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Publisher's Summary

The first major bioterror event in the United States - the anthrax attacks in October 2001 - was a clarion call for scientists who work with "hot" agents to find ways of protecting civilian populations against biological weapons. In The Demon in the Freezer, Richard Preston takes us into the heart of USAMRIID, the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Maryland.

Peter Jahrling, the top scientist at USAMRIID, has ORCON security clearance that gives him access to top-secret information of bioweapons. His most urgent priority is to develop a drug that will take on smallpox - and win. Eradicated from the planet in 1979, the smallpox virus now resides, officially, in only two high-security freezers - at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, and in Siberia, at a Russian virology institute called Vector. But the demon in the freezer has been set loose. It is almost certain that illegal stocks are in the possession of hostile states, including Iraq and North Korea. Jahrling is haunted by the thought that biologists in secret labs are using genetic engineering to create a new superpox virus, a smallpox resistant to all vaccines.

USAMRIID went into a state of Delta Alert on September 11 and activated its emergency response teams when the first anthrax letters were opened in New York and Washington, D.C. Preston reports, in unprecedented detail, on the government's response to the attacks and takes us into the ongoing FBI investigation. His story is based on interviews with top-level FBI agents and with Dr. Steven Hatfill.

©2002 Richard Preston; (P)2002 Books on Tape, Inc.

Critic Reviews

"This book will give you nightmares. Preston...turns a story about science and medicine into a theme-park ride of a thriller." (The New York Times)
"As exciting as the best thrillers, yet scarier by far, for Preston's pages deal with clear, present and very real dangers." (Publishers Weekly)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings


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  • Overall

Pretty interesting listening in a horrific way

If skin sliding off your body in sheets and merging pustules don't bother you, dive in. This is not for the faint of heart or stomach. It does give a clear picture of the effects of anthrax and smallpox, and the results if they were released as a bioweapon.
If nothing else, do what you're mother told you, wash your hands!
Also have a listen to In the Wake of the Plague: The Black Death and the World It Made (Unabridged). One of the interesting points made was that anthrax was present at the time and oftened mistaken for plague. Not that it made a lot of difference to the victim.

24 of 25 people found this review helpful

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  • colleen
  • ANCHORAGE, AK, United States
  • 09-15-12

Interesting and eye opening

Insight in the operating procedure of the CDC and WHO and what a weaponized pathogen has done and can do in the wrong hands. Well performed and reads more like a novel than a tech book. Creditworthy

18 of 19 people found this review helpful

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  • Grant
  • NANTUCKET, MA, United States
  • 06-18-13

Where can I get a blue space suit?

Okay, now I'm more paranoid than ever that humanity will be ravaged by a super virus. This book is gripping. Not just because the story is true, but because it is extremely well told.

14 of 15 people found this review helpful

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  • Sean
  • Newport Beach, CA, USA
  • 02-23-04

If you only read one terrifying book this year...

Probably not a book to listen to in bed before going to sleep, unless you are truly fearless.

But overall, a well-told true story that is as much about the people behind the effort to irradicate smallpox (and prevent future terrorism) as it is about the disease itself. Very well-researched. It seems that Preston interviewed just about all the key people behind the story over the last few decades.

The most interesting parts of the book for me were the incredible personal stories of how certain seemingly unlikely individuals became involved in different ways.

A couple reasons for a less than perfect rating -- I thought sometimes Preston went overboard on his attention to detail. Like discussing what someone happened to be eating or wearing at non-pivotal moments in the story.

Because the events in fall 2001 occurred while writing the book, Preston seemed compelled to tack on the story line dealing with anthrax. At times it made the book a little disjointed but overall I thought the discussion of anthrax added more than it detracted.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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Very Informative and Well Written - but...

Where does The Demon in the Freezer rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

This type of book will only appeal to a specific audience, but overall i'd say its in my top 10 books.

What aspect of Paul Boehmer’s performance would you have changed?

The performance was well done, the audio book editing was horrible. Clearly no one listened to the final product because there are no less than 8 audio edits were the track repeats itself by 4-5 seconds. This throws off the flow of the story and simply irritates the listener. Audible or whomever did the editing should refund every listeners money and appoligise for such poor quality work.

7 of 8 people found this review helpful

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  • Scott
  • Roseville, CA, United States
  • 07-16-09

Gripping Non-Fiction

I got this thinking it was another thriller but, be clear, you're not buying a thriller, this is NON-fiction about horrible biological weapons (mostly anthrax and smallpox). It revisits the national scare in 2001 and goes on to reveal staggeringly terrible truths about some countries which did "weaponize" bacteria and viruses (including the USA). Truth makes it all the more compelling. This scientist turned writer's style allows comprehension of some heavy duty science. There are a few editing errors, just a FEW passages are re-read (NO reason to avoid this book, it is not poorly produced) Most rewind and relisten to their devices anyway to avoid missing key facts.. so no big deal! Well narrated even with a few regional accents (in non fiction) to flesh out the characters. I'd put this on my "must listen" list if one wishes to be well informed about a threat worse than one nuclear bomb could ever be. Even with the mild let down of no "plot" the book is still riveting.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Sam
  • Saginaw, TX, United States
  • 07-28-04

A must read!

This book kept me on edge almost the whole way through. It is a must read based on the times we are in. I had no idea about the severity of biological warfare and the implications of someone having it. I feel like my eyes have been opened. I would suggest it to everyone.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Yale
  • Alpharetta, GA, USA
  • 02-15-05

Too many names...

This is an interesting account of the bio terror attack on the US. There are a lot of names (who cares) and the flow is painfully slow in parts as a result. Information about other countries bio programs was interesting. My Mom is a nurse, so I find biology interesting. If you don't have an interest in what Smallpox can do to a human body, I would suggest skipping this one. The point was: there are bad people out there and Smallpox is a nightmare...

8 of 10 people found this review helpful

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Really, terrifying is the only word for it. Super-bugs resurrected from the past, weaponized, and potentially in the hands of anybody?
Other than that chill-factor, it's a spectacular read, interesting and informative, with enough of a mystery to keep one interested. As a medical professional, the description of the diseases were fascinating, though perhaps a bit grotesque. Definitely one that I'll be re-reading!

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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A Great Listen

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

Recommend this to all Medical Research Scientists like myself. It really opens your mind to a lot of things you never thought about. I really enjoyed every bit of it, not forgetting a great narrator too (Paul Boehmer).

Any additional comments?

Need more books like this.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful