Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Review: Scourge

Jonathan Tucker’s comprehensive work, “Scourge,” is the perfect book for learning the basics about every aspect of smallpox’s multifaceted existence. From the disease’s early history to eradication to its potential as a biological weapon, Tucker covers it all. The book is packed with critical information yet is miraculously under 300 pages, an admirable feat indeed.

Throughout the story of eradication and especially afterwards, in the debate over whether to destroy the virus strains, Tucker relies heavily on eradication leader D.A. Henderson’s analysis. Henderson is Tucker’s barometer for almost every issue related to the virus strain destruction debate. While it was interesting to hear the legendary Henderson’s take, I feel as though Tucker over-used Henderson’s opinions and could have more effectively used them sparingly. However, this is but a small complaint for an otherwise superb work.

I was especially enthralled by Tucker’s description of the “Dark Winter” scenario, a simulation of a bioteror attack with smallpox. His descriptions of the destruction the virus could bring upon a largely unvaccinated population were chilling and terrifying. This is where Tucker’s work triumphs. He is able to raise central questions about disease eradication and scientific ethics without being stuffy or overly theoretical. He adds an emotional dimension and urgency to these issues, making “Scourge” as much about how we should question our scientific system now as about the dread disease that plagued humanity for centuries.

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