If I were to read just one book about smallpox, Scourge would most certainly be it. Scourge is what I would consider the ‘everything smallpox book’. It covers every element of smallpox from its beginnings, to its eradication, to biological warfare, and its position in the world today in a very straightforward fashion. Because this book is so densely packed with information, I would not consider it a particularly easy read. However, I would say that it is a fantastic resource for anyone who wants an in depth summary of smallpox’s role in past, present, and future.
It is difficult to say what my favorite part of this book is, because I appreciate every single part of it. I liked this book from its first, captivating page, which made me even more interested in what I was about to read. The brief history and scientific background were short and sweet, with just enough information. Tucker spent quite a large amount of the book detailing the eradication campaign, which I think is essential to understanding smallpox in today’s world. He spent slightly less time on Soviet biological weapons production, which I certainly enjoyed, but I would have liked him to go into detail about U.S. biological weapons production. I also enjoyed Tucker’s details regarding the ‘to destroy or not to destroy’ debate and his reflections upon 9/11 because they are not just relevant to a distant past. Instead, they are pertinent to the present and a quickly approaching future.
All in all I think this is a fantastic book and I would recommend it to anyone hoping to become a smallpox scholar in fewer than 300 pages. (If someone would rather learn a little bit about smallpox and anthrax in the context of a dramatic plot line, I would recommend reading The Demon in the Freezer instead).