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The Hot Zone: The Terrifying True Story of the Origins of the Ebola Virus

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A highly infectious, deadly virus from the central African rain forest suddenly appears in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. There is no cure. In a few days 90 percent of its victims are dead. A secret military SWAT team of soldiers and scientists is mobilized to stop the outbreak of this exotic "hot" virus. The Hot Zone tells this dramatic story, giving a hair-raising account of the appearance of rare and lethal viruses and their "crashes" into the human race. Shocking, frightening, and impossible to ignore, The Hot Zone proves that truth really is scarier than fiction.

352 pages, Paperback

First published December 1, 1994

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About the author

Richard Preston

27 books1,160 followers
Richard Preston is a journalist and nonfiction writer.

Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 6,076 reviews
Profile Image for Oddmix.
20 reviews
August 17, 2007
Terror at the personal level.

Very personal for me...

I read this book while on night watch in the Army. I was eating cheap red licorice at a frenzied pace while I read from sheer nerves. The idea of bleeding out through every bodily opening was terrifying.

The next morning I went to the bathroom and discovered that cheep red licorice passes nearly untouched through the human digestive system. It goes in red and comes out red - blood red. I very nearly screamed before I realized what I was seeing.

I will NEVER forget this book.
Profile Image for Emily May.
1,964 reviews294k followers
November 29, 2018
Both species, the human and the monkey, were in the presence of another life form, which was older and more powerful than either of them, and was a dweller in blood.

I read this book on the same days I was watching the Netflix adaptation of The Haunting of Hill House, which had a curious effect on me. Because, well, the TV show might be very creepy, but I have to say it is nothing compared to the horror of this book.

That's what The Hot Zone is: A true horror story.

Preston uses interviews and first-hand accounts to tell the story of the Ebola virus and its various strains. I'd heard of Ebola, of course. I knew it was a disease and that it killed people. I knew I didn't want it. But I didn't really know. I didn't know that it liquidates your organs and turns your body into a walking corpse days before you "bleed out". I didn't know that it is one of the most infectious diseases that have likely ever existed on this planet.

It acts like a predator, lying quietly in wait for a host so it can multiply and multiply to destructive effect. Reality can be so much more scary than fiction.

Truly, this is a terrifying book. Preston definitely dramatizes the whole thing, but he's working with some pretty powerful material.
Imagine a virus with the infectiousness of influenza and the mortality rate of the black plague in the Middle Ages-- that's what we're talking about.

This is the third book about diseases and medicine that I've really enjoyed (though, yes, enjoyed seems like a poor choice of word) - the other two being And the Band Played On and The Emperor of All Maladies. I'll happily take recommendations for any others.

In the hands of a skilled writer, these books are fascinating, educating and deeply unsettling. Also, despite the age of this book, it doesn't feel too dated. Maybe that is because Ebola remains a threat. Ebola outbreaks are ongoing in Africa, right now. One mistake, one oversight, one infected person taking a plane flight and we might not be able to stop it.

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Profile Image for Mario the lone bookwolf.
797 reviews3,628 followers
May 3, 2020
Imagine what else may lurk in monkeys, bats, and rodents, just waiting to unleash the next zoonosis, possibly in a country with an already severe health crisis in the Southern hemisphere, AIDS and multiresistant tuberculosis, and hepatitis epidemics. It wouldn´t even matter that Ebola can´t be transmitted by air. Still, looking at you, secret black biological warfare program project.

It´s the way of dying that makes it even more horrible than other illnesses, being liquified with blood coming out of all your body and knowing what the virus does, that the chances of a normal life, if having the more or less luck of surviving, are minimal, as the long term damage and health problems are immense after having been literally goo(ed).

Next to the black vomit and the more and more severe inner bleedings, there are the frightening final stages, being a zombie who turns in a living corpse with the skin changing color, before dying after series of epileptic shocks. What a convenient coincidence for the virus that dying persons covered in their own blood have epilepsy and spread the death by splattering the blood with their last moves, possibly infecting anyone who gets in direct contact with the blood.

There are different sceneries described, each one with the potential to get zero patient started.
„The Shadow of Mount Elgon“ lets one ask how easy a tourist, field scientist, biologist, or, most possible, a poor worker, may be infected by direct contact in nature without recognizing it. In the case of the privileged group, the malady will possibly soon be found and detected, but the rightless worker might carry it into slums where it can spread until it reaches the richer areas and travels all over the world from there.

„The monkey house“ shows the problem of everything legal and illegal around trading animals, zoos, research, and conservation. It´s not as if any zoo or pet store might be the potential initiation point for the next armageddon, but with people having pets and millions visiting zoos, with all those different animals, especially birds, primates, and cats, not even mentioning the factor of pigs in agriculture, there are so endlessly many possible combinations for zoonosis that it blows one's mind.

„Smashdown“ comes closer to my favorite optimistic ending for such books, the ultimate bioweapon, as it describes the real life example of a virus spreading by air. I am not sure about this one, as Ebola is known to not be able to spread via air and there seems to be a misunderstanding in the descriptions in the book (or I misunderstood it), but just because it isn´t, that doesn´t mean that nature doesn´t find a way. Or the umbrella corporation.

Fiction and reality are coming closer together, as both the good and bad technological options and the contact with the rest of the wildlife humankind still hasn´t exterminated are increasing and these 4 stories are just a tiny part of the possible ways it could happen, such as lab accidents, biological warfare secretly used in real life (harming the population of an enemy state without being detected), and the human factor of someone, let´s say a diplomat, billionaire, or a leading scientist, in a biohazard level 4 lab, becoming insane or extremist without others recognizing it and going on her/his last world cruise while seeding the pandemic.

Heck, it would already be enough if she/he just infects himself and walks around in the neuralgic points of a megacity such as airports, shopping centers, train stations, metro, and the one or other huge event, having used a genetically modified strain of a smallpox measles flu plague Eastern equine encephalitis SARS rabies ebola HIV hybrid with an extra long incubation period while already being infected, giving himself doses of a cure or too small shots of a vaccine (I absolutely don´t know if this is possible) that don´t kill the virus, but keep him contagious without showing symptoms for weeks or even month. Because nobody knows the DNA of the virus, it´s undetectable and because it´s flu season, nobody is alarmed about more and more cases that are engineered to have exactly the common cold and flu symptoms before killing everyone infected. If tech is far enough advanced in 10, 100, or 1000 years, I would deem nothing impossible anymore.

We don´t have exact knowledge about the microbiological abilities of smallpox as there is no official research possible outside the Russian and US military, euphemistically called research, labs, except infection and replication rates extrapolated from old data, and measles is the closest real life example of immense destructive strength and potential. The best real life example are elevators, toilets, any small closed room with relatively less air circulation ( or air circulation, without filters because they would cost money, spreading it everywhere) where a person with measles could still passively and indirectly infect persons who enter the rooms up to half an hour after leaving thanks to the extremely high developed ability of measles to stay alive in the air.

The only advantage is that ebola can´t spread like measles or influenza, but has the same extreme fatality as smallpox and biological warfare could do nothing more effective than creating an ebola smallpox measles, etc. hybrid that mutates so quickly that finding a vaccination is impossible.

A wiki walk can be as refreshing to the mind as a walk through nature in this completely overrated real life outside books:
Profile Image for Matthew.
1,219 reviews8,834 followers
January 11, 2019
This is one of those rare situations where I read an entire book in one sitting. This book is absolutely captivating and terrifying. It has been over 20 years since I read it and parts of it still stick with me.

This book and any of the others by Preston about viruses, pandemics, etc. are well worth your time!

Fun fact: Richard Preston is the brother of Douglas Preston of Preston & Child/Pendergast fame
Profile Image for Charissa.
Author 3 books105 followers
February 2, 2008
Holy fuck. This book will make you want to wash your hands... a lot. Also, you may feel compelled to go out and purchase your own HAZMAT suit. Try not to read this book before bed. It may cause some unsettling dreams. Like... dreams about your internal organs liquifying and bleeding out of your eyeballs. I don't know, I found that kind of unsettling. This book has singlehandedly accomplished my vow to never visit Africa. Mostly because Africa is a giant continent filled with monkey pox and malarial insects. Does that make me a big namby pamby puddin head? That's okay. I'm comfortable with that. I'm fine with staying places on the globe where I'm less likely to scrape my hand on bat guano and die a horrible, convulsive, putrifying death 36 hours later. I'm funny that way.

Also, in combination with the book 'The Coming Plague' by Laurie Garrett, with reading this I became convinced that our destruction as a species will come not at the tragedy of nuclear annihilation, which I had feared my entire conscious life... but instead through tiny, virulent microorganisms which will become eternally mutating flesh-eating death machines, ripping through our communities until there's nothing left but rotting jelly. I have felt much more relaxed about life since then.

Pass the echinacea.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Hannah.
796 reviews
May 19, 2010
My take-away thoughts from reading The Hot Zone:

A. You do not want to get infected with Ebola.

B. If A above occurs, head immediately and directly to your nearest lawn and garden store, purchase a pack of rat poison, mix with vodka, and drink your last.

C. Repeat B above until dead.

D. Again, you do not want to get infected with Ebola.
Profile Image for Joe Valdez.
485 reviews810 followers
November 21, 2017
The first thing to know about The Hot Zone, the 1995 bestseller by Richard Preston, is that it is not a romance novel. While men, women, exotic getaways and showers are involved, they're not the type that would cue Sade on the soundtrack. The book is based on an article by Preston published by the New Yorker in 1992 as "Crisis in the Hot Zone" but by trying to hit two targets--journalism and the thriller/suspense genre--it misses both. The rudimentary style of Preston's writing dispels the material as satisfying non-fiction, while the lack of a strong central character or narrative limit it as a yarn.

The material concerns the discovery of the Ebola virus in western Kenya in 1980 and efforts by the U.S. Army to neutralize it when the virus is discovered in a Reston, Virginia animal facility in November 1989. With a 90% fatality rate and no vaccine, meetings between Ebola virus and human beings proceed along the same lines as Jack the Ripper and his victims. The first half of the book sets up the infant rampages of Ebola in central Africa, documenting its effect on human beings and an averted outbreak in Kinsasha, while the second half of the book details the Army's hunt when the killer has the audacity to surface in the U.S.

If the book has central characters, they'd be U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Nancy Jaax and her husband, Colonel Gerald "Jerry" Jaax, veterinary pathologists with the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) at Fort Derrick, Maryland. The Jaaxes treat service dogs and every other animal working for the Army (alas, Preston doesn't specify what the Army uses mules or rabbits for). The couple have three children, four dogs and a parrot. While Jerry has worked with monkeys, which can be dangerous and infectious, his wife has experience handling Ebola, putting her on par with a spearfisherman who has experience diving with great white sharks.

When you begin working with biological agents, the Army starts you in Biosafety Level 2, and then you move up to Level 3. You don't go into Level 4 until you have a lot of experience, and the Army may never allow you to work there. In order to work in the lower levels, you must have a number of vaccinations. Nancy had vaccinations for yellow fever, Q fever, Rift Valley fever, the VEE, EEE, and WEE complex (brain viruses that live in horses), and tularemia, anthrax, and botulism. And, of course, she had had a series of shots for rabies, since she was a veterinarian. Her immune system reacted badly to all the shots; they made her sick. The Army therefore yanked her out of the vaccination program. At this point, Nancy Jaax was essentially washed up. She couldn't proceed with any kind of work with Level 3 agents, because she couldn't tolerate the vaccinations. There was only one way she could continue working with dangerous infectious agents. She had to get herself assigned to work in a space suit in Level 4 areas. There aren't any vaccines for Level 4 hot agents. A Level 4 hot agent is a lethal virus for which there is no vaccine and no cure.

Another adversary of Ebola is Eugene Johnson, a civilian virus hunter contracted by the Army. In the spring of 1988, when a ten-year-old Danish boy visiting his parents in Kenya dies of a Level 4 hot agent known as Marburg virus, Johnson tracks the killer to Kitnum Cave in Mount Elgon in western Kenya, but his expedition is unable to isolate the virus, explain its origins or develop a vaccine. Peter Jahrling is a civilian virologist also employed by the Army who along with an eighteen year old intern named Tom Geisbert (who's an ace with an electron microscope) inhales tissue samples later testing positive for Ebola, putting both men on a self-imposed death watch.

Ebola's predatory attacks on human beings in central Africa are like murder scenes. The onset of Ebola virus is a throbbing headache that typically occurs on the seventh day of incubation. Fever and nausea come next, with victims expelling a cocktail of tarry granules and red arterial blood known as "black vomit." Speckles break out all over the body and expand into bruises. The liver, kidneys, lungs, hands and feet become jammed with blood clots. Victims turn into passive automatons. Walking dead. They then hemorrhage in violent epileptic fits the Army calls "crashing and bleeding out," Ebola's program for transmitting to a fresh host through infected blood.

One of the hosts is a twenty-year old who Preston calls "Nurse Mayinga." She's infected at Ngaliema Hospital in Kinshasa in September 1976 caring for a nun stricken with an Ebola-like replicating agent. As she develops symptoms, Nurse Mayinga fears that her scholarship to study in Europe might be revoked. Rather than seek treatment, the nurse wanders the city of two million, setting up a species-threatening event. As news breaks out, President Mobutu, the notorious ruler of Zaire, dispatches his armed forces to quarantine the hospital and blockade the rural areas where infected have been reported. Through no effort by the regime, Ebola mysteriously fails to replicate and disappears.

Preston visits with Karl Johnson, a retired C.D.C. doctor and one of Ebola's discoverers who was dispatched to Zaire in 1976. They discuss scenarios like the one introduced by Nurse Mayinga.

