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Showing 1-10 of 13 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 25 reviews
on April 21, 2015
Well researched and well written book. I finished this book frustrated by the protections Ivins' suicide will always afford him and his family: was he simply weird? An eccentric with extra-curricular activities that makes it easy to construct a narrative that supports the theory that he is the anthrax attacker? Or is he truly an evil person responsible for perpetrating these crimes? We'll never know.

What the Mirage Man does is lay bare a cast of unsympathetic characters that garner very little sympathy or respect: Ivins, Ivins' parents / siblings, the Army, and the FBI. If the FBI's incompetence and politicking is only half true in this account it makes it very hard to disambiguate the good guys from the bad guys.
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on August 17, 2014
Book in excellent condition. It is still doubtful in my mind whether Ivins was the guilty party. The FBI seems to focus on anyone who is different as a potential suspect. Taken with Waco, Ruby Ridge, the Atlanta bombing snafu, the TWA 800 coverup, and the inability to track down Kaczynski in nearly 20 years, along with corrupt laboratory practices, one has to wonder whether the FBI and CIA have outlived their usefulness and become havens for incompetence and politics. Especially when you consider that the CIA's Aldrich Ames and the FBI's Robert Hanssen, traitors who sold the "family jewels" to the Soviet Union, and whose weird life styles would have alerted the suspicions of most high school students doing counterintelligence work, any American who trusts the CIA or the FBI is naive in the extreme.
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on April 20, 2012
What a fascinating book! To me it was the compelling story of Bruce Ivins, high school science geek, doctor, and probable sociopath who many believe perpetrated the anthrax letter mailings which resulted in the deaths of at least five people. I finished the book believing that this one so-called crazy and certainly obsessive man befuddled the FBI, the politicos, various world-wide scientists, and his co-workers and friends and family, all for the sake of job security. Now, however, that seems almost too weird to be true.

Job security?

Then I went to just one page on Wikipedia ... and that led me to a couple of other pages ... and there are dozens more ... and now I feel caught up in another "grassy knoll" conspiracy. Among other things, I learned that one of Ivins' therapists, Jean Duley, the one in fear for her life and who most vehemently insisted on a restraining order just prior to Ivins' probable suicide, has an arrest history involving alcohol and physical abuse, and according to so-and-so is not to be believed.... etc. and etc., and on and on. (Ivins' "probable suicide"? There was NO medical treatment as he lay dying in a hospital for more than two days, and no autopsy. Why? I wonder why?)

It's one thing to read about interesting historical events, but when I do I need for it to be accurate, readable, and meaningful among other things. I am prepared to believe Willman's account here, and he writes so convincingly that it appears he has covered all the bases. But. There are many learned people who believe there is more to the story and I don't think we will ever have a scenario that everyone will endorse.

Personally, the question I have had since the first pages of the book is the huge coincidence that Bruce Ivins was planning something sinister with anthrax in the days before the September 11 World Trade Center tragedies. How could this be? How could there be such a coincidence? Why did Ivins spend all of those sneaky hours alone in his lab, ready to go a few days after the WTC attacks? Was he just waiting for them? How did he know they were forthcoming? Job security? Too bizarre.

In the end, this was for me a fascinating and thorough study of a man who was troubled from the very beginning, and his parents are not to be blamed. He was entrusted to work alone and unsupervised for many years with a deadly substance. His psychological issues were surprisingly addressed by him and only him (via therapy); no one else affected by his quirky behaviors ever, in all the years, reported him to any authority. And then he mailed the letters laced with anthrax and innocent people died.

