Ken Alibek's autobiographical account of the Soviet biological weapons program is probably the most astonishing, and downright terrifying, things I have read in a long time. It makes a complete mockery of Colin Powell and the vial of white powder - at peak the Soviets were able to manufacture *tons* of weaponised anthrax a day. Plus plenty of other horrible stuff - like Marburg, smallpox and the like. There are some rather detailed accounts of accidents that marred this programme - one of his subordinates getting infected and dying with Marburg, Alibek himself getting Tularemia, and a release of Anthrax that killed over a hundred people. The worst part is, of course, that all of the stuff that was developed, is still out there, and no longer in the hands of one government. Many of the Biopreparat scientists went on to work abroad. Plus, he also gives brief accounts of other sources of biological weapons - like the time in the US that a white supremacist almost got his hands on three vials of plague(!). Don't forget that the weaponised anthrax that was sent in the post in the US, *didn't* come from the Soviet programme.
There's plenty of little details in there too - the fact that all the vaccinations have left him with a huge list of alergies, the way that the cultures changed colour as they grew, the huge amount of political infighting - even a personal account of the failed coup against Mikhail Gorbachev.
I just read this book in one sitting. I simply couldn't let it go. The book tells the story of the USSR research into biowarfare during the cold war, and is told by Kanatjan Alibekov who was at the very top of Biopreparat, the organ who conducted all the research. Biopreparat examined smallpox, plague, anthrax, AIDS, influenza, ebola etc. for use with warfare. The USSR was aboslutely sure that the other powers, like America and England were doing the same, even though a treaty was signed, never to do this.
Reading the book it's hard to understand that this is a true story.
The book is cheap, well-written, and gives a very interesting picture of the cold war, the collapse of the USSR and history in general. I felt history happen.
As soon as 9/11 happened this was one of the books I bought to separate the fact from fiction as paranoia grew across the globe. Ultimately what this book showed was that it would be almost impossible for a terrorist organisation to be able to use biological weapons effectively and indeed since 9/11 there has never been a major biological attack.
However what this book is about is the evolution of the biological weapons arms race between the Soviet Union and the West during the Cold War. The darkest point of the book is where it points out that of course germ warfare is not a weapon of mass destruction because all the infrastructure remains intact. It's just there are no people left alive making it a more "logical" option than nuclear war where the people and the buildings are destroyed. An utterly chilling piece of logic that led to both groups to not only play around with the most dangerous microrganism in the world, but in some cases actually manipulate them to make them more lethal!
Saying all this Ken Alibek tells it all with a remarkable good nature (especially when you consider he was one of the men behind all this and eventually defected to the West). It is well written, full of remarkable and shocking points and ultimately keeps you riveted to a fascinating story.
If you liked this there's more historical debate and fun at @HistoryGems on Facebook and Twitter
This is a book about how the USSR worn out in conventional and atomic arms race decided to play in the illegal territory- bio weapons banned by the 1972 international treaty. In his book one of the highest ranking bio-weapon developers/managers in the USSR describes development of major bio- weapon projects- plague, anthrax, Marburg decease etc as well as major Soviet casualties of this war- whether in Kazkahstan or the more famous accidental emission of anthrax spores in Sverdlovsk. The author also provides a credible insider picture on other grim aspects of working in the USSR- primacy of military sectors in the economy, cut throat internal and office politics in Soviet and post Soviet countries, lack of care respect of Soviet/post Soviet functioners towards its people incl the very people that were behind its strategic developments in science and technology and even racism in Moscow. It's not just releveant for understand history though, as the books allows to draw a lot of parallels with Russia's current relationship with the west and in particular the fact that antagonism with the west is still in the DNA of the country's military and law enforcement.
Those of you who have interest in Kazakhstan will have a chance to learn more about another instance how Moscow used the scale and remoteness of the country to conduct most freightening military test sleaving the now independent country with the terrifying legacy and massive clean up bill.
I picked up this book in Sydney just on the off chance. i read the back and it looked pretty interesting and it was a true story so i decided to buy it. once you start this book you cant put it down. every page you turn you jaw drops that little bit further. its an amazing book and it makes you think about what could of happened if the soviets had decided to use their biological weapons. its one of the best books i have read and i would recomend it to everyone, as it is an insite and a highly interesting book.brilliant!
I bought this book just becuase I had nothing else to read whilst at the airport, but once I had started it, I was glad I had. It is amazing the detail, and the knowledge brought into the book. Things you would not have thought of happening, brought to your knowledge. Its scarey to think that this actually happened, and possibly is continuing to happen. If you need some bringing back to reality, this is the book to do it. If you have any interest in Russia or the Cold War this is a good book to read. If you are just interested in where we are with Bioweapons and the possible outcomes, this will give you a feeling for it. If you are just a reader who think they would like a change, this is a change that is quite scarey. All in all a good read, and not my normal choice of book, but I couldn't put it down.
You have to read this! A tale of a doctor led down the path of making weapons of mass destruction and his gradual realisation that it was all done without a similar threat from the US. The description of what some of the biological agents could have done if released is horrible. Also you realise pretty quickly that the threat is still there. Read it and it'll make you look at white powder with worry for ever more.
At times this is a little hard to read. This is not the fault of the author's but a necessity in dealing with the complex subject matter. Perseverence is worthwhile however as the contents of this book portray a terrifing weapons programme and illustrate a complacent attitude that was displayed by the Western powers toward it.