The first two books that I read for Smallpox Safari, Smallpox—The Death of a Disease and Scourge, were both fascinating and incredibly informative. Looking back, however, I realize that it is Richard Preston’s The Demon in the Freezer that is the perfect introduction to smallpox. First, Preston’s story is informative, as he gives a detailed overview of the history and eradication of smallpox, along with the potential future threats of the disease. Second, the subject matter is timely. As Preston weaves the story through both smallpox and anthrax, he taps into the fears of the reader; both in 2002 soon after when the anthrax attacks occurred and in 2009 in a world where science and military are growing ever more connected. (Although I do agree that the presence of anthrax in the storyline did unnecessarily complicate the book). Finally, The Demon in the Freezer is simply exciting, due to the subject and the author’s gift for impressive storytelling.
Herein lies the beauty of The Demon in the Freezer, in its ability to combine a significant amount of academic information with an exhilarating literary adventure. The excitement is only compounded by the reality that Preston presents. Like most readers, Preston’s concluding words struck me: “We could eradicate smallpox from nature, but we could not uproot the virus from the human heart.” The Demon in the Freezer provides perfectly both the introductory information and the incentive to dive into the study of smallpox.