyem writes is a must-read and she has put it all together to help us prepare for our era of disasters.”—Jeh Johnson, former secretary of homeland security

“From 9/11 through the pandemic, the United States has been battered by several decades of emergencies. Even more, and worse, are ahead. Juliette Kayyem has a clear-eyed, sane, urgent-but-not-frantic set of principles to guide us in dealing with ‘the devil.’ We’ll all be better off for following her advice.”—James Fallows, National Book Award winner

“Juliette Kayyem is who we call when disaster strikes for a reason: she’s calm, unafraid, and deeply informed. Here she leaves no disaster unturned as she shows how we can be ready to respond. She’ll open your eyes: you’ll definitely never think of Fukushima, fires, or even Beyoncé the same way again.”—Erin Burnett, CNN anchor

About This Book

The Devil Never Sleeps

The Devil Never Sleeps: Learning to Live in an Age of Disasters
For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Kayyem, Juliette. The Devil Never Sleeps: Learning to Live in an Age of Disasters. New York, NY: Public Affairs, March 2022.

The Author

Juliette Kayyem Headshot