Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Book Review: The Hot Zone by Richard Preston

I used to sell this book when I worked at Bookstar, which is turns out was just a few years after it came out (for some reason I had thought it was older). It's a book about science, but reads like a thriller. In the 1980s, at the same time that AIDS was emerging as a terrifying disease, other even more frightening viruses were (and are) hovering on the horizon: Marburg and Ebola. This is the story of those viruses, and their foray on to American soil. Marburg has a kill rate of 50% (equal to The Black Plague) and Ebola is 90%. Understandably, if either of them were to get loose in a large city, the results would be catastrophic.
The book covers the initially known outbreaks in Africa, the suspected source of the virus (a mountain cave that was also mentioned in Blind Descent), the army scientists researching Level 4 toxins, the CDC personnel involved with the containment, and a few other tangential but pertinent characters. It reads like a Michael Crichton novel (and in fact The Andromeda Strain is referenced more than once.) The science is accessible, but also thorough (including a few photos to explain how the virus is rope-like, which is very helpful.)
Are these seemingly new viruses that operate on a level never before seen, Mother Nature's way of population control? Have they always been around, but have never transferred to humans before? There are no known cures or preventions besides diligence and avoidance, so what would happen if Ebola or Marburg hit a major metropolitan city? With today's global economy, it could be spread halfway around the world before the first person even has symptoms. While this book is now sixteen years old, the potential is still there. I don't believe we're any closer to an answer for these viruses than we were in 1988. The book was exciting, riveting, un-put-downable. A perfect summer read, it kept me on the edge of my seat (and awake reading until 2 AM!)


hopechaser said...

I've had this book for I don't know how long, gathering dust on one of my many cluttered shelves. I'm convinced that it may be time to pull it out and take a look sooner rather than later!

Anonymous said...

This is one of the most nauseating books I have ever read. Don't get me wrong it is a good book, but is not for people with a weak stomach. Preston is a genius with descriptive nonfiction writing and makes you feel like you are right there seeing exactly what is happening. I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the health sciences or medical research.