"Are you worried about a species-threatening event?"

He stared at me. "What the hell do you mean by that?"

"I mean a virus that wipes us out."

"Well, I think it could happen. Certainly it hasn't happened yet. I'm not worried. More likely it would be a virus that reduces us by some percentage. By thirty percent. By ninety percent."

"Nine out of ten humans killed? And you're not bothered."

A look of mysterious thoughtfulness crossed his face. "A virus can be useful to a species by thinning us out," he said.

On Wednesday, October 4, 1989, a shipment of one hundred wild monkeys from the Philippines arrive at Hazelton Research Products in Reston, Virginia. To prevent the spread of infectious disease, federal regulations require imported monkeys be quarantined for one month before being shipped elsewhere. Over three weeks, twenty-nine quarantined monkeys die in one room at the monkey house. Dan Dalgard, the consulting veterinarian, suspects SHF (simian hemorrhagic fever) which is deadly to monkeys but harmless to humans. Dalgard conducts autopsies and ships samples to USAMRIID at Fort Derrick.

Armed with electron microscope photographs by intern Tom Geisbert, civilian virologist Peter Jahrling alerts his superior, Colonel Clarence James Peters, that they may have a filovirus outside Washington D.C. Fearing that Peters could quarantine both him and Geisbert in a biocontainment hospital known as the Slammer for thirty days over what could be nothing, Jahrling neglects to report that they handled and inhaled the Reston samples. They decide to test their own blood and self-monitor. Using a blood sample collected from Nurse Mayinga, Jahrling's analysis concludes that the Reston monkeys are infected with Ebola.

Jahrling's analysis races up the chain of command. Among the experts assembled, Col. Peters invites Lt. Col. Nancy Jaax. Her work with Ebola leads her to believe that the virus can be infectious by air, enabling it to "nuke" an entire building should it get into an HVAC system. She also believes that even if Ebola is quarantined in the Reston monkey house, it won't stay there long. Col. Peters chooses Nancy's husband, Col. Jerry Jaax to lead a team of soldiers and civilians into the monkey house to euthanize the animals caged in the building. The Army had never mobilized a major field operation against a hot virus before.

Obviously there were legal questions here. Lawyers were going to have to be consulted. Was this legal? Could the Army simply put together a biohazard SWAT team and move in on the monkey house? General Russell was afraid the Army's lawyers would tell him that it could not, and should not, be done, so he answered the legal doubts with these words: "A policy of moving out and doing it, and asking forgiveness afterward, is much better than a policy of asking permission and having it denied. You never ask a lawyer for permission to do something. We are going to do the needful, and the lawyers are going to tell us why it's legal."

The Hot Zone ("Crisis in the Hot Zone" would've been a superior title for the book) has the makings of a compelling nature run amok thriller. Like Jaws, Ebola is the hunter and we're the prey. Like a shark sighting, an outbreak of Ebola is scary enough to generate a widespread panic. Like the great white in Jaws, the virus is a natural born killer, a prehistoric predator whose hunters both respect and admire it. It does not discriminate, ripping apart a ten-year-old boy cavorting in nature, just like Jaws, and despite the microscopic size of the virus, seems to have the same cunning as the great white.

What surprised me about the book was how rudimentary the writing was. I haven't read the article it was based on, but the book is pitched at a much less demanding audience than the average piece in the New Yorker. Preston repeats himself a lot and spares detail, which is rarely an experience I have with the magazine. There's solid character work, but the book takes two hundred pages to establish the Army mission and never locks in around a central character or two. It's as if trying to please everyone, Preston took the weakest elements of non-fiction and genre fiction and muddled them up.

I recommend the book for those looking for information on killer viruses and the true life crime story of how an outbreak was averted in the U.S. While a virus doesn't have the cinematic menace of a great white shark, Preston's magazine article did inspire two competing killer virus projects in Hollywood in 1994. An adaptation of his book set to star Robert Redford and Jodie Foster under the direction of Ridley Scott fell apart, due in part to the grim reality that the story ends with the euthanization of hundreds of monkeys. A competing project titled Outbreak with Dustin Hoffman, Rene Russo and Morgan Freeman did make it to the screen in 1995, pumping up and dramatizing the events of Reston with the aid of at least eight different screenwriters.
Profile Image for Rusalka.
379 reviews111 followers
November 8, 2014
Things I have learnt while reading this book:

-- Telling you random things about people you are introducing in the book will "make people like them more" (I reckon he got that out of a creative writing class) and also builds up tension. Tension to the point of nauseating boredom. I think if I didn't hear about what kind of animal the intern likes hunting on the weekend, or what song someone's parrot at home likes to sing, the book would be a good 100pp shorter.
-- Oh, and we need the word "intern" explained to us.
-- I also need to have the concept of an Army "mission" explained. "So when the Army decides it wants to do something, it's called a mission. And the mission has a leader. That leader is called a..." oh god kill me now.
-- Women are supposed to clean up after Thanksgiving.
-- When the author discovers a phrase he likes and thinks it is funny, he will use it over and over again, even in inappropriate places.
-- When the author thinks his terminology is better than the facts, he'll tell you what the fact is, but that he's just going to keep on calling it his word. Coz. Who needs facts?
-- Apparently the author doesn't need facts. As I have now discovered that his account of Ebola is incredibly hyped up, exaggerated and borderline fanciful. Who needs facts when you can have people exploding into puddles of blood! What a waste of my time as that's why I was reading a "non-fiction" book on the subject.
-- Stephen King is an idiot if he thinks this is the "One of the most horrifying things I have ever read."

I'm angry. I'm angry and ranty. I feel mislead, manipulated. I was happy to accept that this guy wrote the book 20 years ago, and science hasn't been overly kind to this book. We've learn heaps and it does date the book somewhat. That's fair enough, and also exciting! Look at how much we have learnt and advanced in 20 years!

But then, I found out that he is known to have exaggerated not only the effects of the disease, but the specific "outbreak" of Ebola he is recounting in the book. Why is this book marketed as non-fiction? It is almost negligent in it's aim to induce panic around Ebola.

Do not get me wrong. Ebola is terrifying. It should be contained and treated quickly where it starts, and if we in the Western sphere didn't have our heads so far up our own arses we could have stopped it from getting so big at this point in time. I do not want it, I do not want any one I have ever met to catch it, and I am horrified it's spreading to other continents this week.

HOWEVER, the bastard virus is terrifying enough, it doesn't need some dickhead wanting to sell books to make it sound like if you catch it you turn into the Wicked Witch of the West. I do not want "true" accounts of "real" events packaged to me like a bad American tv drama. Give me the facts, write them in an engaging and interesting way. You'll still sell books. Just maybe not as many to 14 year olds.

Look, to be fair, I knew nothing about filoviruses. I had never heard of Marburg. I now have and it has made a lot more sense now when I've reading articles about Ebola in the news. But I am now questioning everything I have learnt through reading this book as I cannot trust this "knowledge". I've got the shits as even though it was an easy and accessible read, I cannot stand people lying to me about fucking science. There is one area we do not need any more misinformation and ignorance at the moment and that is in all our sciences. Our science literacy at the moment is dropping at an alarming rate, and books like this are not going to help.

Bah. Angry and Ranty.

For more reviews visit http://rusalkii.blogspot.com.au/
Profile Image for Daniel Bastian.
86 reviews145 followers
March 21, 2023
The subtitle for Richard Preston's 1994 bestseller reads: "The Terrifying True Story of the Origins of the Ebola Virus." How much you enjoy The Hot Zone might just hinge on what you know about Ebola going in and, by extension, how seriously you take that subtitle. To say that Preston took artistic liberties is akin to saying Ayn Rand held only a little contempt for Marxism or that Christopher Nolan's Memento had a tendency to confuse its viewers. There can be no doubt that Preston delivered a vivid and hair-raising thrill ride, a marvelously written if unevenly paced house of horrors, but on balance his book is about as accurate as a Stone age slide rule.

It might have passed for harmless over-sensationalizing, except with the Ebola epidemic in-progress and tensions wound tighter than ever, the book has become the bane of disease experts and science communicators working to tamp down the mass hysteria. In this case, thankfully, the truth isn't scarier than fiction.

The book is structured around four events: our first contact in the 1960s with Marburg virus (MARV)—a close cousin to Ebola—named for the German city in which it was discovered; the earliest recorded outbreak of Ebola Zaire (EBOZ) in Sudan and DRC (formerly Zaire) in 1976; the 1989 outbreak of Reston virus (RESTV) in Northern Virginia; and the final act sees Preston donning a biocontainment suit for a solo jaunt in a sub-Saharan cave in search of the cagey killer.

Preston needs only the space of a few pages to subdue the reader into a state of trepidation. I was spooked almost immediately, even knowing it was all a bit light on fact. The characters, many of whom are given fictitious names, have blood spurting from every orifice, their insides "liquefying," and at one point we read of a nurse "weeping tears of blood." Such descriptions seem to have more in common with the active imagination that goes hand in hand with storytelling than with any viral agent identified to date. Preston himself concedes as much in a NY Times interview last month: "That almost certainly didn’t happen."

OK. So there's some exaggeration here and some embellishment there and the 3.5 million copies sold is probably responsible for some of the stateside hysteria. But let's not point too much of the blame in one direction. An invisible pest that moves from person to person and leaves a high mortality rate in its wake is bound to generate a level of fear, with or without The Hot Zone. And when you combine the low science literacy rates in America with its media's penchant for doom-mongering and narcissistic over-commentary, some version of collective psychosis is all but inevitable. Then again, the recent outbreak has sparked renewed interest in the book, and its infidelity to fact doesn't help the situation.

In an effort to defuse some of this noise, let's get to know the real Ebola virus, at least what we've gleaned so far. First, some perspective. Yes, Ebola is deadly, and international aid groups should be throwing everything they've got at curbing this latest and greatest outbreak. As of 14 November 2014, there have been more than 14,000 reported cases and over 5,000 confirmed deaths (WHO updates this page weekly) since it emerged in Guinea one year ago. But as a matter of pure numbers, Ebola is a minor player on the pathogen roster.

Compare those figures with seasonal flu—the reason many of your coworkers have been calling in sick recently—which infects hundreds of millions and causes 250-500,000 deaths every year (including 20,000 in the U.S. alone). Or norovirus, which infects 267 million people and kills 200,000 annually. Hepatitis C is a virus that currently infects 150 million people worldwide, while malaria kills more than 600,000 a year, or about 68 people per hour. Even rabies accounts for a steady 69,000 deaths per year. Any fear you might have of Ebola should be calibrated against the numbers, which tell us that we're far more likely to die from lightning, a car accident or a plane crash than we are from Ebola.

Much of that has to do with Ebola's method of transmission. Contrary to what Preston repeatedly suggests in The Hot Zone, Ebola is not transmitted through the air or by respiratory secretions (i.e., coughing or sneezing), unlike influenza or SARS. Ebola can only be transmitted by direct physical contact with the blood, vomit or feces of an infected person. A cough or a sneeze from an Ebola host doesn't contain high enough concentrations of the virus to infect someone nearby because Ebola doesn't aerosolize in the way its airborne counterparts do. This explains why the reports keep flowing in of infected healthcare workers; they are at the highest risk of infection because they're the ones working with the patients after the incubation period is over and symptoms have surfaced. So unless you find yourself in contact with any of these three fluids of an Ebola victim, you have little to worry about.

Many have frowned on science for not having a vaccine ready by the truckloads. This may sound brusque, but given the differential threat of the other viruses mentioned above, Ebola isn't a top priority. We've seen a total of 32 outbreaks over the last 40 years, and yet none have secured a lasting foothold in humans. In contrast, flu and malaria are perennial killers of titanic proportions. Moreover, vaccines and antivirals (like the experimental ZMapp, which co-opts tobacco plants to clone antibodies derived from mice) are painstakingly difficult and costly to produce and must be adapted to the rapid pace of evolution. In the triage of epidemiological exigency, Ebola's sporadic presence and short-fused temperament simply rank lower next to many other human scourges.

Its tendency to play hopscotch with the human race is also why there is much we still don't know about Ebola. As Level 4 contagions go, it is deceptively simple. Were you to ogle it under a microscope, you'd see a single strand of RNA that codes for a mere seven proteins, one of which—VP24—has been identified as the key facilitator for disrupting the cell signaling processes involved in immune response. With the key communication lines cut, Ebola is allowed free rein and overwhelms the host system before antiviral reinforcements have time to interfere.

The biochemistry is less opaque than Ebola's origins, however. One of the finer points we've yet to work out is zoonotic provenance: in which species did Ebola first arise, and from which host population did it make the jump to us? Was it in the direction of apes-to-humans like HIV, or did it spill over from some other creature whose environment overlaps with ours? The favored culprit is Egyptian fruit bats, which are known to carry not only the sister virus Marburg but antibodies to Ebola. Even so, it could lurk elsewhere in the wild, biding its time until local conditions pave the way for its reemergence. Learning how pathogens jump from one species to another is vitally important to preventing future outbreaks and is a hot topic among research communities today.

Closing Thoughts

Much like this review, the central character of Preston's fan favorite is the omnipresent virus. The human characters in the book are poorly developed and ultimately forgettable backdrops which fade in and out as Preston heightens the drama around his lurid replicator—that "nonhuman other" for which he prowls in Kitum Cave. You'll get a few interesting bits about life inside a biosafety facility, but for the most part any factual profile on Ebola is swallowed whole by the embroidery and myriad grotesqueries sprinkled in at the expense of navigating a more careful line between fiction and reality. Take The Hot Zone for what it is: a high-speed medical-mystery thriller meant to make you tremble at the raw power of nature.

