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The Demon in the Freezer: A True Story

4.09 of 5 stars 4.09  ·  rating details  ·  7,644 ratings  ·  584 reviews
“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 f
Hardcover, 240 pages
Published January 1st 2002 by Random House (NY)
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Will Byrnes
Some say the world will end in fire, some say in ice. I expect the end of the world, the people part of it in any case, is likeliest to be the result of loose pathogens. In Demon in the Freezer, published in 2002, Richard Preston, author of The Hot Zone and The Cobra Event takes a look at two of the top candidates for the job, smallpox and anthrax.

In October 2001, a photo-retoucher for the National Enquirer died as a result of a deliberate attack with anthrax. While the CDC was looking in to th
So I was in bed for a few days with a terrible flu -- fever, chills, coughing, etc... But this book really cheered me up since with its vivid description of how one dies from Smallpox -- bloody pistules covering the body, lucidity until the end despite intense pain -- I realized my suffering was sort of at the low end of possibilities! I've really become drawn to the science thriller genre these days, and while this book is nonfiction, its narrative and page-turning suspense makes it feel like a ...more

Do not read this during cough and flu season or if you think you might be coming down with a cold!

Do you remember the first ever bio-terror attack on U.S. soil when envelops full of anthrax were sent through the U.S. mail system to various places in the U.S.? It was in October 2001, a few months after the 9-11 attacks. If Smallpox had been used instead of Anthrax, we might not being around today to talk about it.

The author gives the reader a brief history of smallpox. Although smallpo
Apr 24, 2012 Punk rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Punk by: Merryish
Non-Fiction. If you're looking to become bugfuck paranoid about smallpox, then this is the book for you. Act now and you'll receive a heightened awareness of anthrax at no additional cost!

An in-depth look at the history of smallpox, the enormous international effort undertaken to eradicate the virus, and just how vulnerable we are to it now. Also the many ways Russia, North Korea, and Iraq are probably going to kill us with genetically engineered bioweapons.

Basically after reading this you're ne
Last week, vials of what turned out to be viable smallpox where found in a refrigerator on a National Institutes of Health Campus in Maryland. Date on the vial: 1954. Many people probably just scoffed and moved on to the next news story but what they may not have known is that smallpox is considered the most deadly human virus and is responsible for killing hundreds of millions of people in the 20th century before eradicated in 1980. Vaccines are no longer given, the vaccines given to our older ...more
Ack! We're all going to die from smallpox! No, wait... we're all going to die from anthrax! No, wait... we're all going to die from anthrax-laced smallpox! No, wait... MONKEYPOX is going to get us! Or is it mousepox? Meh. Whatever.

This is the second book I've read from Richard Preston. You'd have thought that I'd have run screaming from his writing after reading The Hot Zone. But, no. I had to read more. Granted, it has been many years since the mere thought of recycled air on a plane gave me th
David Galloway
This is a chilling account of the eradication of smallpox in the 1970s, the Anthrax mailings in 2001, and the possibility of future bioterrorism using genetically-modified strains of smallpox designed to infect even those vaccinated against the disease.

Officially variola majora (smallpox) only exists in freezers in the Centers for Disease Control and in the Russian Vector lab. Through interviews with those involved with the eradication and working to prevent bioterrorism a strong case is made fo
Had Preston focused solely on smallpox, this story could have been on the level with HOT ZONE. By trying to weave the anthrax attacks of 2001, Preston fractured the narrative and lost momentum with the larger story (the history, eradication, and bio-warfare threat of a resurrected smallpox virus). I felt he tried to connect the two to the detriment of the story. Bummed to say the least. THE DEMON IN THE FREEZER had real potential. It just wasn't met. With that said, I am looking forward to readi ...more
Super interesting!! I really didn't know much about smallpox, and this book was very eye opening. I wish I had a different "star" rating system for books that I am really glad I read, but that weren't quite up there among my favs. I guess three stars will have to do.
As much as I loved/was terrified of The Hot Zone, I did not feel the same about this book. The book jumps around quite a bit and is a little hard to follow along, so I kept waiting to see how the author would connect all the dots, and was left a little disappointed in the story-telling overall.

