The Demon in the Freezer: A True Story

 
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On December 9, 1979, smallpox, the most deadly human virus, ceased to exist in nature. After eradication, it was confined to freezers located in just two places on earth: the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta and the Maximum Containment Laboratory in Siberia. But these final samples were not destroyed at that time, and now secret stockpiles of smallpox surely exist. For example, since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, and the subsequent end of its biological weapons program, a sizeable amount of the former Soviet Union's smallpox stockpile remains unaccounted for, leading to fears that the virus has fallen into the hands of nations or terrorist groups willing to use it as a weapon. Scarier yet, some may even be trying to develop a strain that is resistant to vaccines. This disturbing reality is the focus of this fascinating, terrifying, and important book.

A longtime contributor to The New Yorker and author of the bestseller The Hot Zone, Preston is a skillful journalist whose work flows like a science fiction thriller. Based on extensive interviews with smallpox experts, health workers, and members of the U.S. intelligence community, The Demon in the Freezer details the history and behavior of the virus and how it was eventually isolated and eradicated by the heroic individuals of the World Health Organization. Preston also explains why a battle still rages between those who want to destroy all known stocks of the virus and those who want to keep some samples alive until a cure is found. This is a bitterly contentious point between scientists. Some worry that further testing will trigger a biological arms race, while others argue that more research is necessary since there are currently too few available doses of the vaccine to deal with a major outbreak. The anthrax scare of October, 2001, which Preston also writes about in this book, has served to reinforce the present dangers of biological warfare.

As Preston eloquently states in this powerful book, this scourge, once contained, was let loose again due to human weakness: "The virus's last strategy for survival was to bewitch its host and become a source of power. We could eradicate smallpox from nature, but we could not uproot the virus from the human heart." --Shawn Carkonen

“The bard of biological weapons captures
the drama of the front lines.”

-Richard Danzig, former secretary of the navy


The first major bioterror event in the United States-the anthrax attacks in October 2001-was a clarion call for scientists who work with “hot” agents to find ways of protecting civilian populations against biological weapons. In The Demon in the Freezer, his first nonfiction book since The Hot Zone, a #1 New York Times bestseller, Richard Preston takes us into the heart of Usamriid, the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Maryland, once the headquarters of the U.S. biological weapons program and now the epicenter of national biodefense.

Peter Jahrling, the top scientist at Usamriid, a wry virologist who cut his teeth on Ebola, one of the world’s most lethal emerging viruses, has ORCON security clearance that gives him access to top secret information on bioweapons. His most urgent priority is to develop a drug that will take on smallpox-and win. Eradicated from the planet in 1979 in one of the great triumphs of modern science, the smallpox virus now resides, officially, in only two high-security freezers-at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta and in Siberia, at a Russian virology institute called Vector. But the demon in the freezer has been set loose. It is almost certain that illegal stocks are in the possession of hostile states, including Iraq and North Korea. Jahrling is haunted by the thought that biologists in secret labs are using genetic engineering to create a new superpox virus, a smallpox resistant to all vaccines.

Usamriid went into a state of Delta Alert on September 11 and activated its emergency response teams when the first anthrax letters were opened in New York and Washington, D.C. Preston reports, in unprecedented detail, on the government’s response to the attacks and takes us into the ongoing FBI investigation. His story is based on interviews with top-level FBI agents and with Dr. Steven Hatfill.

Jahrling is leading a team of scientists doing controversial experiments with live smallpox virus at CDC. Preston takes us into the lab where Jahrling is reawakening smallpox and explains, with cool and devastating precision, what may be at stake if his last bold experiment fails.


From the Hardcover edition.

Customer Reviews:

  • Anthing you need to know about smallbox and more
    Bioterrorism. Biowarfare. This book makes you want to crawl into a pressurized suit and stay there. Richard Preston opens eyes and spins heads in this excellent book.

    We certainly are in deep trouble if smallbox is used as a weapon. Preston takes you to the edge and leaves you alone with your fears. Scary stuff....more info

  • Don't be Afraid. It's Just Smallpox.
    What happens when the world is eradicated of a hugely destructive disease and scientists decided to keep some vials of it stored for research purposes? What happens when some of those scientists worked for the former Soviet Union and nobody really documented what happened to the vials after the breakup of said Soviet Union? What happens if this is real and not fiction?

    If you're not freaking out by now, then Richard Preston will do a much better job of getting you there. Like his previous non-fiction thrill ride "The Hot Zone," Preston delivers a horrifying look at what can happen when procedures and documentation go by the wayside and a deadly disease is possibly exposed to the masses.

    "The Demon in the Freezer" is a chilly story about the eradication of smallpox and how and why there are still samples of it existing in our world. You can't help but feel vulnerable after reading this book and and you can't help but wonder why in the world anybody needs to keep smallpox in storage.

