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American Anthrax: Fear, Crime, and the Investigation of the Nation's Deadliest Bioterror Attack [Hardcover]

by Jeanne Guillemin
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)

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Book Description

September 13, 2011 0805091041 978-0805091045 First Edition

From Jeanne Guillemin, one of the world's leading experts on anthrax and bioterrorism, the definitive account of the anthrax investigation

It was the most complex case in FBI history. In what became a seven-year investigation that began shortly after 9/11—with America reeling from the terror attacks of al Qaeda—virulent anthrax spores sent through the mail killed Bob Stevens, a Florida tabloid photo editor. His death and, days later, the discovery in New York and Washington, D.C. of letters filled with anthrax sent shock waves through the nation. Federal agencies were blindsided by the attacks, which eventually killed five people. Taken off guard, the FBI struggled to combine on-the-ground criminal investigation with progress in advanced bioforensic analyses of the letters' contents.

While the criminal eluded justice, disinformation swirled around the letters, erroneously linking them to Iraq's WMD threat and foreign bioterrorism. Without oversight, billions were lavished on biomedical defenses against anthrax and other exotic diseases. Worst of all, faith in federal justice faltered.

American Anthrax is a gripping tale of terror, intrigue, madness, and cover-up.

Editorial Reviews


"[An] intriguing and insightful real-life medical mystery. . . Extensively documented and sprightly written, Guillemin's medical detective story is a valuable addition to understanding the apocalyptic world of biological weapons."—Publishers Weekly

"A compelling and marvelously researched history. Guillemin delivers an expert account of the shock, fear, challenges and twists resulting from the 2001 anthrax attacks on America and its psyche."—The Honorable Tom Ridge, first secretary, U.S. Department of Homeland Security

"American Anthrax is a riveting read, taking us inside the complex and multilayered investigation of the anthrax letter attacks. In this 10th anniversary year of 9/11, the book is a major contribution to the debate about what security threats remain and how best to address them."—Clark Kent Ervin, former Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security

"In this tale of a terrorist armed with germs, Jeanne Guillemin expertly reveals the complex, arduous and frustrating investigation into the anthrax letters, and the disturbing impact on America of a crime with lethal pathogens that ended without a trial or conviction."—David E. Hoffman, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and Its Dangerous Legacy

"Guillemin tells the story of the anthrax attacks in tantalizing detail: how our government–the Centers for Disease Control, FBI, Postal Service, and Army–responded to the anthrax cases that appeared shortly after 9/11. We now know the 2001 American anthrax came from within the US defense establishment, yet the anthrax helped willful leaders justify the invasion of Iraq. An honest and engaging account of an often misunderstood crisis."—Anthony Robbins, MD, MPA, Professor of Public Health, Tufts University and Past-President, American Public Health Association

"American Anthrax is a gripping story of a series of human tragedies at the collision of behavior, biology and bureaucracy. It underscores the crucial importance not only of public health readiness but of basic science in controlling dangerous disease outbreaks, however they emerge."—David R. Franz, former commander, USAMRIID

"American Anthrax vividly describes, in meticulous detail, the confusion and panic after lethal anthrax letters were sent through the mail in the aftermath of the attacks on the World Trade Center. Uncoordinated and often unprepared government institutions had to work together and, more difficult, learn to deal with biological forensics while confronting the combined pressures of continuing danger, public fears, and the political demands of an administration eager to make the case for foreign attack. This is a remarkable combination of history, politics, science, and psychology. A splendid book."—Philip Heymann, Professor at Harvard Law School, coauthor of Laws, Outlaws, and Terrorists, and former Deputy Attorney General

About the Author

Jeanne Guillemin is a senior fellow in the Security Studies Program at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in the Center for International Studies. She is the author of Anthrax: The Investigation of a Deadly Outbreak and Biological Weapons: From the Invention of State-Sponsored Programs to Contemporary Bioterrorism.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Times Books; First Edition edition (September 13, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805091041
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805091045
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.4 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,202,837 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jeanne Guillemin is a senior fellow in the Security Studies Program at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in the Center for International Studies. Her academic specialty focuses on national security issues involving infectious diseases and in particular the history of biological weapons. Her most recent book is "American Anthrax: Fear, Crime, and the Investigation of the Nation's Deadliest Bioterror Attack" (2012). In 2005 she wrote "Biological Weapons: From State-sponsored Programs to Contemporary Bioterrorism." In 1999, she chronicled her research on the 1979 Sverdlovsk outbreak in "Anthrax: The Investigation of a Deadly Outbreak."