"In a sense, the earth is mounting an immune response against the human species. It is beginning to react to the human parasite, the flooding infection of people, the dead spots of concrete all over the planet, the cancerous rot-outs in Europe, Japan, and the United States, thick with replicating primates, the colonies enlarging and spreading and threatening to shock the biosphere with mass extinctions. Perhaps the biosphere does not "like" the idea of five billion humans. Or it could also be said that the extreme amplification of the human race...has suddenly produced a very large quantity of meat, which is sitting everywhere in the biosphere and may not be able to defend itself against a life form that might want to consume it. Nature has interesting ways of balancing itself." (pp. 310-311)

Note: This review is republished from my official website. Click through for additional footnotes and imagery.
Profile Image for Kay ☼.
1,967 reviews676 followers
May 27, 2022
"Perhaps the biosphere does not like the idea of 5 billion humans...Nature has interesting ways to balance itself"

I absolutely LOVE this book as terrifying as it is to read about the killer virus Ebola. The book with all its detail was much scarier than the mini-series, The Hot Zone on the National Geographic channel. I'm shocked at how the virus was handled and surprised that many experts cut themselves while studying an infected liver or other organs. Poke themselves with a bloody needle ...
Profile Image for Wendy Darling.
1,576 reviews33.9k followers
April 10, 2011
This book scared the crap out of me. Not only is it terrifying to read about this insane virus, but I've never read non-fiction work with such urgent and visceral power. I felt splattered and shattered by the time the whole ghastly mess was all over, but was feverishly excited to read such fantastic writing, too. Definitely only for those with strong stomachs.
Profile Image for Diane.
1,080 reviews2,655 followers
May 11, 2020
Was it a good idea or a terrible idea to read "The Hot Zone" during a pandemic caused by a highly contagious virus?

I kept asking myself that question as I listed to this audiobook by Richard Preston, which was a massive bestseller back in the 1990s. I remember hearing jokes about Kitum Cave and bat feces and the monkey house, and I even saw the movie "Outbreak," which was loosely inspired by this book.

But it took the world turning into an actual hot zone for me to commit to reading it, which has that punchy, hyped-up narrative non-fiction writing style that was popular a quarter of a century ago. The author wrote the book based on interviews with participants who were involved in a deadly viral outbreak in Reston, Virginia, in 1989. It's a fascinating story, and it also helped me understand the more recent ebola outbreak.

I did appreciate learning more about these fatal viruses, and overall enjoyed listening to the book. However, the phrase "hot zone" was overused, and it didn't help that the audiobook narrator really liked to punch up his delivery on those lines. "The hospital was a HOT ZONE." "The lab was now a HOT ZONE." "The monkey house was a HOT ZONE."

I get it already, it's the title of the book.

In the end, I would recommend the book because of the good storytelling and how informative it is. Just be prepared for some punchy writing.

Silliest Description That Didn't Age Well
"They became trapped in rush-hour traffic again, surrounded by half-asleep yuppies in suits who were sucking coffee from foam cups and listening to traffic reports and easy rock and roll."
Profile Image for sunny (ethel cain’s version).
347 reviews80 followers
March 26, 2023
Me; a level four hot agent :)

This book was terrifying and incredibly upsetting - especially because of how wild people are still acting during our current pandemic of Covid-19.

This book is going to haunt me 🍝 🪱 🙊

Profile Image for Traveller.
228 reviews716 followers
January 16, 2015
Ouch.... seems I am of the faint-hearted sort. At the point where Monet starts to literally disintegrate on his plane trip, I got a kind of anxiety attack and had to stop reading. :(

...so... it looks like I might literally not be able to read this book...

I did it! ..and Preston did apparently later admit that he had slightly exaggerated here and there. I must admit that I found his visit to Kitum cave, towards the end of the book, to be a spot of melodrama, as was quite a bit of the rest of book, interspersed with unnecessary filler.

I did find it very interesting indeed to read about the research and how virologists work.

As a whole I found the book pretty readable when it wasn't scaring me out of my wits, so 3 and a half stars it gets.

Since the book is quite dated by now, it is worthwhile reading Preston's update on the latest developments pointed to in the thread below by Sarah.

Friends Sarah and Ted have both mentioned the aforementioned New Yorker article by Preston, and I myself am very impressed with it, so I'm going to link to it in the review itself; it is here: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/201...

What tends to impress me about Preston is that he goes to a lot of trouble with his research, and he then presents it in a form that is easy to understand for the most ignorant of laymen.

On the other hand, one of the problems I have with him is that he can become a tad melodramatic which can be irritating when overdone, but in general, the way that he builds tension into his reportage does make for quite gripping reading.
Profile Image for Rodrigo.
1,057 reviews410 followers
July 3, 2022
ESPECTACULAR No solamente por el tema que trata sino porque todo lo que cuenta ocurrió en realidad, ya que es un libro de NO FICCION!!
Sinopsis: Zona caliente es uno de los thrillers ms escalofriantes de los últimos tiempos salvo por un detalle: todo lo que aquí se cuenta sucedió en verdad. La 'zona caliente' es el recinto de máxima seguridad y aislamiento donde los especialistas del Ejército de los Estados Unidos manipulan los virus ms mortíferos que se conocen. No hace mucho, en las afueras de Washington, solo una operación militar secreta pudo detener la propagación de un filovirus asesino entre centenares de monos de laboratorio. Este libro extraordinario revela la seria amenaza que - como lo demostrar el virus Ebola - se cierne sobre el mundo actual. Zona caliente es un testimonio sensacional que demuestra como la realidad puede superar a la mejor ficción.
Es cierto que todavía se desconoce el paciente cero, de donde provienen estos virus, al igual que ocurre con el VIH, y pueden ser una de las causas en un futuro, no muy lejano, de un grave problema para la humanidad.
Ejemplo: con que solamente se dé una mutación que combine varias características, como que se transmita por el aire y tasas de letalidad, superiores al 90%, ya estaría liada.
Muy instructivo para conocer un poco mas del virus ébola y sus familias de filovirus.
# 6. El número 500 de tu lista de pendientes de goodreads. Reto literario lecturas pendientes 2022.
Profile Image for Horace Derwent.
2,229 reviews171 followers
December 31, 2021
horrendous, true nightmares, what if it happened right around me? just can't imagine that

Stephen King said the beginning part of this book was the scariest stuff he'd ever read in his life, i totally agree with him, cuz it's really scarier than any horror story I've read

i'd rather be turning to shit than getting infected with marburg or ebola
Profile Image for Will Byrnes.
1,296 reviews120k followers
October 19, 2014
A major page turner about Ebola. It is not fiction, but reads like it. A must read for anyone interested in potential biological time bombs.

10/19/14 - I know, hardly a review at all. I was not writing reviews back then. But Richard Preston was interviewed by Alexandra Alter for the NY Times this week and it seems a particularly worthwhile read, given the content of the book and the current hysteria.

