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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Misleading title, yes. Good book, yes.
I don't understand why people are getting so up in arms about the title. It's an attention grabber, which is what titles are supposed to do. The book is a collection of short pieces about non-fiction subjects. To those who are complaining that the book isn't as exciting as Preston's other work, please take note: this is not fiction, and is therefore doesn't have as much...
Published on September 2, 2009 by D. Swallow

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67 of 75 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars RICK "SHAQ" GOLDSTEIN SAYS: "THEY HAD SURVEYED "PI" TO 2,260,321,336 DECIMALS"
The potential reader should be warned that despite the title of the book being "PANIC IN LEVEL 4", only the introduction portion of the book takes place at the Army's Level 4 virus laboratories at Fort Detrick, an Army base in the eastern flank of the Appalachian Mountains in Maryland. This is the headquarters of the United States Army Medical Research Institute of...
Published on June 17, 2008 by Rick Shaq Goldstein


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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Bored, October 12, 2014
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I feel like I wasted my time and money on this boring book. on and on and on about PI. is an example of trite writing this book endorses.
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1.0 out of 5 stars Unacceptable blatant lies about content, December 4, 2014
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I got 44 percent into the book then started skimming. The book has hardly any of interest if you bought the book for the title. OMG the first part was really long, he spends pages whining about not being aloud to play in the level 4 lab, and then oddly it was a discussion on how to be a journalist. How to write non-fiction. Note taking advise, how to describe people. Note the person's hands, study their hands, ask about scars, think deep thoughts about the hands. Umm...My panic was basically, "Can I get a refund on this garbage?" The book goes down hill from there. No viruses or cannibals or diseases it moves in math. The book turns into a study of Pi. Also we learn about two brothers who take their spouses money to build super computers. 44 percent read. Is thinking too much about 3.14 a way to turn into a cannibal!? No, just math talk and it was boring.
Then it moves to discuss gardening and then back to math, WTHeck!This book is not only labeled wrong, the description of the book is blatant lies.

I feel like I was scammed into buying a book more boring than any text book I have ever had to endure.I will never buy anything from this author again! I loved "The Hot Zone", but I hate being scammed.

If the author ever read this I would like to say to him. If you lie so openly to sell a collection of boring essays, I don't know if I trust anything you write. I can't trust you and I am going to spread word about this, so others can know who you really are!
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2.0 out of 5 stars Title is EXTREMELY misleading., December 10, 2014
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Erica Cole (Coxsackie, NY) - See all my reviews
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Not what I expected from this author. I've read all his books and this was entertaining but not at all up to his previous works standards. It was more a mosh mash of random stories he felt he needed to tell. I think the worst part is the title is completely off-base with the material in the book. It gives you the impression this is suspense based on material similar to his other work and it's not. Unless you have nothing else to read or are a die-hard Preston fan, skip it.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating short nonfiction narratives, Preston-style, June 10, 2008
I was a bit disappointed when I received this book and realized that it was a collection of six separate stories, and not all of them were about scary germs. My disappointment, however, was short-lived. Richard Preston has expanded and updated pieces he has written for The New Yorker about different, yet somewhat related, topics in science.

Preston's "Introduction: Adventures in Nonfiction Writing" gives interesting insights into the process of writing, while illustrating such research experiences as wearing a space suit that came unzipped in a Biosafety Level 4 lab. This is a great introduction to the stories that resulted from his process:

"The Mountains of Pi" is the fascinating account of slightly eccentric brothers Gregory and David Chudnovsky, "one mathematician divided between two bodies" who build a supercomputer from mail-order parts in Gregory's apartment. They needed it to calculate pi to two billion decimal places so they could search for patterns in the number.

"A Death in the Forest" tells of the decimation of hemlocks by the woolly adelgid, a parasitic insect. (Think a condensed version of The Wild Trees: A Story of Passion and Daring with a bit of The Hot Zone: A Terrifying True Story stirred in.) It is a sobering reminder of the delicacy of our ecosystem.

"The Search for Ebola" covers the 1994 outbreak in Kikwit. (Although it mentions one or two of the same doctors from The Hot Zone, it is not repetitious.)

