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The Demon in the Freezer – Richard Preston

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Chilling. Terrifying. Definately not the book to read (as I did) the week before your four-year old comes down with chicken pox.

A worthy follow-up to his previous work The Hot Zone, The Demon in the Freezer tackles smallpox, giving you a truely unsettling look at the disease, it’s horrifying course through infected victims, it’s history, it’s painstaking eradication by the World Health Organization and hundreds of dedicated scientests and medical practioners, and its Lazurus-like resurrection as a potentially deadly bio-weapon.

Preston traces the story of smallpox, from Indian temples where it is worshipped and placated as a terrifying goddess, to the laboratories of the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the Maximum Containment Laboratory in Siberia, where the world’s only two acknowledged supplies sit, frozen in a vault, between life and death, held immutable by political necessity, fear and scientific study.

As with The Hot Zone, Preston writes with a chilling exactitude and precision that leaves little doubt of the deadly potential for smallpox. The book is very readable and, frankly, hard to put down once started. Preston is very good at walking the reader through the more complex aspects of bio-war, smallpox and the scientific background of the story…maybe too good, as I have been unable to read a single current newstory related to bio-war, terrorism, etc. without thinking about what isn’t being reported…

For more information about smallpox, visit the keepers of the Demon, (also known as the CDC), which has an excellent (if frightening) resource page about the disease.

You can read a short history of smallpox at the American College of Physicians / American Society of Internal Medicine here.

For a dry, rather more clinical link, you can look at the Journal of the American Medical Association’s (JAMA) 1999 article on the usage of smallpox as a biological weapon (just in case you are still able to sleep comfortably after reading the book….).

Finally, for those of you that just can’t get enough…here are some additional recommended titles that I’ve read over the years and found to be excellent, (if not very conducive to a good rest):

The Hot Zone by Richard Preston
The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance by Laurie Garrett
And the Band Played On: Politics, People and the AIDS Epidemic by Randy Shilts

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