Thursday, September 17, 2009

Review: The Demon in the Freezer

When I started reading “The Demon in the Freezer,” I was convinced I was reading a thriller novel. The bioterror threat itself seems like science fiction. That Preston’s work uses the thriller framework to present this terrifying, alien threat only makes his writing more effective. Preston’s book is above everything accessible. The writing flows, a story emerges, and you become engrossed in the characters involved, notably Peter Jahrling and Lisa Hensley. These aspects make the bioterror threat more urgent and human, while still utilizing its unable-to-look-away-from-a-train-wreck nature to draw and hold readers.

While not heavy on the science, I still learned from this work. I shared D.A. Henderson’s credulity when monkeys were successfully infected with smallpox, an event that I had not read about in other works. I also learned about the IL-4 experiment in mice and was shocked at the availability of public information that could be used to make a biological weapon. Further, I think it was a good idea to tie the anthrax events to smallpox. The more recent anthrax attacks give the smallpox threat added weight and highlight the difficulties in detecting and tracing bioterror perpetrators.

This work succeeds because it presents very serious, scientific issues in an approachable way, so that all readers, regardless of their scientific background, can participate in questioning the ethics of science and biological weapons in our society. These are issues that go beyond simply scientists: they affect everyone. This is definitely a must read that ends too soon. I commend Preston for making science manageable for all and for revealing humanizing insights into the biological weapons threat.

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