"The Human Kabbalah" is about the Human Genome Project and the institutional politics and people involved. (I was not enthralled by the lengthy details of the turf-wars, but it was eye-opening to see how individual agendas can hinder scientific research.)

"The Lost Unicorn" gives the history of a series of seven tapestries titled collectively The Hunt of the Unicorn. The Chudnovsky brothers and their homemade supercomputer also play an interesting role in this story.

"The Self-Cannibals" is about a horrific and heartbreaking genetic disorder known as Lesch-Nyhan Syndrome, which produces symptoms such as coprolalia, involuntary self-mutilation, and poor muscle control. (This was a factor in the fictitious super-bug featured in The Cobra Event.)
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7 of 11 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Trying to Get Another Book Out, June 15, 2008
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This is for sure not Richard Preston's best. It started very good but then it went down hill from there. "Panic in Level 4" is just the title for the first story in the book and it wasn't even that scary either. The rest of the stories (each one good material for a book) don't have anything to do with the title. I mean, Craig Venter, just his biography, would be a damn good best seller, but going through the swings in the stock market of his company during the dot-com era, his fights with everybody involved and his financial dilemmas have absolutely nothing to do with the title. I would for sure eliminate the last story, too crude and treated with very little respect for the private lives of the victims. I have read many books about viruses, pandemias, bacteria and all vector-related diseases you may think of and I can be sure about one thing about this book....it is not worth it. Richard, take only one story from this book and make something worthwhile out of it.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Solid collection of popular science essays, January 10, 2010
This is the first Richard Preston book that I have read, and as such I had no expectations of the book other than it was going to be a collection of essays on popular science topics.
Given this qualification, I can't say that I was at all disappointed. Yes, the book has a few flaws (see essay reviews below), but overall I found it informative, entertaining, and easy to read, which is exactly what books on popular science should be.
A breakdown of each essay:

The Introduction was about visiting the Level 4 Virus lab at Fort Derrick, which is where the government keeps the deadliest viruses. I can see why other reviewers felt that the title of the book was misleading, since Level 4 facilities don't really feature again in the book (apart from a brief mention of them in The Blood Kiss), and there's certainly no real panic involved (more of a personal crisis for Preston). It was interesting, but also anticlimactic.

The Mountains of Pi: about 2 Russian immigrant brothers, the Chudnovskys, who build their own supercomputer and break the world record for surveying Pi. There's a lot of mind-blowing data in this chapter, such as discussion of the Eddington machine (basically this is a computer made up of ALL the atoms in the universe), and a googol (the number one followed by a hundred zeros, and inspiration for naming google). What really bothered me was Preston's confusing definition of pi as: "...the number of times that a circle's diameter will fit around a circle." Why not just stick to the standard definition of the ration of a circle's diameter to its circumference? Considering Pi is so central to this chapter, I felt Preston could have done a better job of defining it.

A Death in the Forest: deals with the introduction and spread of the wooly adelgid across the Eastern United States, and the devastating impact it has had on the ancient hemlock population. This chapter was a little dry, but I did enjoy reading about ecotones (a zone where two different ecosystems meet and mix).

The Blood Kiss: the most powerfully essay in the collection, it focuses on Preston's specialty topic - Ebola. This was a gripping, harrowing read, and I had to put the book down and walk away several times.

The Human Kabbalah: charts the race between the publicly funded Human Genome Project and Private company Celera to map the human Genome. Explores how egos can both hinder and accelerate research and discovery. A tad longer that it needed to be.

The Lost Unicorn: Once again the Chudnovsky brothers use their home made super-computer to solve a complex problem, in this case stitching together huge and complex photos of a collection of medieval tapestries. Probably the least interesting chapter in the book.

