by Richard Preston
The Demon in the Freezer
Random House, October, 2002.
Hardcover, 233 pages.
Lately, everyone has heard a great deal about smallpox and the possibility it could be used in a devastating and horrifying terrorist attack. Recently, the president authorized smallpox vaccinations for the military. Eventually, the smallpox vaccine will be offered to the public as well, but it will not be mandatory unless there is an actual smallpox release. No matter what you have already heard, you will be significantly more alarmed after reading The Demon in the Freezer. Author Richard Preston has a way of focusing on the most alarming symptoms and potential problems of any disease. In this case, as it was in the Hot Zone, his book about the ebola virus, the symptoms of smallpox and the enormous devastation a release on the public could have, are all too real.
In the book Preston gives a background on smallpox, including its horrible symptoms and ability to spread rapidly. One of the horrifying symptoms Preston focuses on is the fact that, unlike all other diseases, when a human body is attacked by smallpox, the person is somehow made more alert and more sensitive, making smallpox incredibly frightening and painful. Preston writes, "As the end approaches, the smallpox victim can remain conscious, in a kind of frozen awareness -- 'a peculiar state of apprehension and mental alertness that were said to be unlike the manifestations of any other disease,' in the words of the Big Red Book. As the cytokine storm devolves into chaos, the breathing may end with a sigh. The exact cause of death in fatal smallpox is unknown to science." Preston also describes in gruesome detail extremely severe smallpox cases where the person's skin does not blister, but instead develops a dark charred appearance and slides off their body in sheets. Preston also goes into great detail about the incredible pursuit to eradicate smallpox, which has spared humanity from smallpox outbreaks since the early 1970s. Unfortunately, as Preston explains in another chapter, once it had been eradicated humans then decided to turn smallpox into a weapon -- especially in Russia where secret labs built weapons that could deliver smallpox particles to thousands of people. Preston also discusses the recent anthrax outbreak and mentions that at first the government was concerned there could be smallpox particles hidden among the anthrax spores. Fortunately, this was not the case. The most alarming part of the book is where Preston discusses a bioengineered smallpox weapon that could infect and kill people even if they had been recently vaccinated. This is an excellent book about a terrifying subject. Smallpox is something all of humanity should understand, so that we know what we are dealing with and why we tried to eradicate it. Richard Preston's book helps people understand. It includes an overview of smallpox and its history, its impact on humanity and the terrifying consequences should mankind decide to intentionally bring it back in the form of a weapon. Highly Recommended.
The Demon in the Freezer is available for purchase on Amazon.com
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This review was published in the December - January, 2003 of The Internet Writing Journal.
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