    Preston has an amazing talent for keeping the scientific jargon in layman's terms and keeping the reader on the edge of their seat as they wonder whether or not it could all happen to them. A page-turner at its core, you'll have a hard time putting it down, particularly at night with the prospect of sure-to-come nightmares about an outbreak of smallpox....more info
  • Eye Opening
    This book grabs you and will not let you go. A true page turner. Once you start, you will not want to stop until you are done with the book....more info
  • Smallpox non-fiction thriller!
    A fascinating treatise on smallpox, including its history and recent emergence as the virus of choice for bioterrorists.

    Smallpox came into existance only as human population densities swelled. In the late 18th century, Edward Jenner made history by performing the first successful smallpox vaccination. In the centuries that followed, humanity waged war against smallpox, and it was ostensibly eradicated from nature in the late seventies. It seems that mankind was too enamored with smallpox to destroy it completely, however, and it lives on in freezers around the world.

    "The Hot Zone", by the same author, made me paranoid about the ebola virus. Having finished this book, I know now that ebola is child's play compared to smallpox.

    "Demon" is full of loads of details about the biomedical industry, including a survey of modern practices, tools, techniques, and prominent players. The book is all the more terrifying given its non-fiction status.

    A must read for anybody interested in infectious diseases, smallpox, or bioweapons programs....more info

  • The Demon in the Freezer: A true Story
    Very, Very, Very good! This was recommend in a Teacher Education Seminar that I attend this summer as the one to read for a good "Biology" summer reading.

    Everyone should take the time to check this one out. The story just grabs you and I couldn't put it down until finished.

    Great research and very informational.

    After it's read, you will realize, your just one good "sniff" away from turning into a "Blister".

    My Grandfather born in 1891 had smallpox as a child, in fact all of his siblings did. (6) Total. All survived, all were scared but all lived. He as 1/2 Choctaw but being exposed to the farm animals in a rural setting must haved allowed the family genes to cope with the disease....more info
  • Smallpox, Big Issue
    Few writers have the talent to parlay a non-fiction work about viruses into a mass-market paperback, but Richard Preston has done it twice. "The Demon in the Freezer" focuses on many scary aspects of smallpox, and delights in the details of our demise should we encounter our old foe. For us today, reading about the skin completely separating from the body due to a halo of pus is both repulsive and fascinating; but the world once had an everyday vocabulary for these symptoms. With little natural immunity left around the globe and the smallpox shot the most dangerous immunization you can take, "The Demon in the Freezer" points to a nasty vulnerability.

    Preston talks with Ken Alibek, mastermind of the Russian bio-warfare program, and author of another excellent work "Biohazard." Also covered in detail are the anthrax attacks and the investigation of scientist Steven Hatfill. ...more info
  • Great way to follow the Hot Zone
    Second books normally fail in the eyes of the reader....but this book was just as good as the first! In this story Richard Preston takes you into the battle with Small Pox. Inside the irradication and the drama with the WHO in either keeping or destorying the Small Pox stash. If the Hot Zone left you feeling scared about Ebola.....you will be even ten times more terrified about Small Pox. This was a great way to follow up his first hit! I couldn't wait to turn the page to see what the scientist would encounter next. Defentially a must read! I highly reccomend this book and his first...the Hot Zone....more info
  • Unanswered Questions
    Certainly a page turner and written in a style that is easily digested by the layman. I found it to be a bit "loose" in comparison to the Hot Zone. Towards the end of the book chapters on smallpox and anthrax are intertwined but leaves the reader with a great deal of dissatisfaction.

    Certainly any reader would like to explore this subject more thoroughly and there are plenty of unanswered questions that need to be answered and an updated book in a couple of years time would be appreciated....more info
  • Chilling Reality
    If you think what you've heard on the news about smallpox is scary, you don't want to listen to this audiobook. Richard Preston provides a very detailed description of the varieties of smallpox & anthrax - its symptoms, disfigurements, and various paths to death-in highly graphic language. Preston argues that, to believe that smallbox is not held elsewhere is nonsense. A lot of time is spent on the the anthrax attacks of 2001. He believes that smallpox, which has killed more people than any other infectious disease, is the greatest biological threat facing humanity. Preston relates the history of smallpox from 1000 B.C. to the outbreaks in the 1970s. He goes into great detail about the World Health Organization's campaign to eradicate it and the lost opportunity to destroy it forever. His final chapter introduces the idea of genetically modified smallpox that might be resistant not only to vaccines, but also to acquired immunity. The author draws readers into his narrative by humanizing his facts; researchers, WHO workers, and smallpox victims relay parts of this vivid and alarming story. This isn't something that you want to listen to on a full stomach....more info
  • An interesting and informative read
    The Demon in the Freezer starts and ends with anthrax, with smallpox in the middle. Though smallpox is generally thought to have been eradicated, Richard Preston examines the possibility that this cannot be certain and that we may see the virus emerge again, tieing in anthrax through theories of possible biological warfare.

