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

3.72 of 5 stars 3.72  ·  rating details  ·  2,218 ratings  ·  270 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
Audio, Unabridged, 0 pages
Published May 27th 2008 by Random House Audio (first published January 1st 2008)
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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, po ...more
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
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
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
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
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
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
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*
Simon 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.
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.
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.
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....
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
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
I think I will read anything new that he writes. Enjoyable Non-Fiction .
This is a collection of essays written by Richard Preston the author of "The Hot Zone" which is an incredibly disturbing book about the Ebola virus. It covers topics from Ukrainian Mathematicians building their own supercomputer in their New York Apartment, unfortunates who cannibalize themselves to the scary new viruses that continually evolve to destroy their hosts. Sometimes, the writing seemed to drift off on tangents but overall, I found it interesting and enjoyed reading a variety of topic ...more
Rachael Hope
I'm a big fan of Richard Preston. The Hot Zone is one of my favorite books. Okay, maybe it is a little weird that I am totally fascinated by Ebola and other level 4 viruses. Whatever. I recently found my copy of The Cobra Event and started re-reading it last weekend during my garage sale, and am enjoying it just as much the second time around. I stopped at the library last week to pick up something to listen to on my drive to Seattle, and since I had Sam with me I didn't have much time to make a ...more
A tantalizing book title, but doesn't quite live up to expectations consistently. It's possible my expectations were too high, of course. This book starts off in a pretty mesmerizing fashion about the effects of Level 4 viruses like the Ebola virus, their horrific symptoms, and stories of accidental exposure by doctors and scientists (including a curious case of exposure that should have resulted in rapid death, but yet, had virtually no effect). Believe me, upon being reminded of the reality of ...more
A collection of stories Richard Preston followed for New Yorker magazine and otherwise researched, Panic in Level 4 is very well worth reading both because Preston's such a readable author (that is, he's pretty easy to read, and he's so much fun to read) AND because every story in the collection has things in it that most people would want to know, and so few of us DO know (the possible exception being what I consider the irrational romance of the EXACT VALUE of the irrational number "pi" - apar ...more
Chad Bearden
Though I've enjoyed the two previous Richard Preston works that focused on frighteningly deadly viruses such as Ebola and Marburg, this one had a few strikes against it before I decided I could like this one two:

1) The cover is horrible. People kept assuming I was reading some kind of Tom Clancy suspense thriller. I have nothing against Tom Clancy, but I don't read him. If I hadn't been a little more discerning when I was browsing through Barnes & Noble, I never would have looked at this boo
A collection of slightly edited and expanded articles that Preston wrote for The New Yorker, Panic in Level 4 is somewhat less consistently gripping than some of his other work. Still, Preston manages to bring the accessibility of his engaging pop science writing to a strange and varied group of subjects:

-Two eccentric mathematician brothers trying to discover the secrets of pi in a cramped New York apartment.

-The plight of the hemlocks of North America as they are under assault by an invasive A
Ticklish Owl
Preston has a tendency to exaggerate for maximum horror, but overall, well researched. Some of the science in this book is out of date. Filoviruses, which include Ebola and Marburg, are found in bats. Bats are host to many zoonotic viruses, and are the most likely vector in primate, human, and other mammalian infections of Ebola and Marburg–either through direct contact with bats, by eating bat meat, or by eating fruit/food contaminated with bat droppings or bat saliva.

If you liked this book, yo
Mandy Moody
I love Richard Preston and was excited to read some short stories by him - thinking that the shorter format would be easier to get through - less back story.

This was a mixed bag, however.
Story #1, The Mountains of Pi, is about the Chudnovsky brothers, their super computers, and the quest for patterns in the number pi, bored me to tears overall. There were parts that were interesting, but for the most part I just wanted to get through it. Had I been reading, I would have skipped ahead. Since I w
This is the first Richard Preston book that I have read, and as such I had no expectations of the book other than it was going to be a collection of essays on popular science topics.
Given this qualification, I can't say that I was at all disappointed. Yes, the book has a few flaws (see essay reviews below), but overall I found it informative, entertaining, and easy to read, which is exactly what books on popular science should be.
A breakdown of each essay:

The Introduction was about visiting the
Kimberly Fields
After Richard Preston's other thrillers, I was sadly disappointed by this book. After such a gripping title about panic in level 4 (the classification level in scientific labs for the most deadly, uncurable diseases), I expected another thriller. Instead, Preston spent about the first half of this book talking about supercomputers! How boring is that! I was a little more interested in the rainforest section, but couldn't manage to feel the fear Preston seemed to want me to feel about bugs that e ...more
Uneven but still interesting collection of non-fiction science stories all written by Richard Preston. Some of these were articles in a previous life that have been beefed up to make a nice little collection.

Usually in an anthology I'll pick out a handful of my favorites and summarize and/or critique them. Since there are only six stories here, I'll just quickly run through them.

The Mountains of Pi
Really interesting for two reasons: an exploration of the number pi (far more intricate than what I
Ellen Erickson
Panic in level 4 is a book about lots of different stories. The first chapter talks about the Chudnovsky brothers. They are two men who are trying to find out what pi is, and if there is a pattern in it. They create a super computer out of order mail parts. They set the world record for the most digits of pi found, but the super computer has not found a pattern in the billions of digits yet. The next part of the book is about all the trees that are dying in the United States due to an insect nam ...more
Panic in Level 4 talks about multiple topics in science that are unnatural and frightening.The first topic is about two Russian mathematician brothers who built a supercomputer out of mail order parts to calculate a large portion of pi. This book also talks about a bug that is killing a large amount of the Hemlock trees in Virginia, and about the Ebola virus. The "Unicorn Tapestries" are also discussed in the book, along with self cannibals. This book teaches the reader about the large effect on ...more
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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 Hot Zone: The Terrifying True Story of the Origins of the Ebola Virus The Cobra Event The Demon in the Freezer The Wild Trees: A Story of Passion and Daring The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2007

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