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The Demon in the Freezer

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  11,894 ratings  ·  886 reviews
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 ...more
Hardcover, 240 pages
Published January 1st 2002 by Random House
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4.12  · 
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 ·  11,894 ratings  ·  886 reviews

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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.

Richard Preston - image from NY Times

In October 2001, a photo-retoucher for the National Enquirer died as a result of a deliberate attack with anthra
Will M.
"We could eradicate smallpox from nature, but we could not uproot the virus from the human heart."

I will be honest and say that I am a bit genre ignorant. I only read genres that are of my interest, and ignore those that seem daunting and boring. Non-fiction is not my usual genre, but medical science is. I decided to give this novel a try out of the blue. I'm not new to medical science, in fact, I studied Microbiology for a whole semester, and Mycology and Virology for another semester. I didn'
Mar 06, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is terrifying! I wish it was fiction . . . I spent the entire book itching and squirming. The descriptions of small pox are harrowing - not for the faint of heart (if I recall, there are some pictures too). But, it is riveting, so if you like a good non-fiction thriller that might make you scared to go outside (or touch anything!), this is the book for you. Preston is really good at writing this type of novel.
Oct 24, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Nick T. Borrelli
Holy shit, the scariest book I've ever read. Smallpox is no joke. makes you wonder if it's still around being stored by a world government ready to unleash it again as the ultimate biological weapon. A must read. Had me up nights.
Apr 01, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

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
LeAnne: GeezerMom
I read this terrifying work of nonfiction ages ago, but it still sticks with me and is one of those books that entirely changed my political viewpoint on something. Yes, it was that powerful.

Do y'all remember the Gulf War? Desert Storm? I was about 30 when all that was going on, and it was the first time people started keeping the "new" 24 hour news stations on all the time. At the time, I couldn't believe that Saddam Hussein was invading other countries - it was like something out of WWII to me
Apr 07, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  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
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
Nov 25, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
Not quite as heart-pounding as Preston's The Hot Zonewhich had me seeing the world differently for a few weeks, but not a bad book at all.

For fans of The Hot Zone, we get to revisit some of our familiar characters and settings. Notably USAMRIID, the government virus research facility, and the scientists Peter Jahrling and Nancy Jaax, both stationed there.

The book seems like it's going to be about anthrax, based on the opening chapter, but in fact anthrax is but a tiny part of this book, which
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
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
Dec 03, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Sep 17, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Nicole R
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
Erik Graff
Apr 20, 2019 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: biological warfare fans
Recommended to Erik by: Kelly Kingdon
Shelves: sciences
Author Preston has written both non-fiction and fiction, the style of the thriller being reflected in this factual account of the bioterror threat as it existed in 2002, the time of publication.

'The Demon in the Freezer' is a disquieting account of how infectious diseases such as smallpox, Ebola and anthrax, diseases which have devastated populations in the past, have the potential to destroy human civilization. The one 'happy' story is that of how the World Health Organization removed smallpox
Aug 19, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: soft
just evil

had me checking my left arm for the scar
Oct 20, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, medical
Perhaps not the greatest book for the almost completely trained epidemiologist and maybe not for the general public too.

The epidemiologist will likely be bored, unless they've been buried in cancer epi classes or something and miss their ID lectures. If you're looking to read everything ever written on smallpox you might as well skim this, but there's nothing new or earth-shattering here.

For the general public looking to bone up on ways you can die while drowning in your own blood, I ask you to
Oct 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
This is a non-fiction book about the eradication of the smallpox virus world wide and how that helped to solve the mystery behind the Anthrax letters sent out to well-known and famous people after 9/11. This is actually a scary book, reading about the fact that though they once had Smallpox under control they now have no clue who really has stockpiles of it. I enjoyed reading the book and plan on reading others by this author.
Aug 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
Long story short: Smallpox. Bioterrorism. Forget about your potty debates. We're all doomed. The end.

However, I do highly recommend reading the longer version! Just beware, it may make for some sleepless nights and/or paranoia.

Notes from my 2013 attempt at reading the book: Good book, just scares the hell out of me! Hopefully I can gather my wits about me enough to be able to finish this one day!
May 31, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, medical
This is a good book on viruses for those who are not as familiar with them. I have studied them before so I found the material redundant. Preston does a good job at explaining the topic and the intricacies of what a virus is and what it does, however it was a smidgen boring for me. I would have liked to have read more about patients affected as individual cases.
Katie R. Herring
Nov 30, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.

Sep 10, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Oct 07, 2008 rated it really liked it
Fascinating and scary as hell.
Ana-Maria Bujor
Jul 24, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I think I'm moving all my horror novels to the "fairy tale section" - this thing is truly scary. I must admit that while I knew a thing or two about anthrax, I knew close to nothing about smallpox as it had been eradicated quite some time before I was born. But it's long gone, right? Well... maybe?
The history of the disease was one of the most interesting things I've read today, combined with bits abut genetics, epidemiology and international espionage. And it's chilling because it's real. Kudos
Miko Wollner
Oct 30, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
With each new book, Richard Preston cements himself as one of the most vividly disturbing authors I have had the pleasure of reading. Having an interest in the medical field his descriptions of how simple microorganisms can fundamentally dismantle and massacre the human body is extremely disturbing yet intriguing. Touching on the possibilities of weaponized diseases and the dangers even an eradicated disease like smallpox can pose, Preston makes it clear in this book that at any time these disea ...more
Apr 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was a wild ride! I am a big fan of Michael Crichton and found this book reminded me a lot of his writing. The most mind-blowing part is that it's all true-- it reads like a thriller, but is a true story about actual events that went down around 9/11.

Based on the description, when I went into this read I expected it to be 100% about anthrax. Wrong! This book is sort of a crash course on virology in the context of human health, and for most of the book focuses on other major diseases su
If you think you are safe from smallpox because it was eradicated in 1979 you are very much mistaken. Turns out there are metric tons of virus unaccounted for hidden around the world, some of which could be held by terrorist organizations. I was also mistaken in my assumption that the typical circular scar on my upper arm was a solid protection from any further outbreaks in the future. My immunity wore off 5 years after the initial vaccination. Another mistake this time lies with the US governme ...more
Andrea Lakly
Jan 18, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This terrifying little story about small pox is COMPLETELY TRUE! The ninth grade STEM kids are reading it, so I decided to get on board and see what they were reading about. The bottom line: we have the scientific capability of ending smallpox, but we don't have the political will. Also, small pox is even worse than you think it is. And vaccinating everyone won't work, so you can get over that idea. So, I'll just be over here quietly contemplating dystopian landscapes and trembling . . .
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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.
“Epidemiologists think that smallpox killed roughly one billion people during its last hundred years of activity on earth.” 4 likes
“On May 14th, 1796, Jenner scratched the arm of a boy named James Phipps, introducing into his skin a droplet of cowpox pus that he had scraped from a blister on the hand of Sarah Nelmes, a dairy worker. He called this pus “the Vaccine Virus”—the word vaccine is derived from the Latin word for cow. The boy developed a single pustule on his arm, and it healed rapidly. A few months later, Jenner scratched the boy’s arm with lethal infective pus that he had taken from a smallpox patient—today, this is called a challenge trial. The boy did not come down with smallpox. Edward Jenner had discovered and named vaccination—the practice of infecting a person with a mild or harmless virus in order to strengthen his or her immunity to a similar disease-causing virus. “It now becomes too manifest to admit of controversy, that the annihilation of the Small Pox, the most dreadful scourge of the human species, must be the final result of this practice,” Jenner wrote in 1801.” 2 likes
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