Updating a Chronicle of Suffering: Author of ‘The Hot Zone’ Tracks Ebola’s Evolution

Profile Image for Roy Lotz.
Author 1 book8,180 followers
May 1, 2020
If you suspect that you are not adequately scared of infectious diseases, I can heartily recommend this book to you.

The Hot Zone opens with a description of what the Marburg virus (a member of the Ebola family) does to your body; and I can say, with confidence, that it is one of the most disgusting things I have ever read. After telling the story of a small outbreak in Kenya (which could be traced to Kitum Cave in the shadow of Mount Elgon), the narrative shifts to Reston, Virginia, where research monkeys began to die of a strange disease in 1989. The army identified it as Ebola, or something very much like Ebola, and went into action to put down the monkeys and disinfect the area.

The emergency turned out to be something of a false alarm, since this virus—now called the Reston virus, closely related to Ebola—appeared harmless to humans. However, the Reston virus is still frightening, if only as a sign of what is possible. For it has a mortality as high as Ebola in monkeys (over 90%) and it can be transmitted through the air. The disease spread throughout the entire research compound, even though the monkeys were housed in different rooms, in individual cages. Obviously, if such a virus arose in humans, we would be in for a rough time.

The book ends with a description of Preston’s own voyage to Kitum Cave, the source of one outbreak. He gives a vivid account of the many different species of animals that inhabit the cave, any one of which could have been the virus’s original host. (Since then, we have detected the Marburg virus in bat guano.) The more general point is that the animal world is full of germs, some of them potentially devastating. AIDS crossed over into humans in the same region, a disease that has claimed many millions of lives. What else is out there waiting for us?

This book is written as a thriller—fast, easy, exhilarating—and so it does lack some depth and analysis that I had hoped to find. But Preston’s warning about Ebola proved prescient: the disease did return, and perhaps it will again.
Profile Image for Christine.
35 reviews
February 10, 2008
I could say that this book changed my life. I could say that, although it's not quite true as I haven't passed my MCATs yet. But the study of disease and populations and epidemics was brought to a head the first time I read this book around 2003 (I think). Now with the H5N1 poised to jump species and AIDS still an ongoing problem and globalization, environmental and water shortages are present-day issues I think that it would be crazy to think that viruses vs. people is over. However I don't think it's crazy that the "winner" of viruses vs. people is a foregone conclusion.

As for the book, it's pretty gripping. There's enough "hard" science to keep you understanding everything but told in an explanatory, easy to digest way. The people are painted richly for a book type of this, not as characters but profiles and even if you already know the outcome of the Reston incident there are moments you can still be on the edge of your seat.
Profile Image for L.A. Starks.
Author 11 books653 followers
May 25, 2020
*spoiler alert* This is a good chronology of the outbreak of Ebola Reston among monkeys in Virginia in the late 1980s. (Did not affect humans, although other strains of Ebola do.) There are points where it is very deliberately-paced and other points where it Preston is graphic (readers are warned) about the devastation Ebola wreaks on people. Because of its timing the author also made many parallels with AIDS. The end of the book kind of blames overpopulation, but in fact, much smaller populations of the Earth's people have been affected by plagues for millennia.

The book is useful as a timeline but of course doesn't cover the current coronavirus outbreak (every reader will say "Don't go in that bat cave") or even the cases of Ebola that occurred more recently in the U.S.

The concerns about lethality and particularly about whether or not a virus is airborne will be familiar to anyone who has followed the recent news.
Profile Image for Tiffany.
232 reviews38 followers
July 9, 2012
Oh, my. What a terrifying book.

The Hot Zone documents the journey of filoviruses in the human race. Specifically, this book documents the time when Ebola snuck its way into Washington DC. Ebola is a highly contagious virus that slowly turns your body to mush. First you have a headache. Then your face freezes into a mask. You bleed from every pore. Essentially, Ebola liquefies people.

Let me be the first one to say that this book scares me in the most fascinating way. I was like, wait. How can a microscopic thing kill people so savagely and efficiently? And how come we don't know enough about it?

I don't know what to say. This book just made me so aware of everything. It gave me a new perspective on how I see the world. I didn't have to follow the book word by word, and it still managed to either fascinate or terrify me for the entirety of the book (which is no small feat).

And all I mean to say by that rambling is: "Scarier than fiction," indeed.
Profile Image for Jill.
349 reviews338 followers
August 3, 2014
Since March 2014 an epidemic of Ebola virus—specifically the Ebola Zaire strain—has been ravaging West Africa. More than 800 people in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone have died so far. Here’s what Richard Preston has to say about Ebola Zaire in The Hot Zone:
It attacks connective tissue with particular ferocity; it multiples in collagen, the chief constituent protein of the tissue that holds the organs together. In this way, collagen in the body turns to mush, and the underlayers of the skin die and liquefy. The skin bubbles up into a sea of tiny white blisters mixed with red spots known as a maculopapular rash. Spontaneous rips appear in the skin, and hemorrhagic blood pours from the rips. The red spots on the skin grow and spread and merge to become huge, spontaneous bruises, and the skin goes soft and pulpy, and can tear off if it is touched with any kind of pressure. Your mouth bleeds, and you bleed around your teeth, and you may have hemorrhages from the salivary glands—literally every opening in the body bleeds, no matter how small. The surface of the tongue turns brilliant red and then sloughs off, and is swallowed or spat out. It is said to be extraordinarily painful to lose the surface of one’s tongue. The tongue’s skin may be torn off during rushes of the black vomit. The back of the throat and the lining of the windpipe may also slough off, and the dead tissue slides down the windpipe into the lungs or is coughed up with sputum. Your heart bleeds into itself; the heart muscle softens and has hemorrhages into its chambers, and blood squeezes out of the heart muscle as the heart beats, and it floods the chest cavity. The brain becomes clogged with dead blood cells, a condition known as sludging of the brain. Ebola attacks the lining of the eyeball, and the eyeballs may fill up with blood: you may go blind. Droplets of blood stand out on the eyelids: you may weep blood. The blood runs from your eyes down your cheeks and refuses to coagulate…
Preston continues in this manner for two more pages, describing clinically and carefully the devastation of a body wracked with Ebola. I will spare you most of the gory details but in The Hot Zone Preston doesn’t, so now I know this: Ebola Zaire ends with complete body liquefaction. I also know this: in one hospital room where a patient died from the virus, every surface in the room—walls, bed, floor—was covered with blood, which, of course, was covered in hundreds of millions of festering Ebola virus, waiting to hop to the next living host.

This detailed look into Ebola inspires extreme reactions. I was awed. Terrified, undoubtedly. And, strangely, impressed, intoxicated by the beauty of such a deadly thing. Preston and some of the medical researchers he profiles are entranced by Ebola, obsessed by the “gorgeous” threadlike structure of the virus, its incredible simplicity and single-minded destruction. Can something that rips the skin, sludges the brain, sloughs off the intestines and tongues, hardens the spleen, mashes the liver, and stops the heart truly be beautiful? I guess it depends on whether you’re reading about it or whether you’re suffering from it.

