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Scourge: The Once and Future Threat of Smallpox 1st Edition

25 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0871138309
ISBN-10: 0871138301
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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

A political scientist and an expert on bio-weapons analysis, Tucker provides an engrossing look at the continuing debate over the destruction of smallpox. The author uses numerous interviews with key players to look at the political and social aspects of the disease. Although a brief history of smallpox is included, the strength of the book lies in the author's description of the process used to eradicate naturally occurring smallpox. Equally valuable is the last section that considers the pros and cons of destroying the laboratory stockpiles of the virus. Postponed several times, the elimination of the remaining virus is now set for 2002. Concern remains among experts that if smallpox were somehow reintroduced into society, the public health system would not be able to contain the disease. The potential viability of smallpox as a biological weapon is covered in reasonable depth. Light on technical language, this accessible book is highly recommended for all libraries. Tina Neville, Univ. of South Florida at St. Petersburg Lib.
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From The New England Journal of Medicine

Without the smallpox virus, the world today would be exceedingly different. Although issues surrounding smallpox have been the subject of speculative fiction, Scourge is a superb and engaging factual treatise -- both historical and scientific -- dealing with the impact of this highly contagious and often lethal infection from ancient times to the present. Beginning with the opening sentence, in which smallpox is denoted as "the world's most dangerous prisoner," the author relates a fascinating tale in which it is not armies and conquest that repeatedly change the course of civilization, but the variola poxvirus, manifested as two forms of disease: variola major and variola minor. Although the historical vignettes are interesting, no attempt is made to provide an in-depth analysis of many events that are themselves the subject of entire books. Instead, some of the initial purported forays into the field of biologic weapons involving smallpox are highlighted. However, it is clear that these anecdotes are a prologue to an unexpected series of much more serious recent events. Thus, the author sets the stage for the real story -- that of three centuries of valiant attempts by the global medical community to eradicate this terrible scourge, albeit without complete success. The heroes of the story are physicians who work tirelessly to rid the human population of this disease, often against strong political countercurrents and under dangerous circumstances. From the discovery of vaccine prophylaxis by Edward Jenner to Donald A. Hendrickson's tireless efforts to see the disease abolished, a massive assault on this pathogen was launched. This humanistic work, often conducted under extreme conditions in the field by a global health care team involving as many as 150,000 persons, culminated in the World Health Organization's announcement in 1980 that smallpox disease had been wiped out -- a singular, historic event. Just a little over a decade previously, it had been estimated that 10 to 15 million people in 43 countries had smallpox, a statistic of which even recent medical school graduates may be unaware. Furthermore, eradication of smallpox transpired in the midst of the Cold War, so it is perhaps even more surprising that Soviet and U.S. teams found common ground in developing strategies to contain outbreaks of disease and jointly supply vaccine. Intriguingly, the real villain, the virus itself, had not been eradicated, since it was stockpiled at that time in any number of secure and not-so-secure facilities. The descriptions of the biologic-warfare programs conducted by one major world power -- and perhaps more than one -- are both terrifying and appalling. In the latter portion of the book, the author reconstructs the way in which biologic-warfare agents based on the variola virus were developed behind the Iron Curtain, apparently on the mistaken assumption that the United States was doing the same as part of a biologic-arms race occurring in parallel with the proliferation of nuclear weapons. The scientific and political debate over whether the remaining stocks of virus should be destroyed makes interesting reading, particularly in relation to the disparate views of basic-science researchers, World Health Organization physicians, politicians, and military personnel. The work of judging the actions of the principals in what seem to be morally ambiguous events is left in large part to the reader. Written before the tragic events of September 11, 2001, and the sporadic cases of anthrax infection that were subsequently identified, the cautionary note in the final chapters of the book concerning the potential use of smallpox as a biologic weapon looms even larger on today's world stage. In summary, Scourge is a well-written, informative history of the eradication of smallpox disease. The author's authoritative command of the intrigue surrounding the "stay of execution" of the virus itself and its potential use as an agent for biologic warfare makes the latter portion of the book read much like a modern spy thriller, one that is difficult to put aside as recent events continue to unfold. David L. Dunn, M.D., Ph.D.
Copyright © 2002 Massachusetts Medical Society. All rights reserved. The New England Journal of Medicine is a registered trademark of the MMS.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press; 1 edition (September 2, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0871138301
  • ISBN-13: 978-0871138309
