The story of the 1976 Legionnaires Disease epidemic, as told by a pair of calamity-coverage (The Day the Bubble Burst,...



The story of the 1976 Legionnaires Disease epidemic, as told by a pair of calamity-coverage (The Day the Bubble Burst, Earthquake) veterans. The result is a formula job: a competent summary of the investigation, ""human interest"" laid on by the shovelful, but weak on the medical side. The focus of the book is the team of epidemiologists from the federal Center for Disease Control who descended on Philadelphia (the Legion's convention site) and Harrisburg (state health department headquarters) shortly after news broke of the strange, and deadly, illness. Under the no-nonsense leadership of Dr. David Fraser (clearly the hero of the story, to Thomas and Morgan-Witts), the CDC group pressed the field investigation on all fronts--obtaining tissue samples and autopsy results, interviewing survivors, fielding crackpot calls, getting questionnaires out to all the convention-goers--amid an atmosphere of media-whipped frenzy, rumors of terrorist or CIA involvement, and uneasy relations with the local political and health bureaucracies. Though much-maligned at the time (it took six months for the bacterial agent to be found, and by then a congressional committee had begun to hold an inquiry), the CDC's work, especially in the field, appears to have been exemplary. In cinematic fashion, Thomas and Morgan-Witts switch back and forth from the continuing investigation to other points of view: three Legion buddies (two were to die) from a small Pennsylvania town and their families; the managers of Philadelphia's Bellevue Stratford Hotel, whose ventilation system helped transmit the disease but which probably got worse press than it deserved (""FEAR SIGNS THE REGISTER"" shouted one headline--the hotel eventually went under); the hotel's chief chef and head elevator operator; and (rather gratuitously) a hooker who entertained some of the Legionnaires and came down with the disease herself. It all adds up to a made-for-TV disaster movie in print, with precious little attention to the underlying medical mystery. Not, by a long shot, the definitive book on the subject.

Pub Date: May 14, 1982


Page Count: -

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1982