Preston loses his way at the midpoint of the book when he leaves Africa for Washington D.C., where a facility of lab monkeys start dying from another strain of the Ebola virus. The second half of the book is devoted to the military mission to contain this virus. It’s not terribly exciting. The strain found near D.C. is the Ebola Reston virus, which is a boring or “ugly” strain, being non-pathological in humans. Preventing an outbreak of Ebola Reston involves a lot of businesslike meetings discussing mission protocol and a lot of Hazmat suits. Preston also breaks the rules of nonfiction writing in this section, opting to write it like a piece of horror fiction instead of reporting the facts. Several times he includes pages of exposition where a scientist accidentally exposes himself to the virus, only to…not contract the virus. Here, it’s almost as if he realizes the staunched possibility of an American Ebola outbreak is rather dull, so he must create storylines even where there are none.

Regardless, The Hot Zone is impressive mostly because Ebola itself is so impressive. Beautiful or not, it is a single strand of RNA that codes for a mere seven proteins that can, in the worst ever outbreak, kill 90% of those infected. We are fairly powerless against it. There is no vaccine. We’re not even sure where it comes from, though fruit bats are suspected to be the natural host. I think that in a cruel, sadomasochistic way, we humans—only those safely away from the African rainforest, curled up reading on their couches—like to be reminded that for all our complexity, for all our medicines and computers and precautions, there are still things that we cannot control, things that, rather, can possess our cells to control and destroy us.
Profile Image for LA Cantrell.
424 reviews544 followers
June 18, 2020
UPDATE Because of the COVID-19 outbreak, a group of friends read this outstanding and terrifying work of nonfiction in March of 2020. Of course, I re-read it with them! It is obviously far more meaningful now in 2020 than it ever was before, but it will also hit you with how much governmental response to the risk of contagious illnesses has NOT changed since this real world incident occurred.

Read this for the crystalline caves, mummified baby elephants if nothing else. Richard Preston is one of the few writers of nonfiction that tell their factual stories as if they were fairy tales. Dark ones. This guy could give Eric Larson a run for his money, he is that good.

If you have not watched the new National Geographic Channel mini series with Julianne Margueles (and the actors who played "Davos" from Game of Thrones plus "Stan" from The Americans), you have GOT to see it. The series is based off of just one section of this outstanding book.

I read this terrifying and mesmerizing work of nonfiction the same year it was published and have never seen outbreaks of the flu the same way. The book is a collection of close calls with horrendous hemorrhagic fevers that have wiped out thousands overseas and come close to screaming through suburban USA. When the huge outbreak of Ebola hit various countries in western African in 2014, you'll remember that a man flew here without any signs of illness but became sick in Dallas. He died in hospital of Ebola, and two nurses were infected from caring for him. More infected health care workers flew home to the US, and most were saved. At least one worker, exposed but supposedly not ill, refused to be kept in quarantine.

Having read this 20 years prior, I was FREAKED out. Ebola Zaire liquefies your entire body - you secrete blood from your orifices, vomit up blackened blood until you dry heave. The pain is like breaking bones. Pregnant women suddenly discharge liquefied babies. The muscles of your face dissolve so your skin just hangs like a mask. Your brain cells hemorrhage so you are no longer you - your brain stem keeps you alive, but you are in effect a zombie heaving up blood and stomach lining, sloughing off your intestines in your bloody mess of stool. This is real!

Preston is a terrific writer who takes factual information and swirls it into the mind of the reader like a drop of infected blood, hot and loaded with virus, plopping into the bloodstream. From stories of giant caves where elephants chew on salt deposits amongst glittering crystals to a hospital where an upper story patient becomes ill from the second hand cigarette smoke puffed out of the room below, blowing up the exterior wall, your mind will boggle.

Preston (his brother is that famous writer) also wrote a similar booked called The Demon in the Freezer which floored me. It came out right before 9/11 and was way more scary than terrorists flying planes into buildings. In the hands of maniacs, viruses are far more lethal than just about anything you can think of.

Do yourself a sober and scary favor. Check out the National Geographic Channel's series. Better yet, get this highly readable and addictive book. It delivers way more than the series, but will change you forever.
1,250 reviews42 followers
May 31, 2016
Ebola is a horrific disease and the holocaust such a virus could wreak is terrifying. Books on diseases like this usually conjure up existential dread which sits uncomfortably with the sense that one is gawking at a car crash.

This is not one of the books. The first chapter is terrifying, and the story of monkeys imported from the Philippines who developed airborne infective strains could in the hands of a more restrained man have been genuinely sobering. However Mr. Preston is not a restrained man. He has an article to spin out to dramatic lengths, and does so by over egging a topic where further hysteria is not needed. If the man was in charge of an omelette station he would use a catapult and 300 ostrich eggs to make a scramble. There is a lot of scientists describing the cold beauty of the Ebola virus, people pound tables and say things like we must take those monkeys down, they then all get in their cars and tootle off. It all gets very silly indeed reaching the pinnacle when he lays out the idea that such viruses are natures revenge for the destruction of the rain forest. A level of anthropomorphism better suited to Winnie the Pooh. And all wrapped in gore.

Which is a shame because there is an interesting story about readiness, ecological disruption and this horrible disease.
Profile Image for Mike (the Paladin).
3,145 reviews1,819 followers
August 23, 2015
A true story that surpasses a lot of fiction. It will will quite possibly keep you up nights....


Wow, I got a "Like" on the short review above, Thanks. LOL

I read this book sometime back and it is really thought provoking. It gives a look at filoviruses, their history in human diseases (at least from the time they were recognized into the book's present. We take a look at AIDS but we also look at Ebola.

This includes Ebola Reston a mutation of the Ebola virus that became extremely easy to transmit (it is air borne) released in a "monkey house" in Reston VA. The saving grace for us (humans) is that it turned out not to be deadly to humans. It did demonstrate the failings in lab safety however as the laboratory animals died one after another.

One person realized that to check for a contaminated lab sample he had used his hand to "waft" the smell into his nose. Had the air borne virus been deadly to humans he would have been the vector.

I'd think the book will give you pause.
Profile Image for Ms.pegasus.
703 reviews138 followers
January 1, 2015
Richard Preston begins his story with an apocalyptic epigraph and ends with a metaphoric elegy. It's an effective literary device underscoring the necessity of placing this primal, elusive and deadly virus in a broader context, a context that incorporates historical and ecological considerations.

Ebola is a deceptively simple life form. It is a filovirus made up of seven proteins. The subtypes that are known to affect humans are Marburg, Ebola Zaire, and Ebola Sudan. No one knows how the virus is transmitted, or what species serve as intermediary hosts. In humans the initial symptoms resemble the flu. Headache, muscle and joint pain, and fever are the first indications. The difficulty in early diagnosis of the disease is another problem. Many of the initial symptoms resemble malaria. Yet, the chance of a favorable outcome as well as containment depends on the earliest possible diagnosis.

