Michael Lewis smiling for the camera: ‘Quarantined with my characters’ … Michael Lewis.

© Photograph: Richard Saker/The Observer
‘Quarantined with my characters’ … Michael Lewis.

Michael Lewis, author of bestsellers including The Big Short and Liar’s Poker, is taking on a topic perhaps even more corrosive than Wall Street: coronavirus.

The author is currently researching and writing his next book, The Premonition, which will be rushed out by Allen Lane in the UK and Norton in the US in May. Subtitled A Pandemic Story, the book will open in January 2020, as people started dying from a new virus in Wuhan, when the magnitude of what lay ahead remained unclear to most people.

It will be, said its publishers, “the extraordinary story of a group who anticipated, traced and hunted the coronavirus; who understood the need to think differently, to learn from history, to question everything; and to do all of this fast, in order to act, to save lives, communities, society itself”.

“I’ve effectively been quarantined with my characters – three of the best characters I have ever had – and it has been as unsettling for them as it has been delightful for me,” said Lewis, who has not revealed their identities. Allen Lane described them as “a small group of scientific misfits who in their different ways had been obsessed all their lives with how viruses spread and replicated – and with why the governments and the institutions that were supposed to look after us kept making the same mistakes time and again”.

a group of people in a room with many items on display: Foreboding … a makeshift hospital soon after the crisis struck Wuhan, China. Photograph: EPA

© Provided by The Guardian
Foreboding … a makeshift hospital soon after the crisis struck Wuhan, China. Photograph: EPA

In a short extract shared by the publisher, Lewis writes: “‘It’s a foreboding,’ she said. ‘A knowing that something is looming around the corner. Like how when the seasons change you can smell Fall in the air right before the leaves change and the wind turns cold.’”

The book’s editor Tom Penn said it was “a powerful reminder of what happens when our systems fail us, and a revelatory exploration of the fallibilities and possibilities of the human mind”.

Lewis revealed the excesses of 1980s Wall Street in his debut Liar’s Poker, looked at the traders who bet against the market leading up to the 2007-8 financial crisis in The Big Short, and explained sports analytics in Moneyball. The Fifth Risk took on Trump – and in an interview with the Observer in 2019 to promote it, he made a prescient prediction about what it might take for people to demand leaders who understand the importance of science. “I think a pandemic might do it, something that could affect millions of people indiscriminately and from which you could not insulate yourself even if you were rich. I think that might do it,” he said.

Related: Following the science: the writers who have made sense of Covid

Lewis is not the only author readying themselves to tackle Covid-19. New Yorker writer Lawrence Wright has interviewed more than 100 people, including Dr Anthony Fauci, for The Plague Year, which is out in June. Publisher Knopf said it will offer “the first clear-eyed assessment of this ongoing catastrophe”, as Wright “takes us inside the Center for Disease Control and the White House, into a hospital Covid ward, into the realm of prediction specialists – and even inside the human body, diving deep into the science of how virus and vaccines function”.

British palliative care doctor Rachel Clarke, meanwhile, gives an inside account of hospital life in the Covid era in Breathtaking, which is just out, and Sunday Times investigative journalists Jonathan Calvert and George Arbuthnott will look at “the inside story of Britain’s battle with coronavirus” in Failures of State, to be published in March. Meanwhile, Adam Tooze’s Shutdown, due in September, will explore how Covid shook the world’s economy.