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The Demon in the Freezer: A True Storyby Richard Preston
Synopses & Reviews
“The bard of biological weapons captures
the drama of the front lines.”
-Richard Danzig, former secretary of the navy
The first major bioterror event in the United States-the anthrax attacks in October 2001-was a clarion call for scientists who work with “hot” agents to find ways of protecting civilian populations against biological weapons. In The Demon in the Freezer, his first nonfiction book since The Hot Zone, a #1 New York Times bestseller, Richard Preston takes us into the heart of Usamriid, the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Maryland, once the headquarters of the U.S. biological weapons program and now the epicenter of national biodefense.
Peter Jahrling, the top scientist at Usamriid, a wry virologist who cut his teeth on Ebola, one of the world’s most lethal emerging viruses, has ORCON security clearance that gives him access to top secret information on bioweapons. His most urgent priority is to develop a drug that will take on smallpox-and win. Eradicated from the planet in 1979 in one of the great triumphs of modern science, the smallpox virus now resides, officially, in only two high-security freezers-at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta and in Siberia, at a Russian virology institute called Vector. But the demon in the freezer has been set loose. It is almost certain that illegal stocks are in the possession of hostile states, including Iraq and North Korea. Jahrling is haunted by the thought that biologists in secret labs are using genetic engineering to create a new superpox virus, a smallpox resistant to all vaccines.
Usamriid went into a state of Delta Alert on September 11 and activated its emergency response teams when the first anthrax letters were opened in New York and Washington, D.C. Preston reports, in unprecedented detail, on the government’s response to the attacks and takes us into the ongoing FBI investigation. His story is based on interviews with top-level FBI agents and with Dr. Steven Hatfill.
Jahrling is leading a team of scientists doing controversial experiments with live smallpox virus at CDC. Preston takes us into the lab where Jahrling is reawakening smallpox and explains, with cool and devastating precision, what may be at stake if his last bold experiment fails.
Since its founding in 1951, the Epidemic Intelligence Service, a training/service program for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has waged war on disease. When an epidemic hits, the EIS will be there to crack the case, no matter how deadly. Over the years it has had success battling polio, cholera, and smallpox, to name a few, and in recent years has turned to the epidemics plaguing us now H1N1, HIV/AIDS, and gun violence among them. The successful EIS model has spread internationally: former EIS officers have gone on to become leaders in the world of public health and have helped to establish similar programs around the world.
Inside the Outbreakstakes readers on a riveting journey through the history of this remarkable organization, following EIS officers on their globetrotting quest to eliminate the most lethal and widespread threats to the worlds health.
About the Author
MARK PENDERGRAST is the author of four nonfiction books, including Uncommon Grounds: A History of Coffee and How It Transformed Our World and Mirror, Mirror: A History of the Human Love Affair with Reflection.
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