Shame on those who knew him and let him just be "Bruce being Bruce". Shame on the Krazy Kops of the FBI. Shame on the politicos and the war-mongers who are always safe at home. And shame on all the nay-sayers who have yet to come up with a book as compelling as this one, leaving it to be the only publication to try to tell the whole story; where are your books?
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on August 25, 2011
Some monsters are created by Hollywood screenwriters, others by urban myth. The story of Bruce Irvins as told by David Willman is far, far scarier. Why? We allowed the monster to rage and pillage and help drive us to war. Irvins was a U.S. Army biochemist and one of the nation's leading authorities on anthrax and the man almost everyone agrees now was responsible for killing 5 people with anthrax-laced letters. This is a descent into mental insanity and brilliance twined around a demented soul from an unhappy, mother-bullied childhood, and how the vengeful, homicidal, manipulative and yet outwardly Boy Scoutish scientist transformed his inner pain and insincere patriotism into something abjectly evil. Imagine after 9-11, with rumors about nukes in New York City, letters sent to Tom Brokaw, Tom Daschle and other politicians claim to be from Islamic terrorists. Those letters literally shut down a good number of fed. govt. buildings in a time of crisis (not to mention the lives destroyed among those who had zero to do with govt' policy.) Now realize it was Irvins, a man paid to develop medicine to fight off a bio-attack, who stealithily sent the spores. Why did he do it? To satisfy his demons. To make himself feel important. And, to increase the value of a potential blockbuster anthrax vaccine he was developing. Neo-cons used the attacks, which came with very little evidence of linkage to the Middle East for well explained techncial reasons involving additives and weaponizing, to build the case for the war against Iraq. In short, a mad-man helped drive us into the one most costly and needless wars in American history. Then it gets worse. Irvins' ability to escape scrutiny goes on for years and years, while an innocent scientist is investigated and smeared by an a groupthink, boss-kissing FBI. Disturbingly, despite the uber sensitivity of Irvins' post -- an ounce of anthrax could take out tens or hundreds of people if dispsered efficiently -- the Army did not require psychological testing that surely would've revealed a deranged PhD. in its presence. After all, Irvins took anti-depressants and psychotropics for mania, BPD, schizophrenia, etc., saw shrinks, attended group sessions -- and never, ever did anyone in important military circles know. Eventually, veteran FBI agents and others brought on board to solve the whodunit figured it out, partly by retracing a tip from a woman scientist who Irvins obsessed over in ways hard to believe. I won't prattle on except to say this is a phenomenal book and must read for those interested in these fields. Only an elite reporter like David Willman could dig it up, organize it and storify the complex and moving pieces of a story like this, and he does it with impeccable fact-gathering from official reports, emails, memos, interviews, pscyh reports, secondary sources and his own gumshoe leather. Can't recommend this book highly enough. You don't need to be a math or chemistry whiz to understand any of it, either, and to those who say someone sent those infamous letters, spend a little time with "Mirage Man" and you'll come away knowing you were wrong after reading this five-star, non-fiction monster story.
For disclosure purposes, I am friends with David (as good a human being as he is a writer), but would've sung the book's praises if anyone had written it.
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on August 18, 2011
There are number of important themes running through this book. One is about the massive, long-running and poorly-run FBI criminal investigation that focused on the wrong suspect for years; the current FBI Director himself was responsible for that. Another is the role of the press in first rushing to judgment that the Anthrax attacks were done by Muslim terrorists, which helped lead us to war in Iraq. Then the media blamed the wrong suspect for years, Steven Hatfield. There is the Defense Department that failed to require any mental fitness test on scientists handling deadly anthrax, including Bruce Ivins. There is also the response of the government to expand the number of scientists handling anthrax to hundreds, thus arguably putting all of us more at risk from a future attack. Mostly, it is the shocking story of a fascinating but deeply troubled individual, Bruce Ivins. There is still some doubt among some as to whether he did the anthrax mailings (as indicated by a few of the reviews), but David makes a very strong case that Ivins was guilty. It is interesting to read the the various published reviews and see which of these themes they emphasize. Also Willman's book is a fast read. He is obviously a talented experienced newspaper reporter: his words are simple, but they convey lots of information, dug up by a true professional. Highly recommended.
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on October 20, 2016
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on January 27, 2012
As a microbiologist whose laboratory was directly involved in both the diagnostic and environmental testing for anthrax in 2001, and one who has had contact over the years with many of the players in the book, I personally found the author's unfolding story extremely interesting. However, Mirage Man will be of interest to every American in that it answered most of the questions all Americans have been asking about the anthrax attacks for the past 11 years. The author's background in investigative journalism added much in providing a very readable book as well as one with both the factual depth and evenhandedness this subject required. I exopect this book may become the classic history on the subject.
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on March 5, 2013
This is a book every concerned citizen should read. It is truly frightening to think that the government has not done anything to prevent something like this from happening again.
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on September 17, 2012
Well researched and written. A truly frightening book. Not only because of the subject himself but also because of the politics of law enforcement and criminal investigations.
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on June 26, 2011
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". The reason I use this term "something" is that bloodhounds are not able to "smell" anthrax spores, so what Klarabelle was identifying on Hatfill is questionable. Mueller also forgot (or more likely was never told) that, during the same bloodhound search, Klarabelle "identified" another person of interest at Ft. Detrick. No one investigated this other person. Even more incredibly, in an unrelated case Klarabelle had erroneously identified a man as a rapist. Fortunately, the man she identified was exonerated by DNA.

There were major problems with the case against Hatfill from the beginning. Hatfill was a virologist and knew virtually nothing about bacteria or how to safely weaponize anthrax spores, so it would have been physically impossible for him to have manufactured these letters without killing himself. Even if he had the expertise, he he no access to the equipment or anthrax to make the letters.

Mueller's other personality defect was an insistance in micromanaging the case. He required daily reports on the "progress" in finding evidence against Hatfield. Hours were spent in preparing for and briefing this guy. The obvious message from the top down was "you'd better find evidence against Hatfill so we can close the case, and FAST." Needless to say, thousands of hours of time was spent pursuing this man when other more realistic suspects were ignored. We are fortunate that the true culprit had accomplished his mission in the mailing of the 4 letters and did not feel the need to kill any more people while the FBI was chasing Hatfill.

Third, the Army apparently never considered that they should perform psychological evaluations of people handling deadly pathogens. Ivins had severe and well-documented mental problems from childhood on, even threatening to murder someone (a fact which his psychotherapist reported to the local police). I have friends in the CIA and the FBI and they tell me they go through rigorous psychological testing and background checking before they are hired. Ivins never would have made it into either the CIA or the FBI.

In short, this book is not only a great crime thriller, but one which raises very serious questions about the unrestrained power of the press and the role of Mueller's personality quirks in destroying a man's life and delaying the identification of the real killer.
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