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Hardcover The Demon in the Freezer: A True Story Book

ISBN: 0375508562

ISBN13: 9780375508561

The Demon in the Freezer: A True Story

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Book Overview

"The bard of biological weapons captures the drama of the front lines." -Richard Danzig, former secretary of the navy The first major bioterror event in the United States-the anthrax attacks in October 2001-was a clarion call for scientists who work with "hot" agents to find ways of protecting civilian populations against biological weapons. In The Demon in the Freezer, his first nonfiction book since The Hot Zone, a #1 New York Times bestseller,...

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

Fascinating & Terrifying

Richard Preston's first work of non-fiction, "The Hot Zone" was a gruesome look at emerging viruses in general, and the Ebola virus in particular. However, no matter how grotesque it got, the reader could detach themselves from the book because Ebola is basically unheard of in the developed world, and isn't particularly effective at spreading (it kills its victims to quickly). His latest, "The Demon in the Freezer" is another story altogether.In it, he discusses the appalling specter of smallpox in general, and weaponized smallpox in particular. By using the anthrax attacks of 2001 as a jumping off point, he delves into a fascinating exploration of a disease that most people consider eradicated. Unfortunately, Preston reveals that this is far from the case. While it is true that smallpox hasn't occurred naturally in 25 years, it is accepted (if not altogether proven) that the Russians have significant stockpiles of particularly virulent smallpox. Moreover, it seems probable that some of this material has found its way into the hands of other actors (Iran, Iraq, North Korea). Finally, give the abundance of smallpox samples available just three decades ago, it seems likely that parallel programs could have been pursued in any number of countries.In clear (if you've studied any biology at all, you should be fine with the terms in this book, and there is a glossary), vibrant language, Preston explores the personalities and institutions involved in trying to understand what smallpox today would mean. With a significant portion of the population having never been vaccinated, and the efficacy of 30-year-old vaccinations in serious doubt, it is a certainty that the release of even "natural" smallpox would be an absolutely devastating event. But what is even scarier is the possibility for engineered viruses that could burn through a fresh round of vaccinations and that would be almost impossible to counter.As compelling as the subject matter is, and as breathless as Preston's writing is, it bears mentioning that he does an excellent job of staying above the scientific debate. His narrative is nothing if not evenhanded, and he goes to great lengths to report varying points of view in an engaging, but dispassionate tone. The closest he comes to editorializing is when he takes a jab (that is to my mind well deserved) at the Clinton administration for handling the Russians with kid gloves when the U.S. knew for a fact, from a variety of sources that, they had huge stockpiles of smallpox. The end result of this rather typical bungling was the loss of security, the loss of accountability, and the loss of awareness as to the material's locale.In light of the Bush Administration's recent decision to begin immunizing health care workers, and to begin stockpiling enough vaccine for every American, this book takes on a whole new importance. Anyone who doesn't understand the decision, or what the consequences of bio-warfare are, would do well the read th

You HAVE GOT to read this one!

You Won't sleep until this book is done, and maybe not then! Another True and chilling book by Preston! Never mind Ebola, the hemorrhagic disease that was the main subject of Preston's 1994 #1 bestseller, The Hot Zone. What we really should be worrying about, explains Preston in this terrifying, cautionary new title, is smallpox, or variola. ...and today the variola virus only exists officially in two storage depots.. one in Russia, and the other at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta (in the freezer of the title). To believe that variola is not held elsewhere, however, is nonsense, Says Preston, who delves into the probability that several nations, including Iraq, Iran, Russia and maybe Al-Qaeda, have recently worked, or are currently working, with genetically altered smallpox as a biological weapon! Preston shows why even "normal" smallpox could (and would) sweep the globe in a matter of weeks killing millions, perhaps hundreds of millions! No one on the planet today has an immunity to this disease. A chilling account of what countries have what Bio-weapons, and what happens if they use them. The research is excellent and accurate. Preston takes you through the recent Anthrax attacks, why they were "different" and what happens if a terrorist unleashes an easily genetically modified Smallpox weapon.

"The way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper."

T. S. Eliot's bleak vision of the future doesn't even begin to include the gloomy prognostications revealed in this book. That terrorists will either acquire or develop biological weapons capable of destroying all human life is not just a possibility, it's a probability, as Preston makes abundantly clear in this update on biological weapons development. This book is the ultimate wake-up call. Even if you want to sleep after reading this, you may not be able to.Of the several biological weapons which have been under development in the past twenty-five years, smallpox is by far the most lethal and contagious, and irresponsible scientists have genetically engineered it in the past few years to make vaccination useless against it. Antidotes are unknown because humans are the only hosts for smallpox, and there is no way to run a test study of their efficacy. Preston points out, "It has taken the world twenty years to reach roughly fifty million cases of AIDS. [A single case of smallpox in an unprotected population] can reach that point in ten to twenty weeks."A massive research and development program for weapons grade smallpox and plague, along with the MIRV missiles and warheads to deliver them abroad, continued, unknown and unmonitored, in the Soviet Union for twenty years after smallpox was officially eradicated in 1978. The whereabouts of the twenty tons of "hot," genetically altered smallpox are currently unknown. According to a defecting Russian scientist, even the Soviet researchers do not know where it went, but "they think it went to North Korea." Iran and Iraq are also believed to have "benefited" from this research and to have ongoing, active bioweapons research programs.Preston's focus on the people who are actively fighting potential biological terrorism in this country gives a human face to this frightening prospect, while his descriptions of the individuals who fought for their lives in the world's last cases of smallpox make the horror an all too vivid reality. His analysis of the anthrax outbreak last year, and the delivery systems which make possible such outbreaks of anthrax, Ebola, and plague are enlightening. Forcing the reader to acknowledge the reality of a new kind of war, one more lethal and uncontrollable than ever before in history, Preston illuminates the tenuous nature of human life in the twenty-first century. The tiniest of living organisms are capable of wiping out the entire human population of the world if they get into the hands of a madman. Mary Whipple