The Self-Cannibals: deals with people suffering from Lesch-Nyhan, a genetic condition that compels them to to engage in self-destructive behaviors ranging from stabbing themselves, chewing off their own fingers, and punching or verbally abusing strangers in an attempt to provoke them to react violently. I thought this was the 2nd best essay in the collection, and you could tell that Preston really empathized with some of the sufferers of Lesch-Nyhan that he got to know. An Inspiring, gut-wrenching, and at times very funny essay.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not Quite the "Edge of Science", July 27, 2008
By 
Gregg Eldred (Avon Lake, OH USA) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
Because I was totally enamored with Richard Preston's earlier book, The Wild Trees, and listed it as one of the best books I read in 2007, I was looking forward to his latest effort, Panic in Level 4: Cannibals, Killer Viruses, and Other Journeys to the Edge of Science. The title comes from Preston's experience in a Biosafety Level 4, the highest and tightest level of biosecurity in a laboratory, where exposure to viruses present will kill you 100% of the time. Through some "luck," he was able to work in a Level 4 lab, where the technicians were working with a person that died from exposure to Marburg Ebola. Marburg is a strain of Ebola that is found in East Africa and is just as deadly as any Ebola virus.

Contents:
Introduction: Adventures in Nonfiction Writing
The Mountains of Pi
A Death in the Forest
The Search for Ebola
The Human Kabbalah
The Lost Unicorn
The Self-Cannibals
Glossary
Acknowledgments

After the introduction, where Preston explains his "Panic in Level 4," the reader is introduced to two number theorists that built their own supercomputer in their New York apartment. In "The Mountains of Pi," these mathematicians are looking for patterns in pi, trying to crack the code. While interesting to read how brilliant people are marginalized by mainstream academia when they don't fit into traditional roles, it was more a story concerning the Chudnovsky's overcoming the limits of renting time on supercomputers and building their own out of mail-order parts. "A Death in the Forest" continues Preston's work in The Wild Trees, where he writes about the death of Eastern Hemlocks, the largest trees in the eastern part of the United States due to the introduction of an invasive species, the hemlock wooly adelgid. The next chapter, "The Search for Ebola," concerns the research done to trace the host of Ebola and also tells a tale of an Ebola outbreak in Congo. From there, we learn of the two factions in the race to unlock human DNA. "The Human Kabbalah" focuses on Craig Venter, who was in direct competition with the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Not only was he trying to beat the NIH at reading the human genetic code, he was also trying to make money off it, by selling his research to the large pharmaceutical companies. Bringing the Chudnovsky brothers back for an encore, we learn about tapestries, digital photography, and supercomputers in "The Lost Unicorn." Finally, in "The Self-Cannibals," Preston writes about a genetic disease, Lesch-Nyhan syndrome, where the victims perform the most gruesome self-mutilation.

The stories in "Panic in Level 4" are very different. While the subtitle, ". . . and Other Journeys to the Edge of Science" leads one to believe that most of the chapters will deal with Ebola-like issues, the reality is that Preston seems to have created a book from his favorite personalities or projects. While I really enjoyed reading about most of the topics, they didn't live up to the introductory chapter or to "The Search for Ebola." Those are they types of stories that we have come to expect from Preston. However, as a fan of The Wild Trees, I did enjoy "A Death in the Forest." I am fascinated with large trees, and the ecosystems contained in their canopy, but it seemed out of place in this book. Also out of place was "The Last Unicorn." Using a supercomputer to piece together thousands of digital photographs of the Unicorn Tapestries does not come across as gripping science. "The Self Cannibals" was the most unsettling chapter in the book. I glanced at a picture of one of the victims and then I refused to look at it. The results of Lesch-Nyhan syndrome are disturbing. I was hoping that somehow Preston would tie in the human DNA project more tightly with the story, but there wasn't much between the two chapters. As you might tell, I had high expectations for this book after really enjoying The Wild Trees. I was disappointed with most of the chapters. But if you are liberal with your definition of "edge of science" or if you ignore that and simply look at each chapter as interesting science writing, you may enjoy it.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Misled by title, December 14, 2014
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I expected more information about medical issues. The chapters were informative, if occasionally dry, and I did learn something, but, since it wasn't what I expected I had to discipline myself to get through it.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Not this author's best., January 7, 2015
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I have read several other books by this author, but this is a conglomeration of several stories about various subjects. Although interesting, not quite as good as some of his other books.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting and obscure, January 19, 2015
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A passing glance into the goings-on in math, science, art, and the co-mingling of them. The interest of both author and subject is apparent in their respective excerpts.
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Panic in Level 4: Cannibals, Killer Viruses, and Other Journeys to the Edge of Science
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