Panic in Level 4: Cannibals, Killer Viruses, and Other Journeys to the Edge of Science

Richard Preston, Author . Random $26 (188p) ISBN 978-1-4000-6490-8

The title of New Yorker contributor Preston’s new collection refers to the subject of his bestselling The Hot Zone : a series of rooms in a government biohazard laboratory where scientists work with virulent pathogens like the Ebola viruses that would be devastating in the hands of terrorists. The essays (all from the New Yorker ) cover such scientific matters as a profile of controversial über-genome mapper Craig Venter; a gene that leads people to cannibalize themselves; and two Russian-Jewish émigré scientists who built a monster computer in their cramped apartment to puzzle out patterns in the value of pi. Preston’s essay on the destruction of large swaths of eastern U.S. forests by insect parasites accidentally brought into the country from abroad is the shortest but most compelling. Preston might have done more to update his pieces; for example, the Marburg virus was found in bats last year, supporting his hypothesis that they are the reservoir for Ebola. But Preston’s fans will enjoy his showing how few degrees of separation there are between far-flung areas of scientific endeavors. Illus. (June)

Reviewed on: 04/21/2008
Release date: 05/01/2008
Peanut Press/Palm Reader - 159 pages - 978-1-58836-728-0
Compact Disc - 7 pages - 978-0-7393-2889-7
Paperback - 194 pages - 978-0-8129-7560-4
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