    One of the main things I enjoy about Richard Preston's writing is that he does not simply list facts about the virus itself, he also tells the stories of the people involved, whether it be the victim or the scientist.

    This book is definitely worth the read....more info

  • An Interesting Shadow of the Hot Zone
    The Demon in the Freezer is another true story written by Richard Preston that brings mystery, anxiety, and relief to its readers. The book begins in the 1970s with a glimpse at the life of an anthrax victim named Robert Stevens, and then moves to the life of a smallpox victim named Peter Los in Germany during 1969. These two stories are eventually linked together with the explanation of anthrax and smallpox, the histories of each, and the threat of bioterrorism.
    The Hot Zone and The Demon in the Freezer are very similar in format partly due to the fact that Richard Preston wrote both. This similarity detracts from the story line of The Demon in the Freezer if The Hot Zone has been read previously. It detracts from the excitement and mystery of The Demon in the Freezer, and diminishes surprise that comes from the climax, which is the anthrax scare. For instance, the beginning of The Demon in the Freezer begins with the lives of an anthrax victim named Robert Stevens and a smallpox victim named Peter Los, which draws the reader into the book as soon as they start reading it unless The Hot Zone has been read previously. The Hot Zone also starts off with a victim of a virus (anthrax isn't a virus but is still harmful to humanity) named Charles Monet. The virus that Charles Monet is eventually diagnosed with is the Ebola virus which is very deadly. The scene in which Charles Monet crashes and bleeds out, as the army calls it when blood comes out of every opening in the body of a victim of Ebola, adds suspense and gore to the beginning of the novel much more so than The Demon in the Freezer. The first few scenes in The Demon in the Freezer appear boring when compared to the first scene in The Hot Zone. The Hot Zone is also not as dry as The Demon in the Freezer overall: there is always suspense through The Hot Zone unlike in The Demon in the Freezer. When compared, The Hot Zone is a far better read than The Demon in the Freezer.
    The Demon in the Freezer, however, is still a great read. The novel provides insight into the production of bio-weapons and the reality of how dangerous they are when nations that have ill will towards others are producing them. The novel also stresses the importance of the eradication or almost eradication of small pox . For instance, when small pox was still a major natural virus, it killed approximately two million people a year, and the eradication of smallpox has saved around fifty-six million lives. The Demon in the Freezer is more of a historical novel than a historical thriller like that of The Hot Zone. Overall, The Demon in the Freezer was a great read despite its close similarity with The Hot Zone.
    ...more info
  • Gripping Medical Non-Fiction
    What Preston did for Ebola virus in "The Hot Zone" he's done again here for biological warfare. "The Demon in the Freezer" weaves together two linked stories: that of smallpox, eliminated from nature in 1979 but still a threat because covert samples of super-strains remain in labs around the world; and anthrax, the weapon used in a real bio-attack in the US in 2001. The account of how smallpox can be engineered to be impervious to vaccination or treatment is chilling. The detailed account of how anthrax was be used as a bio-weapon, possibly deployed by a malicious dishonest US government scientist is eye-opening. Preston's prose makes the complicated medical details sensible for the layperson. A gripping non-fiction story....more info
  • "The way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper."
    T. S. Eliot's bleak vision of the future doesn't even begin to include the gloomy prognostications revealed in this book. That terrorists will either acquire or develop biological weapons capable of destroying all human life is not just a possibility, it's a probability, as Preston makes abundantly clear in this update on biological weapons development. This book is the ultimate wake-up call. Even if you want to sleep after reading this, you may not be able to.

    Of the several biological weapons which have been under development in the past twenty-five years, smallpox is by far the most lethal and contagious, and irresponsible scientists have genetically engineered it in the past few years to make vaccination useless against it. Antidotes are unknown because humans are the only hosts for smallpox, and there is no way to run a test study of their efficacy. Preston points out, "It has taken the world twenty years to reach roughly fifty million cases of AIDS. [A single case of smallpox in an unprotected population] can reach that point in ten to twenty weeks."

    A massive research and development program for weapons grade smallpox and plague, along with the MIRV missiles and warheads to deliver them abroad, continued, unknown and unmonitored, in the Soviet Union for twenty years after smallpox was officially eradicated in 1978. The whereabouts of the twenty tons of "hot," genetically altered smallpox are currently unknown. According to a defecting Russian scientist, even the Soviet researchers do not know where it went, but "they think it went to North Korea." Iran and Iraq are also believed to have "benefited" from this research and to have ongoing, active bioweapons research programs.