Richard Preston has written a frightening book. Starting and ending with the Anthrax attacks on the United States. Preston has talked to many of the top bioweapons engineers in the world and his research shows in this outstanding book. Full of information from accross the world. The history of Smallpox, the eradication effort by the World Health Organization. The background on Anthrax. Side stories to Ebola. The most dangerous virus's in the world are addressed in this book. The book examines the threat of Smallpox and explains why most people in the know about infectious disease's still consider it the worst the world has ever seen, even worse than plague. The book touches on Biopreparat (for a more in depth look read Biohazard by Ken Alibek) and the Russian stockpiles of Smallpox that they have weaponized and put into missiles to attack other countries. The CDC, Center for Disease Control and Prevention, in Atlanta still holds over 450 different strains of Smallpox. The book goes on to explain how many countries have Smallpox and this is not a little known fact. How genetic engineering could easily make Smallpox harder to contain than it already is. In today's world travel a Smallpox outbreak would mean hundreds of thousands of deaths and it would shut down international trade. it would bring the world to its knees. With 25 million people living within a couple hours travel of one another an outbreak in a third world county could show up in the United States in a few days. And this is not taking into account the possibility of a direct bioweapons attack on the United States. Before it was diagnosed, it would be spread around the world by air travel. This book is well written, reads easily, is full of information and very thought provoking. It was so engrossing that I started ready one night and did not want to put it down. I finished it the next afternoon. For a better understanding of what the world is facing today you should read this book. Smallpox is just as dangerous, if not more dangerous, than a nuclear war. Nuclear devastation is confined to the area of the bomb. Smallpox would travel person to person throughout the world. In a word, the information in this book is, frightening.

A Chilling Mastery, A Horrific Threat...

Since I initially read and reviewed THE DEMON IN THE FREEZER back in November 2002, the specter of war in Iraq has continued to spotlight just how prophetic Preston's work is. Yet, as I've mentioned in radio and television interviews on my own novel of bioterrorism, the untold story of this horrific subject remains the distinct possibility that the current smallpox vaccine may not be effective against the bioengineered strain of variola most likely in the hands of rogue nations and, potentially, terrorist groups. We are indeed in danger of experienceing the final epidemic. This, despite the fact that Richard Preston detailed the danger of an engineered smallpox strain (most likely, a legacy of the massive Soviet bioweapon program) in DEMON. In the eleven months I spent researching my novel of bioterrorism, ..., I interviewed dozens of experts in biological weapons, terrorism and medicine.And everywhere I went, I found myself following the footprints of Richard Preston, whose knowledge and professionalism sets the standard in writing about this dark subject. Preston's a hard act to follow-- particularly so because his latest book, The Demon In The Freezer, is all so terribly true.Written in an episodic style, the book has the feel of a journal, albeit one written by a man quietly horrified by the revelations he records. The book centers around the high probability --so high as to constitute a virtual certainity-- of what itself is a horrifying fact: that the variola virus --smallpox, history's greatest mass murderer of humanity-- has come back from its official eradication as a disease in the mid-'70s to emerge today as a biological weapon possessed by a number of rogue states (most likely among them, Iraq) and potentially accessable to fanatical terrorists driven by a hatred of Western society.Preston builds his case through a narrative based on interviews with experts --perhaps the most disturbing, an almost pastoral description of a meeting between Ken Alibeck (who defected from the Soviet bioweapon program, which produced weaponized smallpox by the metric ton and for whom Alibeck invented a particularly lethal variant of anthrax) and former U.S. biowarrior Bill Patrick at the latter's Maryland home. Here, Preston records how the pair chat about mega-death and the ease of bioweapon delivery, even to the point of Patrick using a mundane garden sprayer to send a plume of simulated bio-agent into the gentle breeze, which he posits will carry it to a major urban center within hours. In my other reviews on this subject (Alibeck's BIOHAZARD, for instance) I've already expressed my jaw-dropping astonishment at the appallingly casual attitude so often in evidence among the former high priests of biowarfare. Never has it been portrayed so revealingly as it is in Preston's account.But anthrax, lethal though it may be, is incapable of human-to-human contagion; as such, it becomes only a subnote in "Demon." Always, Preston returns to the real threat:
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