From Publishers Weekly
In a medical mystery that has the tension and pace of Richard Preston's The Hot Zone but lacks its satisfying sense of closure, Washington Post investigative reporter Thompson recounts the events surrounding the anthrax attacks of late 2001. Though she alludes to possible connections between the weaponized anthrax found in several letters and al-Qaida (as well as domestic scientists), Thompson's story is more about the successes and failures of the public health process than a whodunit. Ranging from the Florida offices of American Media Inc. to the halls of Congress, she uses extensive interviews to describe the behind-the-scenes responses to the appearance of anthrax-filled envelopes in the U.S. mail. What emerges isn't so harsh a condemnation as the title indicates, but rather a portrait of scientists, doctors, politicians and law enforcement officials, all trying to defuse a biological crisis while working within conflicting institutional traditions. While she valorizes the scientists working to identify the sources of the seemingly disconnected anthrax cases, Thompson seems most interested in the postal workers who were put at risk-unnecessarily, she says-in the course of their day-to-day jobs. She begins and ends with the story of Leroy Richmond, who inhaled aerosolized anthrax spores while working at the Brentwood postal facility in Washington, D.C., but survived the infection, and Thompson's book is ultimately a tribute to him and the other postal workers who were victims of what she concludes was "a preventable industrial accident exacerbated by a series of government blunders and bad judgments." 8 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
The anthrax coda to 9/11 was a frightening harbinger of the insidiousness of large-scale bioterror. This account builds on original reporting by its author, a Washington Post
editor. Thompson interviewed survivors as well as microbiologists assigned the task of identifying what caused illness and deaths in the wake of the attacks. The upshot of Thompson's narrative is that agencies, the FBI in particular, responded poorly to the crisis, but whatever her assessment of the government's performance, Thompson mainly focuses on a blow-by-blow account of the anthrax episodes of fall 2001. She spares no medical detail on what anthrax does, presenting its course of symptoms as experienced by postal workers in the Washington, D.C., area and victims in Florida and New York. Thompson gives no quarter to the federal government's spin on the attacks, lending spice to what overall is a dispassionate, just-the-facts-ma'am narrative. That will be valuable to readers revisiting the federal health agencies' response to the anthrax attack, and worried about their competence in dealing with the next one. Gilbert TaylorCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved