Thursday, April 23, 2009
Book Review & Update
The Demon in the Freezer, Richard Preston, 2002
Preston ambitiously aims to chronicle a recent history of smallpox in layman’s terms, and generally succeeds in painting a comprehensible picture of viral infection. Demon is filled with comparisons that make Preston’s subject accessible, but as can be expected, excerpts are sometimes hindered by cumbersome extended analogies and misleading metaphors. As he attempts to write about a scientifically complicated phenomenon with a poetic slant, Preston is occasionally impeded by his own language, as he (poetically, but inaccurately) describes trans-species virus jumps as “random yet full of purpose,” and refers to viruses as “pickpockets” (51). Much of the book is concise and descriptive, but some pages read like the drafts of a feature writer who has been assigned to cover a front-page news story; at times, the book is muddled by a self-consciousness that is out of place given its narrative goals. Preston’s scope also widens unannounced, as he moves from discussions of smallpox to details of anthrax scares. Among the book’s merits are a descriptive style that lends itself easily to film adaptations, if not a science textbook. Preston offers glimpses into the personalities of big names such as DA Henderson and Peter Jarhling. As a whole, Preston succeeds in capturing his reader’s attention, but at the expense of occasionally glossing over the gritty scientific details.
As far as other crazy stuff going on in the world, avian flu might be silently circulating in Egypt: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/21/health/21flu.html?_r=1&ref=science