The Demon in the Freezer: The Terrifying Truth About the Threat from Bioterrorism

The Demon In The Freezer - Richard Preston I remember Preston's previous book, The Hot Zone about Ebola, absolutely blowing me away. A non-fiction book that was more terrifying than any thriller by Michael Crichton. This didn't impress me the way that other book did, even if it did suck me in and engross me--it read incredibly fast, the kind of book you can tear through in a few hours if you're even a moderately fast reader. There certainly were parts of this book that were chilling and terrifying--and parts that were inspiring. The inspiring part told the story of the Small Pox Eradication program that in the course of less than fifteen years eliminated a virus that has been "thought to have killed more people than any other infectious pathogen"--even more than the Black Plague. This book sweeps past the history of small pox faster and less thoroughly than I liked. The earliest use of a vaccination he mentioned was by an English physician in 1797. Yet I can remember reading how George Washington inoculated his troops for small pox during the Revolutionary War. I also remembered reading how John Adams was inoculated against small pox as a young man. So obviously there's more to the history of this disease and the fight against it than is presented in the book, although Preston does allude to how it (and possibly measles) had a horrific impact on the indigenous people of the Western Hemisphere, virtually annihilating them, and how blankets infected with small pox were used by the English, at least in one documented case, against the Indians in a primitive form of biological warfare. But my own knowledge of small pox left me feeling the historical picture given the reader was incomplete. The main focus of the book though is the prospect of modern biological warfare. For when the World Health Organization ended the work of small pox eradication there were two official, legal sources left undestroyed--one in America and one in Russia. That is the demon in the freezer. And Preston details the evidence that the Soviets used their stock to create strategic weapons to be delivered on biologically tipped warheads--and that the knowledge, and stocks of the virus, have certainly made their way to other nations. So the demon's loose. If that's not scary enough, Preston also devotes much of the book to the 2001 Anthrax attacks. This book was published in 2002, so there wasn't much resolution to that story. And I have to admit I was... well, disconcerted by the emphasis laid on the Iraqis having such biological weapons. Given what we've learned since about the claims for their capacity for weapons of mass destruction, in retrospect it makes Preston's clanging alarm bells seem like fearmongering, if not warmongering, and that's not the kind of thing I say lightly or often. Nevertheless I found this an absorbing and informative book.