    Preston's focus on the people who are actively fighting potential biological terrorism in this country gives a human face to this frightening prospect, while his descriptions of the individuals who fought for their lives in the world's last cases of smallpox make the horror an all too vivid reality. His analysis of the anthrax outbreak last year, and the delivery systems which make possible such outbreaks of anthrax, Ebola, and plague are enlightening. Forcing the reader to acknowledge the reality of a new kind of war, one more lethal and uncontrollable than ever before in history, Preston illuminates the tenuous nature of human life in the twenty-first century. The tiniest of living organisms are capable of wiping out the entire human population of the world if they get into the hands of a madman. Mary Whipple
    ...more info
  • Thank goodness for the vaccination!
    I had a smallpox vaccination as a child, just like all of my peers. We were all innoculated because it was part of the scheduled childhood immunizations then, and I always wondered if there was smallpox, could there be a worse kind, maybe Large Pox? This book was informative as to what actually happens to a person who contracts smallpox, and should make us all thankful that it isn't the natural threat today that it was in the past. Truth is much scarier than fiction, and this book forces us to consider what could happen if smallpox was unleashed deliberately. If that happened, it would indeed be the "Large Pox" of my childhood imagination...So if you want a book to read before bed, one that comforts, one that has a definitive and positive ending, this isn't it. If you want a wake up call of how tentative our grasp on our lives and our health is, how we all live with the illusion of protection... and maybe lose a little sleep in the process - this is the book for you. ...more info
  • Mr. Preston strikes again! Bravo......
    I was chewing my fingernails all the way through this book. Yikes! If the contents of this work are accurate, and I have confidence they are, the implications are enough to keep you awake at night. Don't forget to kiss your kids as often as possible........more info
  • Viruses - our mutating friends
    Another book that will give you some serious nightmares. Really cool & interesting stuff on how smallpox was eradicated by a huge team of people all over the world. At some point it was thought that the only smallpox left in the world was at the CDC in Atlanta & at a Russian virology facility.

    Then came the 1980's & pretty good evidence that the Russians were conducting research on weaponizing smallpox. Meanwhile, US eradicated its supply of vaccine (to save money) - leaving us with about 1 vaccine for every 12,000 people. Then the Soviet Union fell apart & who knows where all those stores of weaponized smallpox went. Just yikes.

    While the emerging hemorrhagic fevers like Ebola are pretty freakin' scary, they (so far) aren't airborne - transmission is from skin and mucous membrane contact. Ebola also tends to burn through a population very quickly - killing off so many people around it that it runs out of places to jump. This makes it a less than optimal bioterrorism weapon.

    Smallpox, however, is unbelievably scary. It's airborne. During the 20th century it was responsible for between 300-500 million deaths. Transmission rates were it to re-emerge today are estimated to be at about an order of 10. That means 1 infected person would infect 10 others who would each infect 10 others, etc.

    Preston covers the debate among current scientists around whether or not to continue working with smallpox & testing it. Those against argue that it should all be destroyed. Those for argue that it can't all be destroyed and that with the ever present threat of bioterrorism on the rise, research should continue if only for the purpose of developing better vaccines. There are a number of nasty complications associated with the current vaccine which has been around since 1796.

    Preston also talks a bit about the anthrax letters, transmission, and early stages of the investigation into who sent them, but as the book was published in 2002, not much is known at the time he was writing.

