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The Demon in the Freezer: A True Story (2002)

by Richard Preston

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,483438,960 (3.91)114
In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks in the USA, the western world had to deal with a new threat: bioterrorism. In October 2001, a series of anthrax attacks through the postal system caused chaos and fear. But there was a far greater danger that had government security advisers around the world even more alarmed: smallpox. In his terrifying account of what happened, and what could still happen, Richard Preston reveals the true horror faced by victims of smallpox, raises serious questions about what happened to the smallpox viruses that were kept in storage after the disease was 'eradicated' in 1979, and shows just how easy it would be to create new strains of smallpox that would be able to overcome any vaccination, leaving the population defenceless.… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 42 (next | show all)
Reading these kind of books makes you always question the humanity.

Besides this basic fact this book is a true page turner. Fascinating from the first to the last page. Slight nitpicking I do have on parts where "Character X wears Y and her/his hair is Z" stuff is really not something I need to have in this kind of book.
Second nitpick is that it feels too short and with some unanswered or open questions. ( )
  gullevek | Dec 15, 2020 |
In the same manner of The Hot Zone, Richard Preston's The Demon in the Freezer tells a massively interesting story of smallpox - how the deadliest disease that ever existed on the planet becomes the only disease that humanity is able to completely eradicate. Very informative look, especially now, its a great retrospective into disease and the history of weaponization of diseases. The history of smallpox and its defeat is only the first half of the book, the rest are events related to the development of biological weapons based on smallpox (mainly in the USSR and Russia), the stockpile of smallpox vaccine of the World Health Organization and storage of still existing deep-frozen smallpox samples.

Sounds a lot more interesting than it actually manages to be. Also the second half of the book reads more like a novelization which is interesting but also sort of jarring combination. Not terrible but different for sure.

The audio book read by Paul Boehmer is also massively entertaining. He is a great performer to injects a lot of life into the book with accents and differentiation between history, the to date journalistic parts, and the last half to 3/4 of the book that reads more like a story.

Great read - superb audiobook. Highly recommend. ( )
  modioperandi | Jul 16, 2020 |
Scary. I read this during COVID-19 (June 2020) and it puts into perspective (perhaps) how prepared we are as a Nation to handle a large-scale biological event. To make it worse, this was written in 2002...a lot has changed in 18 years, but is it all for the better? Hard to say, we almost need a Demon in the Freezer #2 to update us on the current state of affairs post-COVID. I can't recommend this book enough to someone interested in this topic. If you haven't read about Smallpox or Anthrax - read this! ( )
  bhiggs | Jun 21, 2020 |
So why haven't they destroyed the last of the smallpox stores? Distrust is a dangerous thing. ( )
  bgknighton | May 23, 2020 |
Although this book is almost 20 years old, it is very pertinent, given the current pandemic. [The Demon in the Freezer] focuses primarily on efforts to eradicate, once and for all, smallpox from the globe. Like HIV, ebola, and covid-19, smallpox is a virus, immune to antibiotics. (The plague that killed millions during the middle ages, by the way, is a bacteria and IS cured by antibiotics.) A salient menace of smallpox is how easily it spreads. No more than a half-dozen particles of the virus are required to infect a human.

A smallpox outbreak in Germany in 1970 is instructive. Peter Los, 19, had driven with friends from Europe through Turkey and the Middle East to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Upon his return home, he was hospitalized with strange symptoms, put in isolation. Within several days, doctors suspected he had smallpox, and they were correct. Los was quickly isolated in a separate building miles from the hospital, and he did eventually recover. The event triggered a massive inoculation effort, not simply of hospital workers, but of everyone living within a specified radius of the facility.

But in the few days Los was in the hospital's isolation unit, 17 others—several hospital workers, patients, and one unlucky visitor—were infected. The visitor put his face to the door of the isolation ward where Los was sequestered. The door was open just a crack, and though he was vehemently warned away and did immediately retreat, he nonetheless contracted "a wicked case" (he did survive). The 16 other people infected all worked in the second and third floors of the main building while Los was housed on the first floor of a semi-detached wing. Later testing with a smoke generator demonstrated how quickly and thoroughly air flowed from the isolation wing and into every corner of the structure. Despite a ban on smoking, Los would open his room's window a crack and puff away. The smoke test revealed that air would flow out the first floor window, up the exterior wall of the main structure, and get pulled into any open window on the second and third floors. Several of the additional cases proved fatal.

In terms of the current pandemic, we all are extraordinarily lucky that covid-19 does not (or at least has not yet) spread so quickly and effectively. The problem with covid-19 is that there's no known cure for it, as there has been for smallpox since the 1700s.

The demon of the title is, of course, the smallpox virus. As author Richard Preston explains, the World Health Organization (WHO) organized a global drive to eradicate smallpox, and in 1979 the goal was achieved. Enter the freezer. Not just a freezer, but a liquid nitrogen charged freezer, and not just A freezer but one in scores of medical research centers throughout the world. WHO negotiated an agreement to eliminate all stocks of smallpox virus with two exceptions: one in a freezer at the U.S. Center for Disease Control, the second in a similar facility in the Soviet Union. These two holdings were to be maintained "just in case."

In the late 1980s, a Soviet defector to the U.K., a virologist, revealed to British intelligence that he was engaged in Soviet research into weaponizing smallpox through genetic engineering. The Soviets had tons, yes, tons of the stuff in their freezers. Not long thereafter, the Soviet Union collapsed. Now who's got The Pox?

Preston, an alum of John McPhee's respected writing course at Princeton University, embraced what he learned from McPhee. He spent days observing researchers in restricted Level 4 labs where "space suits" are required. He interviewed and traveled with researchers, executives, and eradicators in the U.S., Europe, India, and Bangladesh.

Read it. It's important.
1 vote weird_O | May 14, 2020 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Richard Prestonprimary authorall editionscalculated
Naughton, JamesNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Chance favors the prepared mind.
—Louis Pasteur
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This book is lovingly dedicated to Michelle
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In the early nineteen seventies, a British photo retoucher named Robert Stevens arrived in south Florida to take a job at the National Enquirer, which is published in Palm Beach County.
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In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks in the USA, the western world had to deal with a new threat: bioterrorism. In October 2001, a series of anthrax attacks through the postal system caused chaos and fear. But there was a far greater danger that had government security advisers around the world even more alarmed: smallpox. In his terrifying account of what happened, and what could still happen, Richard Preston reveals the true horror faced by victims of smallpox, raises serious questions about what happened to the smallpox viruses that were kept in storage after the disease was 'eradicated' in 1979, and shows just how easy it would be to create new strains of smallpox that would be able to overcome any vaccination, leaving the population defenceless.

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