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The Demon in the Freezer: A True Story [Kindle Edition]

Richard Preston
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (277 customer reviews)

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Book Description

“The bard of biological weapons captures
the drama of the front lines.”

-Richard Danzig, former secretary of the navy


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.


Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

On December 9, 1979, smallpox, the most deadly human virus, ceased to exist in nature. After eradication, it was confined to freezers located in just two places on earth: the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta and the Maximum Containment Laboratory in Siberia. But these final samples were not destroyed at that time, and now secret stockpiles of smallpox surely exist. For example, since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, and the subsequent end of its biological weapons program, a sizeable amount of the former Soviet Union's smallpox stockpile remains unaccounted for, leading to fears that the virus has fallen into the hands of nations or terrorist groups willing to use it as a weapon. Scarier yet, some may even be trying to develop a strain that is resistant to vaccines. This disturbing reality is the focus of this fascinating, terrifying, and important book.

A longtime contributor to The New Yorker and author of the bestseller The Hot Zone, Preston is a skillful journalist whose work flows like a science fiction thriller. Based on extensive interviews with smallpox experts, health workers, and members of the U.S. intelligence community, The Demon in the Freezer details the history and behavior of the virus and how it was eventually isolated and eradicated by the heroic individuals of the World Health Organization. Preston also explains why a battle still rages between those who want to destroy all known stocks of the virus and those who want to keep some samples alive until a cure is found. This is a bitterly contentious point between scientists. Some worry that further testing will trigger a biological arms race, while others argue that more research is necessary since there are currently too few available doses of the vaccine to deal with a major outbreak. The anthrax scare of October, 2001, which Preston also writes about in this book, has served to reinforce the present dangers of biological warfare.

As Preston eloquently states in this powerful book, this scourge, once contained, was let loose again due to human weakness: "The virus's last strategy for survival was to bewitch its host and become a source of power. We could eradicate smallpox from nature, but we could not uproot the virus from the human heart." --Shawn Carkonen

From Publishers Weekly

Never mind Ebola, the hemorrhagic disease that was the main subject of Preston's 1994 #1 bestseller, The Hot Zone. What we really should be worrying about, explains Preston in this terrifying, cautionary new title, is smallpox, or variola. But wasn't that eradicated? many might ask, particularly older Americans who remember painful vaccinations and the resultant scars. Officially, yes, nods Preston, who devotes the first half of the book to the valorous attempt by an army of volunteers to wipe out the virus (an attempt initially sparked by '60s icon Ram Dass and his Indian guru) via strategic vaccination; in 1977 the last case of naturally occurring smallpox was documented in Somalia, and today the variola virus exists officially in only two storage depots, in Russia and at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta (in the freezer of the title). To believe that variola is not held elsewhere, however, is nonsense, argues Preston, who delves into the possibility that several nations, including Iraq and Russia, have recently worked or are currently working with smallpox as a biological weapon. The author devotes much space to the anthrax attacks of last fall, mostly to demonstrate how easily a devastating assault with smallpox could occur here. He includes an interview with Steven Hatfill, who has received much press coverage for the FBI's investigation of him regarding those attacks; his description of meeting Hatfill, hallmarked by a quick character sketch ("He was a vital, engaging man, with a sharp mind and a sense of humor.... He was heavy-set but looked fit, and he had dark blue eyes") is emblematic of what makes this New Yorker regular's writing so gripping. Preston humanizes his science reportage by focusing on individuals-scientists, patients, physicians, government figures. That, and a flair for teasing out without overstatement the drama in his inherently compelling topics, plus a prose style that's simple and forceful, make this book as exciting as the best thrillers, yet scarier by far, for Preston's pages deal with clear, present and very real dangers.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details


Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
82 of 87 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "The way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper." November 23, 2002
Format:Hardcover
T. S. Eliot's bleak vision of the future doesn't even begin to include the gloomy prognostications revealed in this book. That terrorists will either acquire or develop biological weapons capable of destroying all human life is not just a possibility, it's a probability, as Preston makes abundantly clear in this update on biological weapons development. This book is the ultimate wake-up call. Even if you want to sleep after reading this, you may not be able to.
Of the several biological weapons which have been under development in the past twenty-five years, smallpox is by far the most lethal and contagious, and irresponsible scientists have genetically engineered it in the past few years to make vaccination useless against it. Antidotes are unknown because humans are the only hosts for smallpox, and there is no way to run a test study of their efficacy. Preston points out, "It has taken the world twenty years to reach roughly fifty million cases of AIDS. [A single case of smallpox in an unprotected population] can reach that point in ten to twenty weeks."
A massive research and development program for weapons grade smallpox and plague, along with the MIRV missiles and warheads to deliver them abroad, continued, unknown and unmonitored, in the Soviet Union for twenty years after smallpox was officially eradicated in 1978. The whereabouts of the twenty tons of "hot," genetically altered smallpox are currently unknown. According to a defecting Russian scientist, even the Soviet researchers do not know where it went, but "they think it went to North Korea." Iran and Iraq are also believed to have "benefited" from this research and to have ongoing, active bioweapons research programs.
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40 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Frightening November 11, 2002
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Richard Preston has written a frightening book. Starting and ending with the Anthrax attacks on the United States. Preston has talked to many of the top bioweapons engineers in the world and his research shows in this outstanding book. Full of information from accross the world. The history of Smallpox, the eradication effort by the World Health Organization. The background on Anthrax. Side stories to Ebola. The most dangerous virus's in the world are addressed in this book.
The book examines the threat of Smallpox and explains why most people in the know about infectious disease's still consider it the worst the world has ever seen, even worse than plague. The book touches on Biopreparat (for a more in depth look read Biohazard by Ken Alibek) and the Russian stockpiles of Smallpox that they have weaponized and put into missiles to attack other countries. The CDC, Center for Disease Control and Prevention, in Atlanta still holds over 450 different strains of Smallpox.
The book goes on to explain how many countries have Smallpox and this is not a little known fact. How genetic engineering could easily make Smallpox harder to contain than it already is. In today's world travel a Smallpox outbreak would mean hundreds of thousands of deaths and it would shut down international trade. it would bring the world to its knees. With 25 million people living within a couple hours travel of one another an outbreak in a third world county could show up in the United States in a few days. And this is not taking into account the possibility of a direct bioweapons attack on the United States. Before it was diagnosed, it would be spread around the world by air travel.
This book is well written, reads easily, is full of information and very thought provoking.
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31 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating & Terrifying December 27, 2002
Format:Hardcover
Richard Preston's first work of non-fiction, "The Hot Zone" was a gruesome look at emerging viruses in general, and the Ebola virus in particular. However, no matter how grotesque it got, the reader could detach themselves from the book because Ebola is basically unheard of in the developed world, and isn't particularly effective at spreading (it kills its victims to quickly). His latest, "The Demon in the Freezer" is another story altogether.
In it, he discusses the appalling specter of smallpox in general, and weaponized smallpox in particular. By using the anthrax attacks of 2001 as a jumping off point, he delves into a fascinating exploration of a disease that most people consider eradicated. Unfortunately, Preston reveals that this is far from the case. While it is true that smallpox hasn't occurred naturally in 25 years, it is accepted (if not altogether proven) that the Russians have significant stockpiles of particularly virulent smallpox. Moreover, it seems probable that some of this material has found its way into the hands of other actors (Iran, Iraq, North Korea). Finally, give the abundance of smallpox samples available just three decades ago, it seems likely that parallel programs could have been pursued in any number of countries.
In clear (if you've studied any biology at all, you should be fine with the terms in this book, and there is a glossary), vibrant language, Preston explores the personalities and institutions involved in trying to understand what smallpox today would mean. With a significant portion of the population having never been vaccinated, and the efficacy of 30-year-old vaccinations in serious doubt, it is a certainty that the release of even "natural" smallpox would be an absolutely devastating event.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Very good book - as always Richard Preston doesn't disappoint me.
Published 3 days ago by Kathy Kacmar
5.0 out of 5 stars Hard to put down.
I am currently reading this now and it is extremely good. Very hard to put down. Just like "The Hot Zone" you could easily stay up all night reading it. Read more
Published 6 days ago by pdogmum
5.0 out of 5 stars A frightening look into the international Petri dish...
As a retired medical professional, I've long suspected that the major threat to humanity are not atomic weapons but micro-organisms. Read more
Published 7 days ago by Donnel Owen
4.0 out of 5 stars Fearful reminder of true terror
This book describes the true terror that mankind has endured for centuries and quite possibly intentionally inflected again as true acts of terror.
Published 10 days ago by Michael M. Murders
5.0 out of 5 stars fascinating and frightening
I have never been a fan of science but mr Preston writes in such a way that I could not put the book down except to sleep. Read more
Published 10 days ago by Lulane
5.0 out of 5 stars Love it! Richard Preston Rocks
Love it! Richard Preston Rocks!!
Published 11 days ago by Mo Deutsch
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing stories of how many dangerous viruses are kept in ...
Amazing stories of how many dangerous viruses are kept in cold, frozen storage in many countries and how the threat of biological and chemical warfare are so close at hand. Read more
Published 13 days ago by Mary K. Minjeur
5.0 out of 5 stars Richard Preston's history of Small Pox reads like a detective thriller
Richard Preston's history of Small Pox reads like a detective thriller. The Anthrax mystery is blended-in. Read this book.
Published 16 days ago by Paul Allen
3.0 out of 5 stars Holy moly! Scary stuff but incomplete...
I gave this book only three stars because while it starts out very well, the middle of the story wanders a bit and the ending leaves the reader hanging expecting more. Read more
Published 16 days ago by P. Melrose
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Fast.
Published 21 days ago by john l geissler
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More About the Author

Richard Preston is the bestselling author of The Hot Zone, The Demon in the Freezer, and the novel The Cobra Event. A writer for The New Yorker since 1985, Preston is the only nondoctor to have received the Centers for Disease Control's Champion of Prevention Award. He also holds an award from the American Institute of Physics. Preston lives outside of New York City.

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