    This book is definitely worth reading if you're interested in this stuff. It's technical enough, but not so technical you want to pull your eyes out. Quite enjoyable, if scary....more info
  • Demon in the Freezer is a great book
    A friend told me about this book, and I read it and ranked it 9 out of 10 (10 being a perfect book). I ranked it so high because the character descriptions by the author, Richard Preston, are great, and because the subject matter is fascinating and of great importance. There is some information pertinent to the Iraq War in the book. Demon, although about anthrax and smallpox, is as good as any recent novel I have read....more info
  • The end of the world may be a virus, not a bomb
    Smallpox -- another piece of the highly complex 21st century puzzle that must be understood and put into place. In this highly readable account, Preston explains that smallpox is a particularly deadly killer that HAS NOT been eradicated, HAS been experimented with as a biowarfare agent, and MAY HAVE GREATER POTENTIAL TO WIPE OUT MANKIND than any atom-based bomb yet invented. This book is a highly palatable and enjoyable way to get the facts along with several surprises on the topic that will keep you thinking after you have turned the last page....more info
  • Sobering
    This is the first of Preston's books that I have read. I found it to be informative and sobering. I look forward to reading Preston's other offerings. I only wish that the audio version was unabridged and that is the reason for the 4 stars rather than 5....more info
  • Nothing beats the Hot Zone.
    Perhaps because I found Richard Preston's The Hot Zone such a terrifying and captivating book, this one pales in comparison. I was not thrilled with his book The Cobra Event either. In this true story of bio-terrorism and all of it's implications, Richard Preston seems to taffy stretch the truth in many instances, seemingly a deliberate attempt to make what is already a dreadful truth even more terrifying. For me, he failed, it was boring. I wavered between a thirst for knowledge, lay-person knowledge that is, and anger at the author for tossing out biological weapon recipes as if they were pennies to be had by all. At one point he does claim that it is "public" knowledge, but one would normally have to do a great deal of research on the subject and be well-versed and well trained in the field of bio-chemistry to understand it. Instead, Mr. Preston attempts to make it very easily understood, leaving one with a "Gee thanks a lot Mr. Preston" sarcasmic attitude. I thought his own attitude was cocky at best, but feel I must give credit paradoxically for the wealth of knowledge the book did contain. The only portion of the book I found scary in the least was Mr. Preston's delivery of information that could, and most likely will, fall into many ugly hands. Much of what is said in this book could have been said with less detail and more vivid animation. I wonder why he wrote it? It doesn't, in my opinion, necessarily frighten, it's too factual for the average reader to scare them, it's outright boring for a lay person such as myself and it smacks of sensationalism regarding a subject too awful even for that. There's only a handful of people in today's world I think would benefit from this book, and we haven't found them yet. Gee, thanks a lot Mr. Preston....more info
  • Elaine Su (OSPOXFRD 086, Spring 2009)
    Preston ambitiously aims to chronicle a recent history of smallpox in layman's terms, and generally succeeds in painting a comprehensible picture of viral infection. Demon is filled with comparisons that make Preston's subject accessible, but as can be expected, excerpts are sometimes hindered by cumbersome extended analogies and misleading metaphors. As he attempts to write about a scientifically complicated phenomenon with a poetic slant, Preston is occasionally impeded by his own language, as he (poetically, but inaccurately) describes trans-species virus jumps as "random yet full of purpose," and refers to viruses as "pickpockets" (51). Much of the book is concise and descriptive, but some pages read like the drafts of a feature writer who has been assigned to cover a front-page news story; at times, the book is muddled by a self-consciousness that is out of place given its narrative goals. Preston's scope also widens unannounced, as he moves from discussions of smallpox to details of anthrax scares. Among the book's merits are a descriptive style that lends itself easily to film adaptations, if not a science textbook. Preston offers glimpses into the personalities of big names such as DA Henderson and Peter Jarhling. As a whole, Preston succeeds in capturing his reader's attention, but at the expense of occasionally glossing over the gritty, scientific details....more info
  • Reads like a novel
    This is an excellent, though frightening, account of the history and future of the smallpox virus. It reads like a bio-terror novel, but is all the more frightening because it is non-fiction....more info
  • Excellent description of the threats from Anthrax & Smallpox
    This is the 3rd book of what Richard Preston now refers to as his Dark Biology trilogy. He is undoubtedly one of the most informative writers on this topic, which certainly should be giving great cause for concern.
    I would strongly recommend the other 2 books : The Hot Zone is a non-fictional account about Ebola; the 2nd the Cobra Event is a novel, all the more effective for the background knowledge he had acquired.
    In this book Preston reverts back to the non-fiction genre to tell an upto date story about Anthrax (following the as yet unsolved incidents in the USA) and Smallpox (and the activities of the Russians in violation of International Treaty).
    There are other books available that had already discussed Anthrax or and/or Smallpox, so some of the material I already knew, but the section that was news to me, and thus more fascinating, was the description about the Smallpox outbreak at Meschede Hospital in Germany in 1970.
    If I have one criticism about Preston, it is that whilst he tries to show you the human side of what the participants were thinking at the time, he sometimes plays it to excess giving out superfluous information. This may be of use in a novel to create a sense of character, but in a non-fictional account, it isn't necessary. For example, instead of just saying he has lunch with one of his interviewees, you get the brand name of the beer that they drank (Molson). Elsewhere he describes meetings with others that they were drinking Glenmorangie & Linkwood Malt Whisky - at least he saved us from saying how old the Whisky was, or whether or not they had water with it.
    Despite these Product Placement issues, he is an author to follow....more info
  • Awesomely scary
    This book was very well written and though it was a little slower to read than the Cobra Event and the Hot Zone it still had the ability to scare. I was amazed at how little information we were told about the anthrax attacks and about the strength and accessibility of biological weapons. This book definately opens your eyes to a whole new world. I'd read it again any time....more info
  • "The way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper."
    T. S. Eliot's bleak vision of the future doesn't even begin to include the gloomy prognostications revealed in this book. That terrorists will either acquire or develop biological weapons capable of destroying all human life is not just a possibility, it's a probability, as Preston makes abundantly clear in this update on biological weapons development. This book is the ultimate wake-up call. Even if you want to sleep after reading this, you may not be able to.

