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The Mirage Man: Bruce Ivins, the Anthrax Attacks, and America's Rush to War Hardcover – June 7, 2011

24 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


Advance praise for The Mirage Man
“Finely drawn sketches of the individuals and forensics involved in a case that vexed investigators, politicians and the general public. A well-told true-crime story with vast ramifications.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Willman, a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist, offers a nuanced account of the bungled FBI investigation…Willman makes the case against Ivins—and against the political uses of the case—with admirable fair-mindedness and narrative flair.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

The Mirage Man is a mystery story about murder committed on the national stage. The characters include an innocent man hounded by investigators and the press, politicians fixated on justifying a foreign invasion, a mixed bag of FBI agents, and scientists who try to crack the code. And, at the story’s heart, we have a twisted villain whose secret life is laid utterly bare. Unlike most mysteries, this one is literally true, carefully documented and skillfully told by one of America’s finest investigative journalists.”—John S. Carroll, former editor of the Los Angeles Times
“This is a book of alternative history and alternative truth about one of the most misrepresented incidents of our 9/11 trauma. David Willman has set a grand standard for investigative reporting—and investigative history—in his account of America’s anthrax scare. There are few heroes in this story of psychosis, official dithering, and political scaremongering, but it is uplifting nonetheless. It is simply fun to read someone at the top of his craft.”—Seymour M. Hersh, author of Chain of Command:The Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib
“Peering through David Willman’s magnifying glass into the anthrax-laced heart and soul of Bruce Ivins is chilling. Willman’s investigative chops and skilled yarn-weaving make for a compelling read. Most strikingly, Willman shows how this emotionally warped man pumped the bellows that fanned the flames of war with Iraq. It’s a haunting and heartbreaking tale.’’—Mark Thompson, national security correspondent, Time

About the Author

David Willman is a Pulitzer Prize–winning investigative journalist whose reporting for the Los Angeles Times brought to light the pivotal developments surrounding the 2001 anthrax letter attacks.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam; First Edition edition (June 7, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0553807757
  • ISBN-13: 978-0553807752
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #627,015 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

33 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Doubting Thomas on June 10, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Two big surprises in this new book about the anthrax murders. It is a vivid look inside the twisted mind of Bruce Ivins, a madman who nevertheless had unsupervised 24/7 access to some of the most lethal biological toxins on this planet. Author David Willman has done a fabulous reporting job tracing the sordid history of a psychopath from an abusive mother in an Ohio small town to a painful suicide from an intentional overdose of Tylenol. He was a man of bizarre obsessions for decades, while convincing at least some of his friends that he was just an eccentric,cheerful guy who loved to play music at church services.

Deep in the book, like buried treasure, comes a second surprise--a no-holds-barred inside account of the bungled FBI investigation. It is a rude wake-up call for those whose impression of the FBI and law enforcement comes from TV shows such as CSI. Here in the real world, a high-priority investigation personally monitored by none other than the FBI director himself stupidly and blindly pursued the wrong suspect for many years. In one of the more ridiculous moments, senior FBI officials believed they had a dog so smart that it could pick out the real anthrax killer.

In his relentless exposure of bungling FBI executives, unprincipled White House officials who manipulated anthrax fears, fatuous and sloppy news media coverage, negligent security procedures and other breakdowns, the author may lose a few friends in Washington. But readers will learn what the world is really like.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on August 1, 2011
Format: Hardcover
David Willman has written a very compelling book about the 2001 anthrax attacks and the alleged perpetrator, Bruce Ivins. However, the book has some issues. He fails to point out flaws in the FBI's evidence, in particular the issues regarding the amount of silica in the spores. While he's correct that the silica was not an additive to 'weaponize' the spores it is also true that the amounts were far higher than would be considered 'normal' and labs working at the FBI's direction have been unable to replicate the amount of silica found in the attack letters. Mr. Willman also likes to take a number of conversations and emails from Dr. Ivins and attribute sinister motives; if you look at them more dispassionately then those same emails and conversations seem far more innocent.

He does an adequate job laying out the problems that occurred during the FBI's investigation and the FBI does not come out looking good from this critique. There were enough problems within the investigation that it likely would have led to an acquittal, had it ever gone to trial.

Four things, however, do stand out. It was clear that there were individuals who were aware of Bruce Ivin's mental health issues prior to 2001 (including homicidal threats) and failed to inform his superiors. He was unable to account adequately for the hours spent in the lab at night in the weeks leading up to the attacks (although whether those hours were sufficient to generate the spores needed is NOT clear) nor for the times when he might have been driving to Trenton to mail the letters. The "Greendale School" address on two of the letters and his knowledge of a "Greendale Academy". And finally, the decision after he knew he was being watched to dispose of evidence suggesting he had a fascination with secret codes which seemed to match up with an apparent code found in the letters.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Bathsheba Robie on June 26, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Many lessons to be learned from this book.

First, you have an unfettered and irresponsible press spreading unverifiable lies and innuendo ruining a man's life. The sanctimonious Kristof for example hiding behind the 1st Amendment and protecting his "sources". It turns out that one of Kristof's undisclosed sources was a woman who had no real knowledge of or training in manufacturing anthrax spores. She was very loud, very opinionated and very willing to feed "material" to Kristof. The problem is that because none of Kristof's readers knew who she was, readers were not able to evaluate her qualifications and/or credibility or even her possible motive to smear Hatfill. Three other anonymous news sources were the federal attorney for the District of Columbia, the head of his criminal division and another DC Federal Court employee who was a "spokesman" for the DC district DOJ. These three people were not only lawyers with ethical responsibilities but DOJ officials, who some day might have had to prosecute Hatfill. The Kristof reporting reminds me of another NYT reporter, Judith Martin, who was spoon fed erroneous WMD info by Scooter Libbey. She like Kristof was allowed to publish material without any apparent vetting by the NYT. I am all for press freedom but there has to be a limit.

Second, the impact of Mueller's personality quirk's in bolloxing up the investigation. One of his problems apparently is the inability to consider other possible suspects once he's fixated on one person as the suspect. Ludicrously, the only real evidence the FBI had that Hatfill was involved in the letters was the fact that a bloodhound named Klarabelle identified Hatfill as "something".
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