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.3 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,835,788 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Bucky VINE VOICE on October 10, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Mr. Tucker has written a highly readable account of one of the great killers of human history. Starting with background on smallpox: the course of the disease, its effect on humnan history, its use as a biological weapon, and moving through to the early work of Jenner in the field of vaccination, and the awe-inspiring triumph of the campaign to eradicate this terrible disease, this riveting account paints a portrait of one the great public health achievements of the 20th, or any, century. From that high point, the author then goes on to describe the hideous betrayal of that achievement by the very people who had first proposed undertaking the eradication of smallpox: the former Soviet Union. He lays out the Soviet bioweapons program that secretly kept the virus alive and kicking, and the Soviets' attempts to combine the virus with other viruses to create an even more powerful bug. Given recent events, this book's timing and message could not be better. Scourge is not an alarmist book, rather, a sobering one.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Joel L. Gandelman VINE VOICE on July 9, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Smallpox is back into the news with a VENGEANCE these days...and Scourge's theme becomes as timely -- informative, troubling and, when you ponder it, TRAGIC -- as ever.
But make no mistake about it: this book is NOT just doom-and-gloom: the underlying message is that man battled smallpox -- the airborne, spitting cobra of diseases --throughout the centuries and eventually won. And even though it looks like a merciless segment of mankind (terrorists or terrorists-sympathizing governments) could WITTINGLY unleash this disease that already killed millions, mankind conquered smallpox once -- and it can do so again......but it will cost many lives.
Just look at some recent news stories. It recently was revealed that some Russians died during the 70s of what was suspected to have been a "perfected" form of weaponized
smallpox secretly developed by their own government to use against the United States. July 2002: a news story notes a US plan to immunize nurses doctors and other health workers first and provide for treatment and mass vaccination AFTER the fact. July 2002: a news story says volunteers are trying a 50-year-old smallpox vaccine in the US, where vaccinations haven't been offered since 1972 (and they wear off after 10 years).
In Scourge, biological and technical weapons expert Jonathan Tucker gives you the PERFECT briefing book on how the disease works, how it is spread, how doctors have painstakingly battled to decrease its murderous capacity over the centuries, and how, in 1978 under WHO's remarkable Dr. DA Henderson, international doctors proclaimed a relentless campaign against the disease over and successful: smallpox was completely erradicated.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By K. L Sadler VINE VOICE on April 17, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I just recently finish Preston's book 'The Demon in the Freezer'. You would think that would fulfill my appetite for knowledge concerning smallpox, right? But that particular book and this one, Scourge, are very different. While Preston writes for the masses, often in a very novelistic, suspenseful way to bring information concerning microbial dangers to everyone, this particular book is more for those whose interests and avocations and jobs lie in these fields. This does not mean the book is written boringly. Both books deserved the five stars for different reasons. 'Demon...' was exciting and horrifying in it's details concerning smallpox, this book brings to life the unfortunate politics played behind the scenes by physicians, by government entities such as the Defense Department, by politicians who do not understand the full implications of most biological and bioethical discussions, by entire countries (U.S. and Russia the worst as per usual).
Though Tucker and Preston mention a few names and incidents in common in their books, their writing is very different. Tucker is deeply involved in bioweapons development as a member of an elite group that monitors this type of problem internationally. Preston writes like a journalist. So the impact of their writing is completely different and I personally think anyone interested in this problem is well-served by reading both books.
Scourge tells the story of the political problems not only in eradicating the smallpox worldwide, but the current problem concerning the existence of stocks at the CDC and VEctor, and whether they should be destroyed.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By taking a rest HALL OF FAME on November 27, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Mr. Jonathan B. Tucker has not offered readers a rapidly compiled, superficial report, in response to the attacks of September 11 and the concerns raised since then. This work is not sensationalized although the effects of certain strains of this disease are hard to describe without appearing gratuitously graphic. There are a wide variety of strains of this virus provided by nature that are truly horrific. Then there are engineered strains that are man-made for use only as weapons that justify questioning how we as a species have survived this long, and how easily the time for many could be abbreviated.
The author traces the disease from Ancient Egypt, to, and until the successful end of an international effort to remove the disease from the planet. This particular member of The Pox Family of viruses does not have a host, like Malaria's Mosquito. It exists only in humans, and unlike Anthrax that can remain dormant; when Smallpox is killed it stays that way. The eradication of this health menace is one of the great accomplishments of medicine and of mankind; unfortunately the story does not yet have a happy ending.
Until 1992 when a Russian Scientist defected and brought the story of Russia's massive Bio-Weapons program in Siberia to the world's attention, it was widely believed that there were only two relatively small amounts of the virus in existence. One location was at The Center For Disease Control in Atlanta, and a single locale in Russia, which in reality was more than one, inclusive of a massive facility for engineering new strains of the virus and the means to deliver them at a facility in Siberia.
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