Finished: Feb 17
Don’t do like I did and pick this up thinking it is fiction. First, the language will turn you off–”Wow! This guy writes fiction like nonfiction!” And second, the scare impact is much stronger when you figure out you are reading work of nonfiction. Admittedly, I knew nothing about the Eradication or smallpox or the fact that we may all die of a smallpox-laced weapon and, dear lord, I wish I still didn’t know. But, besides the fact that I am now scared to breathe, it is a well-written documentary of the efforts to eradicate smallpox (in nature) as well as the current efforts to figure out what to do if smallpox should be used as a biological weapon (because the US and the Soviet Union decided to keep some hanging around for a dull day). He relates the smallpox efforts to the 2001 Anthrax scare primarily because many of the scientists involved in various smallpox experiments were also related to the anthrax investigation. It is curious that he does not mention Ivins who was accused by the FBI of creating the anthrax, but does discuss Hatfill, another person of interest who also had his life crushed by the investigations. This is partly a problem with publishing a work so soon after the events (2002).
It is interesting to compare this work with Ghost Map and their arguments for and against cities. Preston writes,
With the growth of agriculture, the human population of the earth swelled and became more tightly packed. Villages grew into towns, and towns grew into cities, and people began to live in crowds in river valleys where the land was fertile. At that point, the human species became an accident with a poxvirus waiting to happen. (p 66)
Johnson has a more Utopian view of large cities, even when that view does not seem to jive with his discussions of cholera, whereas Preston points out that urban dwellings have led to these problems with the spread of infectious diseases. As these two books aren’t works I would normally read, it is interesting to see how the come to such different conclusions about urban life when they are both looking at epidemiological history.
Overall a solid (if scary) investigation into one of the biggest threats to humanity. Read this when you are in a good place in life.