Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Review: The Demon in the Freezer

Before reading The Demon in the Freezer, I was not aware of the extent to which science has gone in the effort to weaponize biological agents. It was astounding to learn about the perversion of biological science , of transforming epidemic disease into a weapon. Preston provided a comprehensive overview of the history of biological weapons programs in the Soviet Union, of the international smallpox eradication program, and of the recent bioterror scares involving anthrax. Yet in attempting to cover so much historical, topical, and geographic ground, The Demon in the Freezer can feel chaotic at times. Jumping from a young researcher's accident with ebola virus to an island in Bangladesh forty years previously, it is occasionally difficult to divine a cohesive theme from Preston's book, or to process the immense variety of information he provides. On the other hand, personally profiling each of the individuals-- smallpox victims, doctors, and scientists-- helps to paint a picture of this devastating disease in a way that no medical textbook could. Preston brings frightening epidemic diseases back into the public consciousness, explaining their pathology and the widescale social and political impacts faced by those who decide to harness them as weapons. Richard Preston's book should be commended for bringing a comprehensible survey of recent epidemiology to the public. It is an entertaining, sometimes terrifying novel that provides a human face to the specter of biological weapons.

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