BOOK REVIEW: The Demon in the Freezer by Richard Preston

198505._SY475_Title: The Demon in the Freezer

Author: Richard Preston

Book Length: 283 pages

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Nonfiction, Science, History, Medical, Health

Read Start Date: September 2, 2018

Read Finish Date: August 2, 2019

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: 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.

My Review: This book is scarier than any horror book, because you guys, this book is NONFICTION! Imagining that a terrorist group may be able to weaponize a virus like smallpox to decimate the population of a major US city in the blink of an eye is terrifying. This book opened my eyes to an array of grim possibilities that I had never before even though about. Viruses, epidemics, etc. have always fascinated me for some reason — and movies about such subjects are my favorite kind of film in the horror genre (closely followed by zombies).

The descriptive way that Preston writes about viruses, really gave me a clear picture in my mind of what he was talking about. Sometimes, this was not such a good thing — and unless you grew up listening to your mother’s ER stories at the dinner table like me, this book might not be a good thing to read while eating.

“The inflamed area in his throat was no bigger than a postage stamp, but in a biological sense it was hotter than the surface of the sun. Particles of smallpox virus were streaming out of oozy spots in the back of his mouth and were mixing with his saliva. When he spoke or coughed, microscopic infective droplets were being released, forming an invisible cloud in the the air around him.”

Seriously, you guys, I will never look at people coughing again without imagining all the tiny virus particles spewing into the air from their mouths.

 

BOOK REVIEW: I’ll Be OK, It’s Just a Hole in My Head by Mimi Hayes

41032261Title: I’ll Be OK, It’s Just a Hole in My Head

Author: Mimi Hayes

Book Length: 280 pages

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Autobiography, Memoir, Nonfiction

Read Start Date: May 8, 2019

Read Finish Date: May 31, 2019

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: I’ll be OK, it’s Just a Hole in My Head: A Memoir on Heartache and Head Injury is a humorous and thoughtful cross between Jill Bolte Taylor’s My Stroke of Insight and Jenny Lawson’s Furiously Happy. Shocking and funny, Hayes’ memoir shares the true story of a sudden brain hemorrhage at the age of twenty-two – and the heartache and strength that it took to overcome it. At first Hayes uses a blanket of comedy to cloak herself from her new reality—after all, sending out funny tweets is far easier than admitting to the world that she’s lost basic motor functions like walking and talking. Humbled by the pain, she must admit to herself that that she is no longer the carefree, 20-something planning to marry her high school sweetheart. With this realization, a brave young woman forces herself to confront her new normal—and to quit cracking jokes about catheters.

My Review: I got this book as an ARC from Netgalley. Honestly, I chose to read it as much for the description as the fact that the cover had pretty colors. I wasn’t expecting too much (I’ve read some pretty terrible memoirs on Netgalley recently), and was therefore pleasantly surprised to find that this book rocked! The author, even though she went through a horrendous experience, was funny, and talked about her experience with aplomb.

For example, after her bad breakup with her long term boyfriend, James, she goes out on another date. Hayes writes “our first kiss happened on the second date. We continued to walk around parks and drink coffee, which gave me plenty of opportunity to make a fool of myself. I wore heels on one date and had to take them off because my feet hurt so badly. But what did I say to explain this behavior? ‘Sorry, I need to air out my fee.'” — Ouch (and I am not only talking about feet).

Other times Hayes let us know exactly what she was thinking, and she didn’t let a little thing like being on the toilet stop her! “About eight o’clock that night, I went to the bathroom to sit on the toilet and think about my life choices. And also to take a poop, as one does.” She writes that in these moments, when she had time to contemplate and to think about her life, she was scared. She “had a google-able disease”, and she writes, “this time I could be dying. On a toilet. My last moments could be spent going poop. I was embarrassed. And I was really, really scared. I’d just found out I’d be having brain surgery on Friday. What if my brain and I didn’t have a second date? Was I going to die then? Or what if I die now, three days from the finish line and shitting on this toilet?”

Putting being on the toilet aside, I cannot imagine how scary having a brain tumor must be.

Hayes was brave. Super brave. And I think she was even more brave for having written this story about her experience afterward, and deciding to publish it for people like me to read.

If you decide to give this book a try, you will not regret it.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.