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The Fourth Horseman: One Man's Secret Campaign to Fight the Great War in America Hardcover – November, 2006

4.6 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The specter of germ warfare lends an overblown touch of drama to this tepid tale of espionage and sabotage in WWI. In 1915, Anton Dilger, an American citizen who became a surgeon in Germany and was recruited by German intelligence, arrived in Baltimore to set up a secret lab to mass-produce the bacteria that cause anthrax and glanders. His intended target was not people but horses and mules procured for the Allied armies in Europe. It's not clear HOW MANY equines died because of the plot, but the author estimates it was in the thousands. Dilger's subsequent mission to draw Mexico into war with the U.S. was not successful. Indeed, aside from some bombings of munitions installations that Dilger had little to do with, the German covert operations detailed here seem mired in incompetence and squabbling. Journalist Koenig also uses Dilger's life to probe the conflicted loyalties of German-Americans during the war and the irony of a healer trying his hand at destruction . The author's efforts to associate Dilger with latter-day anxieties about anthrax and other much-hyped bio-menaces don't make this story more compelling. Photos. (Jan.)
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From Booklist

Students of both World War I and the War on Terror may profit from this study of attempted German bioterrorism in the older conflict. Amon Dilger was a U.S. citizen from birth, whose immigrant father was a Civil War veteran. Amon's loyalties lay, however, with the German branch of the family and theVaterland. Armed with a medical degree and, of course, an American passport, he was able to set up a basement laboratory in Washington, D.C., during WWI and culture anthrax germs in it. He also worked along the Mexican border with German, Spanish, and Mexican nationals to foment trouble, before dying (probably) in the great influenza epidemic in 1918. He was a prototype of the kind of agent who can plausibly move across the globe to do his dirty work. Koenig has researched with great thoroughness and written with great clarity, and his account of Dilger's career increases readily available knowledge of German covert operations in the U.S. during WWI. Roland Green
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 376 pages
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs; First Edition edition (November 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1586483722
  • ISBN-13: 978-1586483722
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.5 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,831,725 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Rob Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on January 24, 2007
Format: Hardcover
When anthrax spores were sent through the mails in 2001, we had a reminder of just how scary germs can be as weapons, but the use of such methods has a long history. Until bacteria were scientifically understood, however, those who tried to use infections as armaments were doing so by guesswork. Germs were first systematically deployed as weapons in World War I, and they were used within America by German saboteurs. _In The Fourth Horseman: One Man's Mission to Wage the Great War in America_ (PublicAffairs), Robert Koenig has pieced together the career of Anton Dilger, an American of German roots, and his campaign to strike at one of the foundations of the US Army of the time, its horses and mules. Dilger failed in almost all his efforts; others in later wars would make germ warfare truly frightening. Speculations on his personality and motivations, however, provide fascinating reading, and Koenig has filled his book with valuable historical notes on social and military forces of the time.

Anton Dilger was born on the Shenandoah farm of his father, who was born in Germany but had become a hero in the Union Army. Dilger was sent to German for an education, eventually studying medicine at the University of Heidelberg. When WWI started, as American citizen, he could have returned to the United States and remained neutral. He could not enter the German military, but he did volunteer to be a noncombatant surgeon. He got to see how America's slanted neutrality was hobbling Germany, and he sought a more active role in helping out his homeland. In 1915, the General Staff in Berlin were investigating the use of germs as weapons. The target for the operation would be horses and mules; this bypassed any early international conventions that forbid germ warfare against soldiers.
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Format: Hardcover
Prior to the events of September 11, 2001, many Americans had a false sense of security regarding foreign attacks on U.S. soil. But in the post 9/11 world, we sadly realized our vulnerability and acknowledged the possibility of subsequent, similar attacks and the potential for equally as heinous attacks of a chemical or biological nature. It is this vulnerability to horrific acts committed by foreign agents living among us and blending into our society, that draws us into the fascinating story of Anton Dilger, an American-born doctor, beloved by his family and well respected in his community, who came to lead a secret life as a German spy and saboteur during World War I.

This thought provoking and informative tale, with its blend of history, intrigue and espionage, will entertain the most ardent history buffs and WWI aficionados, as well as those simply looking for an entertaining and enjoyable change of pace book.
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Format: Hardcover
My name is Tim O'Neil (husband of Christine). For a decade, Robert Koenig and I worked together as reporters at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. I offer this as personal disclosure and testimony to my knowledge of Mr. Koenig's fine work. He is thorough in research and careful to confirm information. His writing is clear and absorbing. He applied those skills in writing The Fourth Horseman. He read family files and forgotten government archives. He searched hard for single documents to explain or confirm information on Anton Dilger, and then wrote a full narrative of the motivations and acts of a man who worked hard to cover his tracks. He took time to explain Dilger's era, especially its reliance upon horses, to provide the setting for one man's trail. The result is a fine book.
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Format: Hardcover
To someone from outside the US, this book brought many revelations, foremost of which was the insight into the thriving German community that existed there prior to 1914, but now is no more. We are familiar with Italian, Greek and Polish influences, but the Germans, as the enemy after a bitter war, had to subsume their culture.

The anti-hero of this gripping book, Anton Dilger, belonged to a family which was more American than German already, but he felt the pull back to earlier roots. The personal letters and insights that Rob Koenig has painstakingly researched show how horrific incidents like the Corpus Christi Massacre in Karlsruhe can have far-reaching effects through people struggling with their identity.

Koenig tells this story in such a way that you do not know what is coming, and thus every chapter has an impact. Throughout, he reveals his mastery of scientific writing for the public. I've read some of his other work on contemporary science, and was delighted to see this historical work. I hope he does another book. This one, meanwhile, is highly recommended to those who like biography, travel, history, science and warfare, all rolled up in one.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Because we now remember WWI for its industrialized slaughter, we have almost forgotten how important horses still were to the conduct of war -- so important that disrupting the shipment of horses from the U.S. to Britain and France was a priority for the German war effort. One of the first organized attempts at germ warfare was directed at infecting horses bound for Europe.

This story of Anton Dilger, an American surgeon who worked undercover as a saboteur for the Germans, has an historical sweep that will engage a broad audience -- particularly in light of our newly-heightened fears of biological warfare. The underlying research makes the book a resource for specialists in several areas -- WWI, military history, biological warfare -- and the graceful presentation also suits it to the general reader of history.

Dilger, the son of a Civil War cavalry officer, betrayed his family, his country and his profession in organizing the infection of American horses with anthrax and glanders germs. The author follows him from his childhood in rural Virginia through his education in Germany, his recruitment and work as an undercover agent, to his probable death -- never entirely confirmed -- in Spain during the flu pandemic in 1918.

Even after almost a century, a sad immediacy clings to many aspects of this story. The horses are gone, but much else remains the same.
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