Saturday, April 25, 2009

Book Reviews

Biohazard by Ken Alibek

Chillingly compelling and wildly gripping, Ken Alibek’s Biohazard is a good read for anyone interested in the secret world of biological warfare. This true story reads as one part biography, one part historical account, one part scientific journal, and one part thrilling suspense novel. The author is a former Soviet scientist whose life work was the creation of biological weapons capable of taking the lives of millions. He weaves personal experience, research, and scientific explanations together in such an artful web that the reader can’t help but be caught in the story. The science in this book is approached in an intelligent but simple way; even a person with no background in biology would have no problem understanding Alibek’s explanations. However, this book is not for the squeamish reader as some parts are quite gruesome. This novel serves as Alibek’s atonement for a career in killing, and he is sympathetic despite the horrors he creates. The true strength of this book comes from the author’s sincerity and honesty, however when he makes conjectures and predictions based on policy he has no personal experience of, the book loses some of its force and clarity. Luckily these lapses in technique are few and far between and most of the story is believable and engaging. Overall it is well written and delivers the frightening message that what we don’t know might kill us.

The Smallpox Slayer by Alan Brown

The Smallpox Slayer by Alan Brown is a good overview on Dr. Jenner’s life and work, but it is oddly graphic for a children’s book. I appreciated how Brown tried to make the smallpox story more relatable to kids by looking at it from the boy Jenner first vaccinated’s perspective. However, there is the one blaringly obvious flaw; mainly that this is a children’s book on a deadly infectious disease. It seems a strange topic for a children’s book and might be upsetting to kids with big imaginations. The book features such doomsday phrases as “ If you had lived [in 1796] one of your brothers or sisters would probably have died of smallpox. It might have been two. It might have been you”. The book is well written and does a good job summing up Jenner’s work and describing the scientific method used to defeat smallpox. However, it is imperative not to give this book to a child who is too young or upset by graphic descriptions of diseases. After the first ten pages or so the book is fairly light and positive, but getting through the first few pages poses some problems. All in all, for the right child, this could be a very informative and interesting book.

Katie Ridley

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