    Of the several biological weapons which have been under development in the past twenty-five years, smallpox is by far the most lethal and contagious, and irresponsible scientists have genetically engineered it in the past few years to make vaccination useless against it. Antidotes are unknown because humans are the only hosts for smallpox, and there is no way to run a test study of their efficacy. Preston points out, "It has taken the world twenty years to reach roughly fifty million cases of AIDS. [A single case of smallpox in an unprotected population] can reach that point in ten to twenty weeks."

    A massive research and development program for weapons grade smallpox and plague, along with the MIRV missiles and warheads to deliver them abroad, continued, unknown and unmonitored, in the Soviet Union for twenty years after smallpox was officially eradicated in 1978. The whereabouts of the twenty tons of "hot," genetically altered smallpox are currently unknown. According to a defecting Russian scientist, even the Soviet researchers do not know where it went, but "they think it went to North Korea." Iran and Iraq are also believed to have "benefited" from this research and to have ongoing, active bioweapons research programs.

    Preston's focus on the people who are actively fighting potential biological terrorism in this country gives a human face to this frightening prospect, while his descriptions of the individuals who fought for their lives in the world's last cases of smallpox make the horror an all too vivid reality. His analysis of the anthrax outbreak last year, and the delivery systems which make possible such outbreaks of anthrax, Ebola, and plague are enlightening. Forcing the reader to acknowledge the reality of a new kind of war, one more lethal and uncontrollable than ever before in history, Preston illuminates the tenuous nature of human life in the twenty-first century. The tiniest of living organisms are capable of wiping out the entire human population of the world if they get into the hands of a madman. Mary Whipple
    ...more info
  • Smallpox 101
    'The Demon in the Freezer' is sort of a hodgepodge of nonfiction. Part of it concerns great detail on smallpox and its erradication, and another part delves into bio-terrorism (with the use of smallpox and anthrax). Surprisingly, the lesson on smallpox was very good (well-written and well-researched). Yet the bio-terrorism bit was disappointing. It felt as though the author was just glossing over the subject. At times he even pushed somewhat into the realm of editorializing on geo-political matters. Not a good move.

    So read the book to learn more about smallpox; it is well worth the effort. But about midway through you'll find the author branching out into bio-terrorism. Consider that a signal to find another book....more info
  • Boat of Dreams
    If you like Richard Preston's books you will love!!!! Boat of Dreams that he wrote last year. He wrote it for a very special friend that was dying of breast cancer and made several copies for some of his other friends and it is an exellent book. This year it got published and was a big hit. If you buy this book you will not be dissapointed!!
    Sherry Sigler...more info
  • Masterful
    Richard Preston gives an excellent factual account of the events surrounding the anthrax attacks of 2001 in this book. He had access to insiders at the time of writing. These same insiders will not discuss the subject today. In this sense "Demon in the Freezer" provides an invaluable account of these events....more info
  • Another Viral Thriller for Preston
    By now, with his third book about infectious agents (after THE HOT ZONE and THE COBRA EVENT), Richard Preston has firmly established himself as a virus nerd. His writing bursts with the thrill of discovering new outbreaks of disease and the tiny viruses responsible for epidemics. In THE DEMON IN THE FREEZER, Preston sets out to describe the horrors of the smallpox virus and its potential as a biological weapon. He charts the history of the disease, the progress of the eradication campaign begun in the 1960's, and the development of super-strains designed to kill large numbers of people. In an era without natural occurrences of smallpox, people have forgotten how horrific the disease truly is, and Preston makes sure his readers understand by graphically describing the progression of the disease from the first appearance of a centrifugal rash to the uncontrollable blistering, the collapse of the immune system, and, in some cases, the hemorraghic destruction of internal organs. The chapters on smallpox itself are framed by the anthrax attacks of October 2001. The possibility of biological warfare - by terrorists, a nation, or a disgruntled virologist - looms large in this book.

    At times, the book is repetitive, as though the author did not trust his readers to remember what he wrote earlier. The book also suffers from a loose construct - a skipping around from small pox to Ebola to anthrax as well as among the various principals in viral research - that seems to defy logic at times. Some of the anecdotes seem inserted merely to ratchet up the level of suspense. However, despite these flaws, THE DEMON IN THE FREEZER is a riveting narrative. Anyone who does not believe smallpox is a real threat should read this book. The insights into virology and genetic engineering are geared for the layman, making the text accessible to a wide audience.

