Friday, August 14, 2015

I've got a fever...

That can only be cured by reading more about nightmarish infectious diseases.

I'm not good at science. Well, I'm good at some parts of science like attempting to maintain objectivity when discussing the physical universe, respecting well-constructed studies over anecdotal evidence, and changing my mind when I'm presented with solid evidence that contradicts my previous knowledge, but the actual nitty-gritty math and numbers part is what I'm bad at (though now that I've discovered Stats with Cats that may change) and that makes it difficult for me to study science the way that I would like to.

The frustrating part about not knowing a ton about the hard sciences is that it's hard to get into the hard sciences without running into some very, very shitty (and hardly readable) science. After reading The Hot Zone this weekend I ended up on Amazon looking for more books about virology (probably my favorite branch of bio science) and ended up getting lots of recommendations for books that examine the link between vaccines and autism. Fuck. That's not what I'm looking for AT ALL. I want more stories about virus hunting, examinations of infection rates, and explorations of all the creepy crawlies that fill up the invisible world. Basically I want another fifty books like The Hot Zone, because goddamn is that a good book.

I know I read at least part of this book in high school. I vividly remember sitting in the school library and reading about Major Nancy Jaxx's highly unusual (and ill-advised) method of opening a can of green beans. But I'm not sure I read much beyond that because I had no recollection of the rest of the events of the book and considering what happens in the rest of the story I'm pretty sure I'd remember it. It's scary as fuck.

I kept reading passages out loud to my husband as we sat on the patio until 4AM, him messing around on the computer and me being alternately fascinated and repulsed by Preston's gripping storytelling and arresting prose. Honestly reading anything about Ebola is interesting but the way that Preston was able to get the facts from his correspondents and weave them into something that was more of a thriller than an after-action report was mind-boggling. He did a fantastic job of bringing bio-hazard containment to life and making it pulse-poundingly exciting (something that I'm positive many bio-hazard containment specialists find incredible).

But. Um. Don't read this book if you're squeamish. About pretty much anything. Aside from the discussion of a highly transmissible hemorrhagic fever and all the associated nastiness there's also a lot of discussion (though not many descriptions) of trapping, housing, and euthanizing monkeys for medical research that I'm sure will make this book unreadable for a lot of people (though, hey, bonus, because of the events in the book the US made its monkey importation and housing standards much more strict which means life got a lot better for a lot of monkeys). And if you are at all microphobic DO NOT READ THIS BOOK. Seriously. Do Not. I've got a healthy fear/respect for germs and yes everyone should get vaccinated, wash their hands frequently during cold and flu season, and stay away from potentially rabid animals, and observe good sterile procedures for stuff like tattoos and handling open wounds, but if you're the kind of person who needs to wash your hands once an hour this book is going to scare the living shit out of you in a potentially very literal way. Which is why I like it, but why you probably won't.

Anyway, I had fun with The Hot Zone. You might too, if it doesn't give you the screaming mimis.

     - Alli

Preston, Richard. The Hot Zone. Anchor Books. New York: New York. 1995. (1994).

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