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Panic in Level 4: Cannibals, Killer Viruses, and Other Journeys to the Edge of Science

3.73  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,833 Ratings  ·  303 Reviews
Bizarre illnesses and plagues that kill people in the most unspeakable ways. Obsessive and inspired efforts by scientists to solve mysteries and save lives. From The Hot Zone to The Demon in the Freezer and beyond, Richard Preston’s bestselling works have mesmerized readers everywhere by showing them strange worlds of nature they never dreamed of.

Panic in Level 4 is a gran
ebook, 184 pages
Published May 27th 2008 by Random House (first published January 1st 2008)
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Jul 22, 2015 Kaora rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Probably should have read the synopsis a bit better.

Going into this based off of the titles, I thought it would be interesting to learn about Level 4, the place where the most dangerous viruses are quarantined where they can be studied in an attempt to learn more about them and possibly develop a cure.

The introduction begins with the author and his journey into Level 4, a place where very few people go, much less ones that aren't directly working with the viruses in question. The introduction en
In introducing this collection of essays, Richard Preston reflects on the nature and constraints of writing narrative non-fiction. Basically, Preston is using Panic as an opportunity to add to or modify his pieces (many of which originally appeared as articles in The New Yorker) and give the reader a fuller sense of things that, for whatever reason, were left unsaid at the time. The first example of this (to which the title refers) being his potential exposure to a Level 4 hazardous disease, p ...more
Jun 10, 2008 Joanna rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: germ-books, science
I was a bit disappointed when I received this book and realized that it was a collection of six separate stories, and not all of them were about scary germs. My disappointment, however, was short-lived. Richard Preston has expanded and updated pieces he has written for The New Yorker about different, yet somewhat related, topics in science.

Preston's "Introduction: Adventures in Nonfiction Writing" gives interesting insights into the process of writing, while illustrating such research experience
Elizabeth A
Dec 28, 2015 Elizabeth A rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audio, 2015, non-fiction
I'm a fan of science writing, and with a sub-title like this one, how could I resist? I listened to the audiobook, which was well narrated by James Lurie.

The first thing to know about this collection of essays it that they were all previously published in The New Yorker, and in creating this book the author added to those original essays. And that is the biggest complaint I have about this collection - it needs tighter editing. I've no doubt that I'd have given the original essays a five star ra
Oct 23, 2012 Debra rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Some interesting reading here, but doesn't read like a suspense thriller like Preston's Hot Zone and other works. Found myself mired in too much detail at times... even bored at times. In addition, some of it is very sad when he talks about hemlock trees going extinct and people who are driven to cannibalize themselves. But I'm not sorry I read the book.
This is very dry in some areas but it's actually very interesting. There was a lot of stuff brought to my attention. I had no idea about the gorillas, it makes me sad to think things are getting spread like that and we have no idea why. I found the information about pi kind of interesting but it dragged on way too long. He could have cut a lot of that out. The viruses is very scary. The genes that causes self cannibalism, wow. Orphan genes and syndromes is right. Overall I liked the book, it's j ...more
Jan 13, 2015 Miriam rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobooks
Fine. I really enjoyed the chapter on the brother mathematicians looking at pi. I don't know if it was the voice of the narrator on the audiobook or the intention of the author, but sometimes I heard it as "pie." Mountains of pie. Filled with pie. I liked that. The idea of pi is so interesting and so absorbing: what DOES it mean? Can we humans know? What if they're right and even the most powerful computer, comprised of nearly the entire known universe, couldn't get enough numbers or calculation ...more
Not quite what I expected when I picked up this non-fiction audiobook from the library, but it was still an interesting read. I guess by the title I was expecting hysteria, but it felt more like random stories threaded together loosely by a journalist. Subjects covered in the book include:

1. How to take notes inside a Level 4 Containment Area when you can’t write on paper (No panic! The story of a malfunctioning zipper). Listening to this section of the audiobook reminded me of scenes from the m
Jul 20, 2011 Lize rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, 2011
Panic in Level 4 is a collection of expanded and updated articles author Richard Preston wrote for The New Yorker on a seriously diverse group of topics that end up being interrelated if you look hard enough. The author has long been a favorite of mine, and is one of the best around at making difficult scientific topics accessible to ordinary people, without dumbing it down and taking all the scholarship out of it. His books read like thrillers, but at the end you realize you've really learned s ...more
This book contains a collection of essays originally published in The New Yorker. It made for an interesting read but at times it become repetitive as a few of the essays were on related things and so necessitated the same basic background information which I'm sure was useful when they were originally published over several issues but became merely annoying when read in quick succession.

