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Germs : Biological Weapons and America's Secret War Hardcover – October 2, 2001

4.0 out of 5 stars 108 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Three reporters from The New York Times survey the recent history of biological weapons and sound an alarm about the coming threat of the "poor man's hydrogen bomb." Germs begins ominously enough, recounting the chilling attack by the followers of the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh in 1984 on the Dalles, Oregon--no one died, but nearly 1,000 were infected with a strain of salmonella that the cult had legally obtained, then cultured and distributed.

While the U.S. maintained an active "bugs and gas" program in the '50s and early '60s, bio-weapons were effectively pulled off this country's agenda in 1972 when countries around the world, led by the United States, forswore development of such weapons at the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention. The issue reemerged in the early '90s thanks to Saddam Hussein and revelations of the clandestine and massive buildup of bio-weapons in remote corners of the Soviet Union. The book's description of the Soviet program is horrific. At its peak the program employed thousands of scientists, developing bioengineered pathogens as well as producing hundreds of tons of plague, anthrax, and smallpox annually. The authors conclude that while a biological attack against the United States is not necessarily inevitable, the danger of bio-weapons is too real to be ignored. Well-researched and documented, this book will not disappoint readers looking for a reliable and sober resource on the topic. --Harry C. Edwards

From Publishers Weekly

Methodically researched and cogently argued by three New York Times reporters (one of whom received an anthrax-tainted letter recently), this survey of the modern history of biological weapons is a worthy, albeit frightening, exercise in investigative journalism. The book details the evolution of biowarfare (beginning about 60 years ago)from the U.S. to Iraq and the Soviet Union, vividly portraying these weapons in all their power and nightmarish possibilities. Guyer brings a dry but authoritative and appropriate journalistic tone to his reading. His is the steady, baritone voice of a network news anchor, and it works well conveying weighty information about major international events and politics. Thankfully, despite the topic's sensationalist possibilities, this production stays true to the sober, reasoned style of the text and steers clear of punctuating the reading with ominous or melodramatic musical flourishes. There's plenty in the facts themselves to convey unease, and while it might not be the lightest listening, there is no doubt that this is a high-quality production of a balanced and informative look at a growing global threat. Based on the S&S hardcover.

Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; 1st edition (October 2, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684871580
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684871585
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 1.1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (108 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,481,776 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on September 13, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Miller, Engelberg and Broad have written an outstanding and very readable history of the US and foreign germ warfare programs and of national and international efforts to ban biological weapons. Many people spoke more frankly than I would have thought possible, so that the book is very revealing.
Biological weapons are more frightening than poison gas, and more deadly than 767s loaded with fuel. Bio-terrorism surely poses a much greater risk to the United States than any possible ballistic missile attack from a "rogue" state.
It is likely that an attack on the US with a communicable disease or a natural outbreak of one of the emerging influenza viruses that appear from time to time and have a mortality rate of 30%, comparable to smallpox, could devastate the country and place the Constitution and democracy at risk. The authors make this clear.
"Germs" is not perfect; the authors get the story on the failure of the proposed agreement to strengthen the Biological Weapons Convention wrong, because they reported based on only one point of view, and that a tiny minority one.
Nevertheless, "Germs" tells a frightening story, and tells it well and accurately. Anybody interested in U.S. national security, the public health system, and the efforts of our country and our adversaries to develop these terrible weapons must read it.
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Format: Hardcover
The threats that are described in this book are extremely serious and they deserve serious, accurate, and consistent documentation. This book contradicts itself and gives tabloid phrasing to issues instead of explaining them.
Page 166, "Since 100 grams of dried Anthrax was theoretically enough to wipe out a small city", on page 216 they recounted when a five pound bag of sugar was used as a prop to explain that if the five pounds were dried Anthrax, it would kill half the population of the city of Washington, the nation's capital, or about 300,000 people. They then go on at length to discredit this example. If on page 166 100 grams of dried Anthrax would wipe out a small city, why would 5 pounds of dried Anthrax, or 2.25 Kilograms, or 2,250 Grams, or 22.5 times of their example on page 166 be worthy of their ridicule? On the same page they also state that theoretically 5 pounds would kill the 300,000.
Hemorrhagic Fevers like Ebola are incredibly lethal, and the symptoms they create are gruesome. If you are interested in the basics of how this type of disease causes death and massive bleeding, this book will not tell you. It is described as a disease that will, "bleed you dry", a great tabloid headline, worthless for understanding the disease. It has been suggested that the terrorists who brought down The World Trade Center could have brought some Bioweapon on board with them. Delivery systems specifically designed to spread disease kill 98-99 percent of the load they carry. How likely would it be that the 1 or 2 percent that would survive a device meant to deliver it alive and lethal would have survived the inferno the planes created? The United States and others have improved on the weapons that deliver these pathogens, and while the efficacy is improved no numbers have been shared.
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By A Customer on October 2, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I bought this book in the days after the attacks on 9/11, thinking that it might help me feel better to be well informed and to not fall prey to rumors and gossip. Unfortunately, it has not been a comfort.
Well-researched (though I checked a lot of the information online, and found that it had been accessible all of the time had we only looked for it), this is an excellent overview of the history of biological warfare, from the US point of view.
I appreciated the writing style .. while accessible to just about anyone, it didn't feel "dumbed down" either.
... I was a little dismayed, though. People should be doing more practical research in the area of preparedness, and realize that gas masks are not going to save you if your city is attacked (unless you have a really good one and plan on wearing it 24 hours a day), and that smallpox vaccine you received back in 1972, is unlikely to give you much resistance at this point. This book might prepare you for the fact that an attack could happen at any time, but does not outline any of the precautions you can and should take.
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Format: Hardcover
This book explains the terrors of germ warfare, especially if such bombs and devices get into the hands of terrorists and other crazies. The authors did excellent research and show how someone could build one of these bombs for the fraction of the cost what a nuclear device would cost. Scary to say the least. Another new book that I just read and highly recommend as it explains very realistically the danger of nuclear terrorism in our time is THE CONSULTANT by Alec Donzi.
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Format: Hardcover
Like all New Yorkers, I have been shattered by the events of the last week and horrorified by the loss of life. But once I read this book, which had crossed my threshold on September 12, I became even more aware of the dangers we face as citizens of this city, country and indeed, planet. The book includes surprisingly candid interviews and tales from America's "germ warriors," and holds a staggering amount of information on just what happens when germs are let loose -- as well as the government's long crusade in this frightening arena. As terrifying as the events of this week have been (who would have ever dreamed it could have been worse?), it could have been. This book educated me to the very real dangers we face. A caveat: stock up on gas masks.
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