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VINE VOICEon 19 October 2003
This is the 3rd book of what Richard Preston now refers to as his Dark Biology trilogy. He is undoubtedly one of the most informative writers on this topic, which certainly should be giving great cause for concern.
I would strongly recommend the other 2 books : The Hot Zone is a non-fictional account about Ebola; the 2nd the Cobra Event is a novel, all the more effective for the background knowledge he had acquired.
In this book Preston reverts back to the non-fiction genre to tell an upto date story about Anthrax (following the as yet unsolved incidents in the USA) and Smallpox (and the activities of the Russians in violation of International Treaty).
There are other books available that had already discussed Anthrax or and/or Smallpox, so some of the material I already knew, but the section that was news to me, and thus more fascinating, was the description about the Smallpox outbreak at Meschede Hospital in Germany in 1970.
If I have one criticism about Preston, it is that whilst he tries to show you the human side of what the participants were thinking at the time, he sometimes plays it to excess giving out superfluous information. This may be of use in a novel to create a sense of character, but in a non-fictional account, it isn't necessary. For example, instead of just saying he has lunch with one of his interviewees, you get the brand name of the beer that they drank (Molson). Elsewhere he describes meetings with others that they were drinking Glenmorangie & Linkwood Malt Whisky - at least he saved us from saying how old the Whisky was, or whether or not they had water with it.
Despite these Product Placement issues, he is an author to follow.
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T. S. Eliot's bleak vision of the future doesn't even begin to include the gloomy prognostications revealed in this book. That terrorists will either acquire or develop biological weapons capable of destroying all human life is not just a possibility, it's a probability, as Preston makes abundantly clear in this update on biological weapons development. This book is the ultimate wake-up call. Even if you want to sleep after reading this, you may not be able to.
Of the several biological weapons which have been under development in the past twenty-five years, smallpox is by far the most lethal and contagious, and irresponsible scientists have genetically engineered it in the past few years to make vaccination useless against it. Antidotes are unknown because humans are the only hosts for smallpox, and there is no way to run a test study of their efficacy. Preston points out, "It has taken the world twenty years to reach roughly fifty million cases of AIDS. [A single case of smallpox in an unprotected population] can reach that point in ten to twenty weeks."
A massive research and development program for weapons grade smallpox and plague, along with the MIRV missiles and warheads to deliver them abroad, continued, unknown and unmonitored, in the Soviet Union for twenty years after smallpox was officially eradicated in 1978. The whereabouts of the twenty tons of "hot," genetically altered smallpox are currently unknown. According to a defecting Russian scientist, even the Soviet researchers do not know where it went, but "they think it went to North Korea." Iran and Iraq are also believed to have "benefited" from this research and to have ongoing, active bioweapons research programs.
Preston's focus on the people who are actively fighting potential biological terrorism gives a human face to this frightening prospect, while his descriptions of the individuals who fought for their lives in the world's last cases of smallpox make the horror an all too vivid reality. His analysis of the anthrax outbreak in the U.S. last year, and the delivery systems which make possible such outbreaks of anthrax, Ebola, and plague are enlightening. Forcing the reader to acknowledge the reality of a new kind of war, one more lethal and uncontrollable than ever before in history, Preston illuminates the tenuous nature of human life in the twenty-first century. The tiniest of living organisms are capable of wiping out the entire human population of the world if they get into the hands of a madman. Mary Whipple
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on 11 January 2006
Covers and confronts the reality and sensationalism surrounding deadly diseases Smallpox and Anthrax. Fast-paced, gripping account of science, our need for it and its effect. Monkeypox, super-pox etc. The jump between species. The threat of Bioterrorism. An ancient life-form. Covers the famous Eradication Program, where a whole disease was confronted and removed from humanity....brave and heroic. Champions the World Health Org.....Let us hope that books like this one help the world to heed the lessons of the past......
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T. S. Eliot's bleak vision of the future doesn't even begin to include the gloomy prognostications revealed in this book. That terrorists will either acquire or develop biological weapons capable of destroying all human life is not just a possibility, it's a probability, as Preston makes abundantly clear in this update on biological weapons development. This book is the ultimate wake-up call. Even if you want to sleep after reading this, you may not be able to.
Of the several biological weapons which have been under development in the past twenty-five years, smallpox is by far the most lethal and contagious, and irresponsible scientists have genetically engineered it in the past few years to make vaccination useless against it. Antidotes are unknown because humans are the only hosts for smallpox, and there is no way to run a test study of their efficacy. Preston points out, "It has taken the world twenty years to reach roughly fifty million cases of AIDS. [A single case of smallpox in an unprotected population] can reach that point in ten to twenty weeks."
A massive research and development program for weapons grade smallpox and plague, along with the MIRV missiles and warheads to deliver them abroad, continued, unknown and unmonitored, in the Soviet Union for twenty years after smallpox was officially eradicated in 1978. The whereabouts of the twenty tons of "hot," genetically altered smallpox are currently unknown. According to a defecting Russian scientist, even the Soviet researchers do not know where it went, but "they think it went to North Korea." Iran and Iraq are also believed to have "benefited" from this research and to have ongoing, active bioweapons research programs.