The Massachusetts Center for the Book has listed American Anthrax as a "Must-Read" book for 2012!

Read Dr. Guillemin's May 24 2012 letter to the Boston Globe, "A vital institution, Postal Service should be valued."

Read it here:

Watch Dr. Guillemin talk about the 2001 Anthrax Attacks at The Library of Congress at the following link.

Listen to the author in her September 2011 interview with Ireland's Newstalk radio. Click on the link, scroll down, and click on the "Monday September 5: Anthrax and Attractiveness" link.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I believe this to be one of the best books I have read on the 2001 Anthrax attacks. Curiously I can't find any reference in the book to Dr. Majidi, "A Spore On A Grassy Knoll," who claims to be the top scientific advisor to the FBI working directly under Robert S. Mueller.

Professor Guillemin does a good job of convincing me that Bruce Ivins was in fact a true nut case, that did commit suicide, and possibly could have been the perpetrator of the 2001 Anthrax killings. In contrast, other than being a nut job who did carry grudges, he doesn't seem to be a person that would have the motivation to senselessly kill several innocent individuals.

Cleaning up lab spills without notifying his supervisors, while in violation of policy doesn't seem to me to be totally incriminating.

The book is extremely well written, well indexed, and it's easy to find and read about what interests you in the case. However, Professor Guillemin fails to convince me that the attacks weren't actually directed out of VP Cheney's office and used as a psy-op to convince a gullible public, congress, and the UN that the invasion of Iraq was justified and necessary.

When it's all said and done, Cheney, along with other members of the court appointed Bush administration had much greater motivation, and at least equal or better opportunity to see that this crime was not only carried out, but covered up.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good book. October 21, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
An interesting story well told about the Anthrax letters shortly after 9/11. Alas, there are no neat conclusions, only endless struggles to find out who sent the letters.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Informative, gripping drama September 29, 2011
Jeanne Guillemin writes a comprehensive story of a very confusing and terrifying series of events. Though conspiracy theorists love to speculate, Dr. Guillemin sticks to verifiable facts, documented events, and first-person interviews. As you'll see from her other books, Dr. Guillemin has been studying anthrax and bioterrorism for many years. Those interested in the subject of anthrax in general should read her other book "Anthrax: the Investigation of a Deadly Outbreak" and her article on the subject with Matthew Meselson et al. in Science magazine "The Sverdlovsk anthrax outbreak of 1979"(Science. 1994 Nov 18;266(5188):1202-8).

I recall the mood of panic and speculation as the events described occurred. Even the most innocent things (such as flour course markers left by running clubs) caused fear in communities. But it was hard science and sound investigative techniques that lead investigators to one very troubled individual, one who eventually committed suicide.

This is the story of that investigation, and I'm sure you'll find it a fascinating study.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Contemporary History June 17, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is a very informative, well written book that recounts the 2001 anthrax mailing incident. It provides background and depth that is not readily available in the general media at about the right level of technical or scientific detail appropriate for the general reader. Many insights are provided into how science works and is used by large institutions, the role played by the self-appointed, self-promoting experts who inhabit these institutions, and why it took as long as it did to carry out the investigation, a situation that allowed conspiracy theorists, neocons pushing for war with Iraq, and opportunistic politicians to create and promote their own narratives. The author is even handed and avoids accusations. I wished for a little more detail on the biology of anthrax; for example, what is understood about how it is possible that the persons who opened the envelopes and dumped the anthrax spores on their clothing and into the trash (!) survived, but two who were exposed in what should have been a very minor way (Lundgren and Nguyen) succumbed?
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