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The Demon in the Freezer.

Richard Preston. 2002. Read by James Naughton. Abridged. 5 cds. 6 hrs. Random House Audio. 0-375-41953-5. $29.95. Plastic; content, author, reader notes. SA SCOURGE: THE ONCE AND FUTURE TREAT OF SMALLFOX. Jonathan 8. Tucker. 2002. Read by Patrick Cullen. 7 tapes. 10 hrs. Blackstone Audio. 078612241-2. $49.95. Vinyl; content, author, reader notes. SA

These two excellent audiobooks give listeners an understanding of the history of smallpox and the potential dangers to the world posed by a possible reintroduction of the smallpox virus. Preston is a recognized science writer and has produced the more dramatic book; Tucker, an expert on biological and chemical weapons in the Washington, D. C. office of the Monterey Institute of International Studies, has written the more scholarly account. The two authors cover fundamentally the same territory: what it means to contract smallpox (about a third die), its manner of spread, a history of world distribution and epidemics, its use as a strategic weapon in more than one war, the circuitous route by which an effective vaccine came into being, the heroic program through which the World Health Organization (WHO) achieved eradication in the mid-1900s, the Soviet Cold War program that produced stockpiles for use against the U.S., and the current efforts to cope with the possibility that terrorists and/or rogue states might again release the terrors of smallpox on a world population that stopped vaccination in 1980.

Preston starts with the anxiety and scramble for containment following the appearance of anthrax in the tense period following September 11, 2001. He develops vividly the character of the persons involved in the efforts and controversies surrounding smallpox research. Especially disturbing is his belief that there is a possibility that a genetically altered variation of the virus could destroy the entire population of the world. Preston's reading is not professional, but the author's voice lends immediacy and authority.

Tucker makes no reference to the 2001 anthrax attack, as he wrote his book before that date. He delves chronologically into the WHO eradication program, into the details of the current controversy over whether or not the variola virus should be completely destroyed, and he describes how the world could go about protecting itself from a smallpox release. Especially vivid is his description of the Soviet strategic bio weapons program (which they pursued, he thinks, in response to the belief that the U.S. also had such a program) and their plan to increase the virus's virulence and release atomic weapons and aerosoled smallpox simultaneously. His account of a role-playing scenario in which public health officials project the effects of a single release at a public event in a U.S. city will help listeners realize how devastating a release into the wild of the disease could be. Cullen's brisk reading resembles that of a TV journalist. Patrons will enjoy both titles and will be well served if one or both appear on the shelves. Edna M. Boardman, Bismark, ND
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Author:Boardman, Edna M.
Article Type:Audiobook Review
Date:Mar 1, 2003
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