The Demon in the Freezer

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Random House, 2003 - Science - 292 pages
10 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.

From the Hardcover edition.

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User Review  - EnriqueFreeque - LibraryThing

I'd just as soon not have read "The Demon In The Freezer" if it meant I could remain ignorant of the fact that vaccine resistant smallpox and anthrax is already undoubtedly in the hands of terrorists ... Read full review

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This was a terrific novel that reflected the modern day themes of bio-terrorism, genetic engineering, and the eradication of disease with nail-biting suspense. It was a real page turner that opened up my mind to the dangerous world around me. I enjoyed learning of the work of top scientists and zooming into the world of disease. I was particularly sad towards the end when the arm in the jar was shown, the grotesque smallpox-ridden hand of a three year old American girl. Preston makes a fantastic point at the end, when he says that by the year 2015, Bombay will have twenty-six million people living in it. With corrupt governments and horrible living and medical conditions, our globalized world is susceptible to new diseases. Or, if smallpox is taken from one of the illegal repositories and genetically engineered, the disease would spread like wildfire. With the complexities of air travel and urban-overcrowding, we are putting ourselves at danger. Should Alfred Sommer's suggestion of destroying the world stocks of smallpox be taken seriously, or should smallpox be kept for the future? Is globalization really hindering us? This novel broadened my horizons and taught me so much about the capacity of both medical technology and the human heart. Preston is a realist in this page-turner, with no detail or engrossing fact skipped.  

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About the author (2003)

Richard Preston is the author of The Hot Zone, a #1 New York Times bestseller, and of The Cobra Event, a bioterror thriller, also a New York Times bestseller. A writer for The New Yorker since 1985, Preston won the American Institute of Physics award and is the only nondoctor ever to have received the CDC’s Champion of Prevention award. He has an asteroid named after him and lives outside of New York City.

From the Hardcover edition.

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