    I highly recommend this book for readers with a fascination of infection and viruses. While not as tightly written as THE HOT ZONE, this book is yet another Preston's horror story, complete with suspense and gore....more info
  • Good technical stuff; Not coherent enough throughout
    This one jumps around quite a bit. Chronologically, it works OK, but many of the diversions I was led along were dead-ends. Why dedicate so much background info on Lisa Hensley (although I admire her very much) when it isn't pertinent? This book is right up Preston's alley, and he demonstrates quite a bit of research. But I'm not sure if 1.5 pages at the end is enough to finally learn what the author believes. Anyway, an interesting read nonetheless. My copy was library-loaned, and I accidentally spilled red wine on parts of the second half of the book. IT'S NON-TOXIC, don't worry ;-)...more info
  • Confounding
    Feel like being angry and disturbed? Give this a read. The Hot Zone was a great read but not nearly as scary as this book which shows just how evil mankind truly is. I keep asking myself why the Soviets would ever think that these viruses and antibiotic resistant bacteriums could be useful in defense of their nation. With modern transporation the entire world is in big trouble when this stuff gets out. Smallpox is bad enough on its own but it takes a very sick mind to weaponize it. What a world we are raising our children in- this is disturbing stuff. ...more info
  • Scary as hell
    This book should scare the hell out of you. If everything had gone perfectly after the official eradication of smallpox in 1979, the last two stashes of the virus at the CDC and in Russia would have been destroyed long ago. However, scientific curiosity, threats of bioterrorism, and most importantly, the irresponsibility of the Russian political and scientific establishments have prevented the destruction of the deadly virus.

    Preston recounts the courageous and well-organized international smallpox eradication effort of the 60's and 70's in the first part of the book and introduces us to the characters who transformed the dream of ridding the planet of the horrible disease into a reality. The meat of the book, however, deals with one of the most pressing issues of our time, bioterrorism. Although the smallpox virus was to be kept only at the CDC and in a Russian institute after eradication, ample evidence exists that the Russians continued experimenting with the virus as a potential weapon and distributed it to several different research centers. If that's not scary enough, imagine the possibility of the virus getting into the wrong hands after the post-Communist degeneration of the Russian political and scientific establishments. Preston suggests that the virus quite possibly exists outside of the CDC and Russia bioterrorist research facilities, and it is potentially being reengineered into an even deadlier form. Any reasonably intelligent scientist with a small budget could easily experiment with the virus using techniques published in manuals available to everyone.

    The threat of bioterrorism is very real as the anthrax attacks of 2001 have shown us. Not only was the anthrax easily spread through the mail, but it was of professional grade. Preston describes the potential destruction the smallpox virus could wreak on all of us if bioterrorists figured out a way to deliver it surrepitiously. Smallpox is far deadlier than anthrax and very contagious.

    This book is similar to Hot Zone in style in that Preston attempts to humanize all his characters although at times, he can get a bit melodramatic. That being my only criticism, this book deserves to be read as a solemn reminder of the danger that still lurks both within and outside our borders....more info

  • Fascinating and Terrifying
    As a fan of medical mysteries, adventures, and horrors, I find none as terrifying as those based on fact. Richard Preston came through again with one of the most fascinating and thought provoking books I have read in a long time. I was not sure what to expect, as I had bought the book some time ago. When it started with a revisit of 9/11 and the anthrax scare, I was fairly disappointed, as I was looking for something along the lines of Ebola or the other hemmoragic fevers. However, the book quickly did a history of the team charged with erradicating smallpox, their trials, triumphs, and I was just blown away. Call me odd for being fascinated by smallpox, and other books of this sort, but when one realizes that these diseases occurred, real people died, and real people sought and sometimes found a cure, nothing can make for more interesting reading. I recommend all Preston and Preston/Child collaborations as 'intelligent' reading....more info
  • Great Read
    Just like "The Hot Zone", also written by Preston, I can not say enough good things about this informative, easy to read, and exciting novel. A non-fiction so scary that it will have you opening public doors with your sleeve for days....more info
  • not bad
    After reading the Hot Zone by Richard Preston I looked forward to getting my hands on Demon in the Freezer. While the book was not bad (it kept me interested enough to read it all the way through anyway), it wasn't as interesting to me as the Hot Zone was. This is peculiar because I generally find smallpox related stories to be fascinating, and there are a lot of good books available on smallpox. Perhaps I started this book with expectations that were too high, based on Preston's excellent work in writing the Hot Zone. Demon in the Freezer is not bad, but nothing really special either. I'd recommend it to those who like the genre and have run out of other titles to check out, but don't expect it to keep you on the edge of your seat. ...more info
  • Gripping Like the Hot Zone, But All About Smallpox
    Written in the gripping style of "The Hot Zone," Demon in the Freezer is mostly a story about smallpox, and what has happened to it. Toward the end of the book, anthrax is also explored. An alternate title for the book could have been, "Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Smallpox-Its Hisory, Present, and Future." Except that the book is so interesting that it's difficult to put down....more info
  • Frightening, and also a Good Primer on Bird Flu
    This book is downright frightening in its examination of the hubris of our world leaders. Having eradicated a deadly killer by unified action in the 1970's, the US and Soviet governments insisted upon keeping smallpox samples for scientific study. Today, much of what the Soviets had is unaccounted for and both governments clearly created weaponized virus strains that, if released among the population, would unleash an epidemic of Biblical proportions.
    Although written a couple of years ago, this book is still highly relevant in light of the current terrorist threat. Also, if you want to learn about how a Bird Flu Pandemic would be handled, this book provides an excellent description of vaccination and quarantine procedures. In addition to all this, the book is a riveting read!...more info
  • microscopic terror
    It's what you don't see that can hurt you. Preston does a great job as usual in presenting the history of some of the most deadliest germs and viruses known to man. In this book the focus is on antrax and smallpox. If you are interested in a novel form I highly recommend THE COBRA EVENT....more info
  • If you only read one terrifying book this year....
    Not everyone will want to read this book. I choose to ignore most news shows about nuclear or bio-terrorism so that I can sleep better. Others seek to improve their understanding the threats we all face. For those who are selective about the information they choose to absorb, this is a well-researched, well-told history of the effort to fight smallpox and bioterrorism.

