Sunday, November 13, 2011

welcome, viral overlords

The Hot Zone - Richard Preston

Surely I am not the only person who thinks that viruses are fascinating. The singularity with which viruses mobilize, replicate and attack is the stuff of horror novels. The strains of viruses responsible for such gruesome diseases as Ebola, Marburg and other hemorrhagic fevers are particularly fascinating.

The Hot Zone details accounts of outbreaks of these virulent diseases and science's attempts to identify the contagion and halt its spread. It makes for a ripping good yarn,
made even more compelling by the fact none of it is fiction. Preston does rely on some speculation, out of necessity, about certain specific instances in which the viruses were able to crash into the human population, but generally his detective work is backed by documented facts. Scary, amazing stuff that will keep you reading late into the night.

I did have some issues with Preston's writing style. Perhaps because he is relentless about sticking to documented evidence, the nuances among statements are lost. He gives equal weight to documenting the specifics of a veterinary pathologist doing paperwork in their office at USAMRIID as he does to the gory timeline of an Ebola victim crashing and bleeding out. It did keep me on edge, but it was a little frustrating. Time and again I found myself waiting for the boogeyman to jump out of the closet, when in actuality Preston was merely going into great detail about non-events because that's the way he writes.

I was also puzzled by the existence of the final chapter, in which Preston recounts his own expedition into the cave in Kenya where Ebola is first thought to have jumped species to human hosts. It felt like an afterthought that diluted the impact of the rest of the book somewhat.

But these are minor quibbles. The Hot Zone is a riveting tale from the field of epidemiology that investigates some of the most terrifying and wonderful viruses in existence. Highly compelling reading.

7 comments:

Allison said...

I should get this for my dad. He'd love it.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Great idea, Al! It's for virus aficionados everywhere.

kelly said...

I thought that was a great book as well. Another good book which I am reading right now is called Outliers http://www.gladwell.com/outliers/index.html

leazwell said...

Yes, I'll be reading that one.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I've heard good things about Outliers as well, Kelly. I will have to add it to my list, thanks for the recommendation.

I know that you will enjoy the subject matter, Leazwell, endlessly fascinating.

Karen said...

I've had this on my to read list for some time, waffling about whether or not it was worth the effort. Great review Barb, I'll be giving it a go in the new year :)

Barbara Bruederlin said...

It is worth the effort, Karen - fascinating reading. I'm planning to read more of his books actually.