It starts out discussing smallpox and its supposed eradication in the 70s. Then it switches to the various poxes that exist (seriously, there's one for practically every creature roaming the planet), and a
If you thought Preston's The Hot Zone and the movie Outbreak were scary, hold onto your hats. In this nonfiction narrative, which Preston published in 2002 on the heels of 9/11, he tells of a more tangible threat to the world than any other communicable disease; one which, up until quite recently, was the greatest scourge ever to afflict to mankind, and yet you've probably never known anyone or seen anyone who has ever experienced it -- smallpox. It is a killer perfectly tailored by nature to th ...more
Richard Preston is a master of presenting narrative nonfiction like a blockbuster movie. This is an easy-to-read, accessible, page-turning account that never sacrifices intelligence and accountability.

The story, a wide-reaching presentation on the smallpox virus, is like a biological thriller. From the first instance of Preston revealing that smallpox only "officially" exists in two pages, a sense of dread and doom is laid out for the readers, and we know that not only is that not true, but suc
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 a
EJ Johnson
Apr 22, 2008 EJ Johnson rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: adults
Recommended to EJ by: Michael Jenny
I enjoyed this book about using smallpox in bioterrism. It took me a long time to read it because I didn't think I could read it before going to bed or it would keep me awake. I would definately recommend it but not to people who start obsessing and worrying about everything. Being cynical, I wish the author had put in footnotes or a bibliography so his sources could be checked. I liked the personal portrait of the people but I wish I had marked the intros so I could refer back to them when the ...more
Science history made intense in the telling. This book briefly relates the histories of both smallpox and anthrax, particularly smallpox's record as the deadliest disease in history and its persistence in that role right up to a time within living memory for many of us who are middle-aged today. The author goes on with the story of the eradication of smallpox outside of laboratories, and finally the account of the weaponization of both diseases - anthrax as actually used in the anthrax terror at ...more
Preston takes the reader on a horrifying tour through the world of Smallpox, which killed more people in the Middle Ages than the bubonic plague, though not in such a short period of time. And furthermore, it continued killing people in horrific fashion until the 70's and 80's when the great Eradication actually managed to eliminate smallpox in the wild by rushing to location of any reported case and doing a ring of vaccinations around that person. They thus prevented the virus from leaving the ...more
Excellent scientific thriller - Preston writes with such passion that it feels like fiction and is all the more horrifying because it all occurred. He looks at the anthrax attacks that followed 9/11 and describes the transmission of the bacteria. Then he takes us on a journey through the great Eradication of smallpox - A singularly significant medical achievement. Smallpox is a vile disease that makes AIDS and Ebola seem tame in comparison. However, there was an undercurrent that Preston brings ...more
Peter Cawdron
A chilling and precise look at the most deadly diseases on the planet, and a wonderful testimony to the value of vaccines (take heed antivaxers).

Ignorance is the greatest enemy humanity has ever faced. Once scientists began detecting patterns in how smallpox spread and recognized those with cowpox were immune, we were able to undertake a systematic program to eradicate a disease that has claimed the lives of 500 million people!

The writing is a little old-school, but this book is well worth the
Katie Herring
This book was more scientific than his previous, and it was more historical. I cried in this one, too.

I've never thought about smallpox before, and I'd like to go back to not thinking about it. I don't think it's gone, but I hope it stays in the freezer.

Connor Bowman
I read The Demon in the Freezer by Richard Preston. It’s about three main viruses, smallpox, anthrax, and ebola. It goes into detail about how they found ways to cure it or how they were working on curing it. He also went into detail in certain peoples lives during the viruses, he picked people such as patients that had one of the viruses, nurses working around patients with the virus, and doctors/scientists that were working to find cures or vaccines for the viruses. He also went into some of t ...more
Lukasz Pruski
With the first case of Ebola occurring in the U.S., I guess I chose the right time to read Richard Preston’s “The Demon in the Freezer” (2002). It is a non-fiction book that deals with the potential dangers of biological warfare. The main focus is on smallpox virus and anthrax bacterium, although the Ebola virus is frequently mentioned too.

The story begins in September 2001, one week after 9/11, when a letter to Senator Daschle's office in Washington D.C. is found to contain anthrax, and five pe
Tracey S. Zimmerman
Utterly Terrifying

Utterly Terrifying

Like many people, I devoured "The Hot Zone" when it came out. It was the stuff of the best of horror stories. Stephen King could have penned its like. Only this story was true. It introduced the world to the nightmare disease of Ebola, which, trust me, you don't want to get.

This book isn't about Ebola.