Preston's focus on the people who are actively fighting potential biological terrorism in this country gives a human face to this frightening prospect, while his descriptions of the individuals who fought for their lives in the world's last cases of smallpox make the horror an all too vivid reality. His analysis of the anthrax outbreak last year, and the delivery systems which make possible such outbreaks of anthrax, Ebola, and plague are enlightening. Forcing the reader to acknowledge the reality of a new kind of war, one more lethal and uncontrollable than ever before in history, Preston illuminates the tenuous nature of human life in the twenty-first century. The tiniest of living organisms are capable of wiping out the entire human population of the world if they get into the hands of a madman. Mary Whipple
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on 22 April 2004
I borrowed this book from my local library and will now be buying it! Iwas alternatly terrified and fascinated by the events and people in thisbook. It is very well written and provides an insight into the world ofbiological agents/germ warfare as well as the attempts to provide thehuman race with protection. Although this book is non-fiction I did findmyself wishing it was fiction - the thought that terrorists have access tosuch viruses and would be only too happy to use them is very scary. Iwould recommend this book to anyone (apart from children.) The author hasdone an excellent job with a scary subject and explains it all in a waywhich the layman can understand without being patronising.
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on 19 February 2003
In October of 2001, the United States came under its first biological attack, when a number of media members and political leaders began receiving letters containing specially prepared anthrax. The American government, already alarmed at the revelations of Russian weaponization of smallpox, went into a crisis mode. This book follows two stories: the American investigation of the anthrax attack, and the history of smallpox, especially in light of modern developments in genetic manipulation. Do you think that those two are not related? Think again!
OK, that sounds pretty clinical, right? Well, this book is anything but dry reading. The author takes the reader on a roller coaster ride, swinging between the fascinating and the terrifying! Spinning out such revelations as the ease with which diseases may be weaponized, the extent to which genetic manipulation has already gone in producing deadly versions of already terrifying diseases, and the possibility that the Russian government has lost several *TONS* of smallpox virus!
If you want a comforting book, filled with warm-fuzzy thoughts, then look elsewhere. However, if you are looking for a book that will enlighten you as to why the American government is suddenly afraid of a smallpox attack, then you *must* get this book. It is a fascinating and informative read, and I recommend it to everyone.
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on 22 February 2005
After reading "The Hot Zone" by the same author I was prepared for some of the graphic descriptions in this book.
I particularly enjoyed this book as it details diseases we are unlikely to have ever encountered. If you like biological sciences you will love this book.
If you've read "The Hot Zone" you'll recognise quite a few of the characters and locations.
Just one word of advice: do not read this book whilst eating.
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T. S. Eliot's bleak vision of the future doesn't even begin to include the gloomy prognostications revealed in this book. That terrorists will either acquire or develop biological weapons capable of destroying all human life is not just a possibility, it's a probability, as Preston makes abundantly clear in this update on biological weapons development. This book is the ultimate wake-up call. Even if you want to sleep after reading this, you may not be able to.
Of the several biological weapons which have been under development in the past twenty-five years, smallpox is by far the most lethal and contagious, and irresponsible scientists have genetically engineered it in the past few years to make vaccination useless against it. Antidotes are unknown because humans are the only hosts for smallpox, and there is no way to run a test study of their efficacy. Preston points out, "It has taken the world twenty years to reach roughly fifty million cases of AIDS. [A single case of smallpox in an unprotected population] can reach that point in ten to twenty weeks."
A massive research and development program for weapons grade smallpox and plague, along with the MIRV missiles and warheads to deliver them abroad, continued, unknown and unmonitored, in the Soviet Union for twenty years after smallpox was officially eradicated in 1978. The whereabouts of the twenty tons of "hot," genetically altered smallpox are currently unknown. According to a defecting Russian scientist, even the Soviet researchers do not know where it went, but "they think it went to North Korea." Iran and Iraq are also believed to have "benefited" from this research and to have ongoing, active bioweapons research programs.
Preston's focus on the people who are actively fighting potential biological terrorism in this country gives a human face to this frightening prospect, while his descriptions of the individuals who fought for their lives in the world's last cases of smallpox make the horror an all too vivid reality. His analysis of the anthrax outbreak last year, and the delivery systems which make possible such outbreaks of anthrax, Ebola, and plague are enlightening. Forcing the reader to acknowledge the reality of a new kind of war, one more lethal and uncontrollable than ever before in history, Preston illuminates the tenuous nature of human life in the twenty-first century. The tiniest of living organisms are capable of wiping out the entire human population of the world if they get into the hands of a madman. Mary Whipple
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on 28 August 2006
Richard Preston describes the nightmare of smallpox: the effects of the disease, the enormous efforts made by literally hundreds of thousands of people between 1965 and 1979 to eradicate the disease (the only human disease eradicated so far) and the potential use of the remaining virus stocks as biological weapons. And in between one gets information on anthrax as well. Reading this book raises the hairs on the back of your neck: it is so easy to make a supervirus and it was so stupid not to destroy the remaining stocks of virus when they were kept in refrigerators in only 2 laboratories (one is the USA and 1 in the USSR) in the seventies. An extremely important story told in a roller coaster fashion that grabs you and does not let go.
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on 23 November 2012
Richard Preston has a talent for picking a hot virus (smallpox in this case and Ebola in 'The Hot Zone' and weaving a thrilling narrative. Having been born after the smallpox eradication, it's never been a disease that concerned me... until now! I'm not sure if this is still in print (this copy was an excellent condition second hand book) but it is well worth a read. Highly recommend.
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