The introduction is an essay itself, and the only one to take place inside USAMRIID's Level 4. It reminded m
Jun 27, 2009 Anastacia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I hadn't read any of the shorter versions of these stories in the New Yorker, so these were all completely new to me. I enjoyed this book immensely. Preston writes with ease and threads his personal touch through the scientific details about which he writes, ultimately setting a tone of a certain intimacy that usual scientific discussions tend to avoid. He writes these stories as though he were writing a biography, not as a science minded person bent on scientific instruction and tedious detail. ...more
Nov 05, 2013 John rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science, essays
A very interesting hodgepodge of scientific essays (written entirely for the layman) covering a range of mostly unrelated topics. Preston excels at putting a personal face on each aspect of scientific inquiry by devoting the greater part of each narrative to the people involved (whether directly or indirectly) with pushing science forward. In other words, this book is not simply a cold regurgitation of facts the author picked up throughout his research. Preston writes from personal experience wh ...more
Bryce Holt
Jul 20, 2010 Bryce Holt rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is one of those rare books where the subject matter truly stretched the boundaries of my mind. It takes you places you can't imagine...the very fringes of science, math and the human experience. The best parts of this were an eye-opening article on Lesch-Nyhan Syndrome, the hunt for the genesis of Ebola and the photographic mapping of the Unicorn Tapestries via mathematics. There are a few places where you simply have to be patient and get through the quagmire of facts and raw data (especia ...more
This book confused me a bit. I picked ti up because of the title and that it was Richard Preston (Hot Zone, Demon in the Freezer, Cobra Event). It looked like another cool book about hot viruses. And part of it was. The other parts didnt seem to fit: men building a supercomputer to compute pi in their apt., A pest that is killing the Eastern Hemlock trees, then there was a story about an ebola outbreak. Also a story about the human genome project and a horrifying story about a disease that cause ...more
Apr 02, 2016 Carrie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
*sad face* "The Hot Zone: The Terrifying True Story of the Origins of the Ebola Virus" will always and forever be one of my favorite nonfiction books. It first captured my imagination when I was in high school Biology class and has continued to engross me ever since. When I found "Panic in Level 4" and saw the cover, I thought I had found a sequel of sorts to "The Hot Zone." Sadly, that was not the case. While the stories of Pi and supercomputers and mapping genomes and ancient tapestries woul ...more
I needed to have read this book with Preparation H. I was cringing and shifting in my seat so much while at work. Diarrhea-ing blood. That's nasty. Now I can understand the threat of Ebola a bit more seriously. I thought this book would be way different (based on the title) than when I started it. It was good and I was equally unsatisfied and satisfied. It went from World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War or The Stand to learning everything about the magically, sacred number Pi and finall ...more
Jun 06, 2015 Sarah rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Disappointed does not even begin to explain how let down I was by this book. I was expecting interesting, slightly disgusting and disturbing stories about viruses that had ravaged people, similar to Preston's book the Hot Zone. Man did this ever fall short. While the 'stories' are actually essays which means they are written in a totally different style, which some people may consider the first point of contention, the MAJOR point of contention for me is that not all the essays are related to ma ...more
I was expecting a compilation of interactions with Level 4 viruses - much like The Hot Zone: what I got was a series of short stories covering everything from Ebola to the Unicorn tapestries at Cloisters. It was an eclectic and interesting collection of stories about the human genome project, the death of a species of trees, the lives of mathematicians, Ebola, the unicorn tapestries, and self-cannibalization - a collection I feel added to my general knowledge:) 3*
I was disappointed at first due to the fact I thought this was going to be a full novel, but instead was a collection of essays, but after giving it a chance I found it very interesting. The novel is broken up into 7 sections:

Introduction – level 4 bio-level

The mountains of pi – two brother’s search for pi true meaning and getting to over a 2 million digits of pi with their super computer that they built from mail ordered parts.

A death in the forest – hemlock and the fight to save the trees in
Simon_Cleveland_Ph.D. Simon_Cleveland_Ph.D.
‘The Hot Zone' was an exceptional book and so 'Panic in Level 4' sounded very promising at first. The book is a collection of writings Mr. Preston did over a period of a few years. Only a couple of them refer to the terrible viral outbreaks, such as the African Ebola. I wasn't to fond of reading about the self-cannibalization disorder, it seemed to depressing. I recommend 'Demon In The Freezer', much more engaging read.
David Kirschner
Dec 14, 2015 David Kirschner rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is super interesting. There are two chapters and an introduction on Ebola, two chapters on the Chudnovsky brothers (one on calculating pi and the other on digitally reassembling a tapestry), one on the race to map the human genome, and a final chapter on self-cannibalism, aka Lesch-Nyhan syndrome, which blew my mind.

The only thing I wish is that they read the dates of when these pieces were originally published (they are excerpts from Preston's journalistic writings over the past sever
Mar 30, 2009 lola rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Best medicine gore writer out there. Worth coming out of the library for the article on Lesch-Nyman alone. Preston was such a master that it made me go back and give Gil Reavill one less star for being such a poseur, like how you feel gross about liking NIN once you hear Einsturzende Neubauten.
Jen Pierce
This wasn't quite what I thought it would be, maybe my own fault for not reading a thorough enough synopsis. That said, some of it was engrossing, some repetitive and dull. He was also pretty good at patting himself on the back for being such a good journalist.

I found The Mountains of Pi to be quite interesting, maybe the most interesting thing I've ever read about math (not usually my thing). It was the first time I could really see the art in math. Combine that with the human interest story o
Feb 27, 2015 Kristin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-i-own
I very much enjoyed 'The Hot Zone' and was eager to read this book of Preston's, especially after finding an autographed copy (at least according to the Barnes and Noble sticker on it) at a used book sale. While this was not exactly what I expected, and not quite as good as 'The Hot Zone', I did enjoy this book very much. Preston prefaces the book by noting that the stories are all expanded-upon essays he wrote for a New York newspaper, which I didn't appreciate until I got into later chapters w ...more
Dad's a medical epidemiologist - I remember riding in the back of the Land Cruiser in Cameroun, leafing through his tropical medicine books, looking at the horrible pictures of people with elephantitis, leprosy, etc. I'm sure that this is where my fascination with medical mysteries started....
Jan 20, 2014 Cynthisa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Lovely writer, Richard Preston (aka Dickhead ... :-) A bit chaotic and unfocused as a collected single book.... I think the author tried TOO hard to get the separate stories to relate to each other a bit. But, he's a wonderfully accessible and insightful author. I loved this book. Loved, especially, hearing about the Mathematicans Chudnovsky. I also admired how Preston has clearly let himself have feelings for his subjects too. That shows impressive guts -- to emotionally submerge oneself truly ...more
Jul 08, 2015 Kerry rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
It was good but some of it ran on and became somewhat boring
Mar 29, 2016 Daphne rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own-audio, quest, uno2016
I liked it much more than the other Preston I just finished.
Nov 05, 2014 Cara rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I've read three other books by Richard Preston, and I liked them all well enough, though apparently not well enough to remember much about them. This book, though? Terrible, to a memorable extent. Part of it is that Richard Preston seems to find very boring people interesting. The Chudnovsky brothers, Craig Venter, etc. A good author can make boring people interesting, but apparently Richard Preston doesn't have that talent.

Another problem is the science is just shoddy. I mean obviously so. Pres
Jul 07, 2010 Jim rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobooks-read
I think I will read anything new that he writes. Enjoyable Non-Fiction .
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Richard Preston is a journalist and nonfiction writer.

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