The Demon In The Freezer by Richard Preston
Publication date: 26 August 2003 by Random House
Category: Adult Non-Fiction
Keywords:Non-fiction, true story, diseases, smallpox, biological warfare
Format: Mass market paperback, eBook
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.
The Demon In the Freezer is the chilling and true story of the evolution of smallpox. It takes a close look at the disease, our attempts to eradicate it, and its later use in bioterrorism. I really loved Preston’s The Hot Zone, which was probably one of the scariest books I have ever read. While The Demon In The Freezer didn’t pack quite the same punch (it’s hard to compete with Ebola), it was still a fascinating and frightening read.
In a world of modern medicine, WebMD and countless vaccinations, it might be hard to think of a time when a disease such as smallpox could cause such a panic. Recent outbreaks of swine flu and bird flu are tiny blips when compared to effects of smallpox at its peak. I really didn’t know much about smallpox before reading this book except for references on The X-Files and this book gave me a new respect for the various government agencies and individuals who worked tirelessly for years to get rid of the disease.
Though no longer an immediate threat, smallpox is far from gone. The samples that we know of reside in various government freezers and are being used for research. Whether or not this research is really being done for the good of humanity or as an attempt to gain a weapon that no other country has is debatable. The idea that someone might be working on a weaponized version of smallpox terrifies me and I hope that it’s something that we never see in action
Preston is matter of fact in his depictions of smallpox and what it can do to the human body and population which makes it even more terrifying. Seriously, you won’t want to go out for or touch anything after reading this book. Some of the really scientific parts can be a little dry at times but it still manages to keep you on the edge of your seat. And Preston has a flair for making you feel like you are there watching these events unfold. A must read for Preston fans and fans of biological thrillers.
Visit the author online at richardpreston.net and find him on Facebook