    Preston tells the story of several individuals who have dedicated their lives in different ways to the fight against smallpox and bio-terrorism. Preston is very good at describing the incredibly dangerous missions that these people have chosen for themselves, and the diverse set of motives and beliefs that compel them.

    One example is the hippie who interprets a Pakistani mystic's garbled chant as a command to join the world-wide smallpox irradication effort. Another is the gripping story of a single woman just out of college who thinks the researchers who work in the "blue suits" are insane, only to find herself in a Level 4 unit working with Ebola and smallpox a few weeks later.

    The other aspect of the book that is as interesting in the way it is told, as it is frightening is the almost unlimited potential for bioterrorists to make even more virulent strains of these diseases. Today, everyone is aware of the threat of bioterrorism, but Preston succeeds in explaining just how dangerous the threat is.

    Because the Fall 2001 anthrax attacks occured as the book was being written, it seems Preston felt obligated to weave these events into the book. As a result, the story is at times slightly disjointed, but overall, I think the anthrax angle added more than it detracted to the book....more info

  • don't read if you want to sleep well tonight
    Compelling as can be, and equally terrifying. Not fear mongering as he does not call for political action . . . just telling us what might happen if this nightmare were to be unleashed. And it is all possible....more info
  • The Demonay|
    This is the sort of book that you just cannot put down. I started reading it on a long car ride home from Portland and was hooked immediately.

    After telling a co-worker that I had enjoyed Preston's THE HOT ZONE she recommended this book as a follow-up. While I did enjoy it, I found the chapters about Anthrax boring in comparisson to the terror of smallpox and the fascinating story of its eradication.

    THE HOT ZONE and Laurie Garrett's THE COMING PLAGUE (which I am currently in the middle of) are better, but this is an enjoyable read that is full of facts ot keep biology/pathology buffs hooked but not bogged down with technical jargon....more info

  • Very Informative
    Preston again managed to break down complicated material and make it interesting and informative....more info
  • A slight down-grade, but nonetheless incredible
    The Demon in the Freezer is the third of Richard Preston's "Black Biology" books. It was his second non-fiction story involving bioterrorism and viruses. Although I have to admit that the Hot Zone was indeed a better book, I applaud Preston for his tremendous effort in writing The Demon in the Freezer. The book has a profusion of information regarding poxviruses and various sub-strains of this sub-microscopic killer. The book effectively intertwined biology, ethics, history, and war. The Demon in the Freezer, in a nutshell, is an interesting piece of work that should be read by all those who are uneducated in the field of global politics regarding bio-warfare....more info
  • Excellent book
    This books is Richard Preston's second best, the first being The Hot Zone. It describes not only the threat of smallpox and history of smallpox in detail, but also the different types of smallpox that are possible. He obviously did some research over a long period of time in order to come up with the facts that he did. Originally, I think the book was meant to be written to describe smallpox, but during the writing of the book, 9-11 occurred and he goes on to talk about the anthrax threats that occurred after 9-11 as well as other biological threats received after 9-11. I recommend this book to anyone who's ever been interested in learning more about biological warfare....more info
  • The Demon in the Freezer
    The book was in excellent condition, but it took a very long time to receive it. I ordered 3 other books the same day from the same region and received them 3 weeks earlier than when I received this book....more info