Anyone over about the age of 20 remembers a little incident referred to as 9/11. Within just a matter of weeks after, some very unfortunate people processed or
Tom O'brien
I don't think I have ever finished a Richard Preston book without a pervading sense of dread hanging over me.

In this book about the history, science and politics of the smallpox virus, he provides a strong overview of where we have been and where we are (or might be) WRT smallpox.

Through the heroic work of a global team of doctors & health workers, human smallpox has been eradicated from nature. However, the title of the book refers to the fact that there remain stores of the virus in cold s
A. Sleeper
Richard Preston is known for his exceptionally well-researched works that outline true-life possibilities regarding fact-based scientific work. His work regarding the possibilities of threats to American and world life at the hands of biological terrorists is both mesmerizing from a scientific standpoint and also from a layman’s standpoint—the position of pure curiosity. His work, The Demon in the Freezer allows the reader to imagine a world that could, at any single moment in time, be reconnect ...more
Xiande Deng
The Demon in the Freezer by Richard Preston is a relatively short science non-fiction book. It is really interesting to read if you are interested in science, biology, virology, or any other bioweapon related subjects. The best thing Preston does is to get the reader hooked up to the story, the vivid images and foreshadowing made it absolutely impossible to put the book down once you flip a single page! For example, at the very beginning of the book, a photographer dies from a virus that’s supp ...more
Smallpox was declared to be completely eradicated in 1979. Routine vaccination of the American public was stopped, leaving us unprotected from this deadly disease. So what would happen if a terrorist got his hands on some smallpox? The Demon in the Freezer is a true account of the 2001 mail anthrax attacks in America. Preston takes you on a fast-paced whirlwind of a ride, from the history of the smallpox, to its eradication, to the cold terror smallpox would bring as a weapon of biowarfare.
Jan 30, 2008 Jennifer rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: No one, really.
I was disappointed by this book. While the subject matter is potentially fascinating: Researching biological terrorism and the remaining smallpox virus in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks-- the delivery was sterile and unengaging. Those who read the book for squeamish details will be bored, those who expected a novel will be disappointed. While the information contained therein is useful, the delivery left much to be desired. It would be easier and faster to simply read the CDC website.
This is easily one of the most terrifying books I have ever read, because it's all true. The book is fluid and easy to read; Preston is careful to make sure that the science involved is explained in an easy-to-understand format. This in no way makes the book less frightening. The truth about smallpox is in these pages and it is a scary thing. Highly recommended for those who want to know the real dangers of smallpox and how possible a biological attack involving smallpox really is.
Robin Thomas
This was scary! Talks about the Anthrax incidents shortly after 9/11. Then goes on to talk about both Anthrax and Smallpox in detail. They are both horrible horrible things to suffer. And now we do not really know who has smallpox samples and what they are doing with them. Some quotes from the book that I found interesting/disturbing:
"I am reminded of how Teddy Roosevelt said that Russians will lie even when it is not in their best interest to do so."
"Some of the Vector weapons-production tanks
This book is proof that science can be just as frightening as a Stephen King horror! Preston uses the anthrax attacks in 2001 as a jumping off point to illustrate the very real threat of bioterrorism. Of greatest concern is the remaining stores of smallpox virus. Though the disease was eradicated from the earth in 1979, samples of the virus live on today. Officially, they are only allowed in two locations -- at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta and in Siberia, Russia, in a virology rese ...more
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The DEMON IN The Freezer 2 19 Dec 20, 2012 11:20PM  
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  • Smallpox: The Death of a Disease: The Inside Story of Eradicating a Worldwide Killer
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Richard Preston is a journalist and nonfiction writer.

Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name.
More about Richard Preston...
The Cobra Event The Wild Trees: A Story of Passion and Daring Panic in Level 4: Cannibals, Killer Viruses, and Other Journeys to the Edge of Science The Hot Zone: The Terrifying True Story of the Origins of the Ebola Virus The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2007

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“Epidemiologists think that smallpox killed roughly one billion people during its last hundred years of activity on earth.” 1 likes
“Poxviruses keep herds and swarms of living things in check, preventing them from growing too large and overwhelming their habitats. Viruses are an essential part of nature. If all the viruses on the planet were to disappear, a global catastrophe would ensue, and the natural ecosystems of the earth would collapse in a spectacular crash under burgeoning populations of insects. Viruses are nature’s crowd control, and a poxvirus can thin a crowd in a hurry.” 0 likes
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