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Did You Know?—Book Review: “The Demon in the Freezer” by Richard Preston

Did you know?

Many decades ago I wanted to be a history professor. Then I found out how much money K-12 history teachers made and knew that it would not be enough to keep me in the lifestyle to which I dreamed. So I thought about being a college history professor. Then I found out that I probably would have to go to school for eight more years—four for a bachelor’s degree, two for a master’s, and two more for a doctorate’s. Not in this lifetime, or the next. I resigned myself to being a history buff.

"The Demon in the Freezer" by Richard Preston“The Demon in the Freezer” by Richard Preston is a history book about the eradication of smallpox. Smallpox is considered one of the worst diseases in the history of humanity, killing almost one-third of those infected, and killing about 300 million people just in the Twentieth Century. Pictures on Wikipedia of people with smallpox makes me think that it might have been better to die than to live with the results of smallpox.

Smallpox has been eradicated worldwide with the last known naturally occurring case being a case of variola minor (the more serious smallpox is variola major) in October 1977 in Somalia. However, there are “stocks” of smallpox, both variola major and variola minor and various strains of both, at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia, and in at the State Research Center of Virology and Biotechnology VECTOR in Russia. Theoretically, no one else has any stock of smallpox, but that is assuming that all the countries in the world that once had smallpox stocks either destroyed them or turned them over to the World Health Organization for transmittal to CDC or VECTOR.

After 9/11 and the anthrax letters sent to various officials in Washington, D.C., many researchers started thinking seriously about biowarfare, and smallpox rose to the forefront. Because of the many ways smallpox can travel from human to human, and the population and mobility of the world, many of those same researchers believe that a simple warhead loaded with smallpox could be more damaging to the world than any nuclear bomb. After reading “The Demon in the Freezer,” I can understand why.

One name mentioned in the book that I was quite familiar with was that of Robert S. Mueller III. Currently he is the Special Counsel for the Department of Justice and is investigating the current president and his family for obstruction of justice, collusion with Russia, money laundering, and probably a whole assortment of crimes. The reason why he is mentioned in this book, published in 2002, is because he was the Direct of the Federal Bureau of Investigation from September 4, 2001, to September 4, 2013. He was an integral part of keeping tabs on the anthrax scares at the time, providing then-President Bush with daily updates on bioterror and other terrorist threats.

If you like history, and you have any interest at all in what’s going on in the world with the current U.S. president empowering and enabling all this hatred toward other people, even fellow American citizens, this is a book that might cause you to sit up and take notice.

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