Preston begins his story at Kitum Cave, beneath Mt. Elgon which straddles the border between Uganda and Kenya. There are stories of native villages in the 1960's located on the north side of Mt. Elgon having been afflicted with a nameless disease with Ebola-like symptoms. In 1980 a French expatriot died from the Marburg strain. In 1987 a teen-aged boy visiting his parents in Africa died of the same strain. The two victims had only one thing in common — both had been inside of Kitum Cave a scant few days before presenting with the first symptoms.

Preston provides a carefully researched account of Ebola between 1961 and 1993. The book's introductory pages resemble the ominous series of warnings and protocols for accessing a Level 4 Hot Zone lab. This is the world of Nancy Jaax, a Level 4 U.S. Army veterinary pathologist. Preston's detailed profile of her immerses the reader in her thought processes. He describes the feel of wearing the space suit needed to work in a Level 4 lab. He describes the hyper-vigilance needed to perform a hot lab dissection. One can only admire the incredible self-discipline and emotional grit she brings to the task.

During the course of a mysterious outbreak among monkeys imported for medical research in 1989, he delineates the complex interplay of overlapping jurisdictions in a biocontainment operation. In addition to the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRID) that employs Nancy Jaax and her husband, the CDC, state and county health officials share both responsibilities and liabilities while deflecting media attention that might lead to panic. It is no surprise that personal antagonisms surface during such a crisis. Here, again, Preston brings various players to life. Gene Johnson, a civilian USAMRID researcher, had confirmed one of the fatal cases as Marburg, and conducted a detailed exploration of Kitum Cave in 1987. Joe McCormick is with the CDC and spent time in a hut full of Ebola-stricken African villagers without becoming infected. Both men are highly respected and experienced researchers with conflicting views on how the operation should be managed.

The final chapter chronicles the journey Preston makes to Kitum Cave. He paints a picture of vast space, muted swatches of color and ancient clay and stone. “The mountain seemed like an empty cathedral. I tried to imagine what it must have been like when herds of elephants could have been seen moving through a forest of podo trees as large as sequoias: only ten years ago, before the trouble, Mount Elgon had been one of the earth's crown jewels.”

Preston is a forceful writer. His prose is compelling. His characters are vividly drawn. Much of the story reads like a medical thriller. These are the qualities that made the book exciting. However, it should be noted that knowledgeable critics have claimed that his descriptions of the disease are exaggerated (see websites in NOTES). There are also passages in the description of Ebola Reston which suggest that the disease can be airborne, another assertion that has been disputed. These criticisms are problematic. Does the author stray too far from the facts in his attempt to tell a riveting story? Does this book contribute to the kind of mindless panic that the Reston biocontainment team feared when they diverted media attention from the site?

I found the book thought-provoking. I liked Preston's attempt to contextualize not only Ebola, but other evolving viruses. It's the kind of emotion-packed story that will encourage readers to view the topic with fresh interest. It should not, however, be taken as an authoritative text on Ebola.


Profile Image for Phrodrick.
882 reviews36 followers
March 29, 2020
n 1999 when Richard Preston’s The Hot Zone: A Terrifying True Story was first published, I was driving between to teaching assignments and was listening to this book being read on the air. I never heard the first few minutes of any read nor all of that days reading. I thought I was hearing the latest Michael Crichton medical thriller. The parts I got to hear gave me far more chills than Andromeda Strain. My thing about science fiction is that I have to know how the monster is slain and how the good guys win.

Still thinking it was fiction and by the wrong author, I spent years looking for copies of this book. Then I got all my misapprehensions corrected. I got and read a copy. Realizing it was not fiction, I read the scariest book. This was before many people had heard the word Ebola and before the nearly annual outbreaks including the recent one that brought a few cases to America.

Yes this is history written in the style of journalism and therefor for popular consumption. But the reviewers who try to score it against some kind of technical or strict science bases are missing the point.

Ebola is for real scary stuff. It is a horrible way to die and compared with even other fatal diseases it is hard to describe without being dramatic. As thrilling as the novel Andromeda Strain was- knowing what Ebola can and does do, and what extremes are necessary to study it make for way more than edge of the seat reading. The monster has not been slain and the good guys at best can regain some control.

Otherwise well-meaning people; people smart enough to know that what was killing their monkeys in Reston, Virginia was serious, almost caused an outbreak in and around Washington DC. That is a simple statement and around it revolves the larger story.

Mr. Preston has written the facts and with them comes drama. He style is not detached but it is what it needs to be to tell a story that- well take your pick, scares the willies outta ya, or reminds you to be humble in the face of what nature, bloody in tooth and claw and virus can do to mere humans.
Profile Image for Katie Ziegler (Life Between Words).
392 reviews956 followers
October 20, 2017
About the time this book was published, I was in elementary school and first learning about Ebola. I have no memory of *where* I heard about Ebola. Was it a science textbook? The news? Who knows. All I know is that it left an impression. Mostly the impression that Ebola is probably one of the most unpleasant ways to die. An incurable virus that basically liquifies you from the inside out...ugh. Anyway, I read this book for a readathon, and the prompt was read a book about a childhood fear. CHECK.

Well, I'm glad I didn't read this when I was a kid, because Ebola is even more horrifying than my little 12 year old mind could have conceived. It's awful. And this book gets graphic. It's also informative, engaging, and most of all chilling. It didn't help that I was burning up with a fever the majority of the time I was reading the book, but EVEN STILL. You can't help but contemplate the very thin line we tread between the perception of our impenetrable safety and a viral outbreak that has the potential to wipe out humanity.

Written narratively, this book maps the first known outbreaks of filoviruses (Ebola and its sisters and cousins). The climax is an outbreak of Ebola on American soil - an occurrence I had no idea ever happened. Either because I was still very young, or because it was kept fairly quiet, I'm not sure? In any event, I know about it now. The last 1/4 of the book slows down significantly, which isn't necessarily a bad thing as that's when you really start to contemplate the implications of what we've learned in the book. However, that does mean it ended a little anticlimactically.

If you're really sensitive about animals (the treatment of them, etc.) maybe give this book a pass. Or you're sensitive about really gruesome things in general, be they animal or human. But, if you have a strong stomach (because you'll need it), then this book was great.
Profile Image for M.M. Strawberry Library & Reviews.
4,076 reviews336 followers
September 7, 2022
Jesus Christ but the descriptions of people dying from the Ebola virus is legit terrifying.

I read this book years ago, and out of all the things that happened in the book, the prologue with the dude dying from the ebola virus while he was waiting for medical attention and basically literally hemorrhaging/bleeding to death in the waiting room will be forever burned into my brain, the author really described that shit in a way that I could easily picture it in my head.

Nature is terrifying AF.
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