An investigative journalist provides an in-depth exploration of the post-9/11 anthrax attacks, finding that quite a few people did not acquit themselves well.
In his first book, Pulitzer Prize–winning Los Angeles Times reporter Willman painstakingly recounts the mysterious mailings of anthrax spores to various media and political figures in the weeks after 9/11. When news of the attacks came to light, they seemed to represent a piece of a larger plot by still-undefined enemies. Willman focuses on Bruce Ivins, an obscure scientist working on developing anthrax vaccines in a military lab in Maryland. On the surface, Ivins appeared to be quirky and socially awkward. But there were disturbing currents running beneath the surface—he suffered from mental-health issues and had longstanding obsessions with institutions such as a national college sorority, whose members he stalked and harassed. Much of the narrative reads like a brief for the prosecution, but in the process of trying to get to the bottom of the anthrax attacks, Willman makes clear that many involved in the investigation acted incompetently, maliciously or irresponsibly, including cocksure but ignorant members of the national media and FBI officials, who seem to have settled on the guilt of another obscure scientist, thus doing harm to the investigation by limiting its purview. Willman also examines another consequence of the anthrax attacks: They helped clear the way for the Bush administration’s war in Iraq. Though less successful in this argument, the author offers finely drawn sketches of the individuals and forensics involved in a case that vexed investigators, politicians and the general public.A well-told true-crime story with vast ramifications.