Friday, September 18, 2009

Review: The Demon in the Freezer

Richard Preston has great story telling skills. He is so talented that when you're reading one of his books, you can actually picture what is going on, whether or not what happen was in your lifetime is regardless. Now, someone will say, that the idea of storytelling is making a person feel like they're living the story. Well, Richard Preston definitely does not fall short of this. In fact, he goes above and beyond given the generous amount of information at his hands. He manages to organize and connect every detail trying to leave nothing out. I saw this in his other great science nonfiction book, The Hot Zone, where he details the outbreaks of several hemorrhagic fevers in several places around the over a forty year timeline. In The Demon in the Freezer, he has tons of more information: over a hundred years’ worth, maybe even more. Yet he tells its like a story and not like a long boring historical documentary.
One of my favorite things about this and his other books, is how it combines history, virology, humanity, compassion and conflict in only 283 pages. Granted, there is more to the story but he briefly but coherently touches upon it all: from the launch and progress of the eradication program to Soviet defectors, the retention vs. destruction fight, the description of what occurred during the 2001 anthrax terror scares, research at major US labs like Fort Detrick and more.
And amidst all this talk about viruses and bioterrorism, he manages to insert personal anecdotes about several people, appealing to the human side while grasping our attention. One of my favorite quotes comes at the end when he says:
"We will never find an explanation…for the love that drove the doctors to bring smallpox to an end. Yet after all they had done, we still held smallpox in our hands, with a grip of death that would never let it go. All I knew was that the dream of total Eradication had failed. The virus’s last strategy of survival was to bewitch its host and become a source of power. We could eradicate smallpox from nature, but we could not uproot the virus from the human heart."
In a personal display of great thought provoking insight, Preston leaves us thinking about what should or should not be done, what is better for humanity and whether we will ever be able to part with this virus.

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