PLAGUE: The Mysterious Past and Terrifying Future of the World's Most Dangerous Disease

Wendy Orent, Author . Free Press $25 (276p) ISBN 978-0-7432-3685-0

As journalist Orent shows, what is called the plague—a killer of millions throughout the centuries—is several different diseases, some spread by animals, others by humans. Luckily, the Black Death, as the plague was called in the late 14th and early 15th centuries, "never became a permanent human specialist, like smallpox," in part, she surmises, because it was too virulent to survive for long. But when Orent moves on to the present and future of the plague, she's treading on uncertain ground. With the help of a former Soviet bioweapons scientist, Igor Domaradskij, whose memoirs she's edited, she throws the spotlight on the Soviet development of strains of the plague. The frightening thing, she notes, is that some of these strains can no longer be accounted for. Whether or not that is something that should be feared is unclear: American experts she quotes argue that these viruses are no longer major threats to create an epidemic. But she contends that while not as deadly as anthrax, the strains of the plague created in the former Soviet Union—or other strains of the disease that might be antibiotic resistant—are indeed something to worry about. Not so long ago, a book like this might have seemed like fear mongering. In the post–September 11 world, a plague outbreak may still be unlikely, but many readers will find this a subject deserving further investigation. (May)

Reviewed on: 03/01/2004
Release date: 05/01/2004
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Paperback - 288 pages - 978-1-4516-9585-4
Open Ebook - 288 pages - 978-1-4516-9921-0
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