Carefully drawn chronology of the anthrax episodes of September and October 2001.
They came and went at such speed and at such an overwhelming time that it is pardonable to remember the anthrax-bearing letters as a bad dream. But five people died from them, and this tight narrative of the events makes it clear that they were a mortal cog in the wheel that led to Homeland Security, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Bioterrorism expert Cole (Political Science/Rutgers Univ.; The Eleventh Plague, not reviewed, etc.) also makes it baldly clear that the letters’ nasty cargo might easily have claimed many more lives if health professionals hadn't acted with admirable intuition and dispatch, rising to the occasion like latter-day Minutemen. Anthrax’s reputation precedes it: a biblical plague, a hyper-amplifying bacterium that can blossom from a cluster of spores smaller than the eye of an ant into a gruesome blood sludge that kills or curses its victims. The author sketches vivid portraits of the bacteria, those who were infected, and those whose job it was to counter the threat and prepare the nation for biological attack. He describes the sparse and tentative information doctors had to work from, the difficulty of diagnosis, and the crucial roles played by the Centers for Disease Control, the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases. To give the story greater scope, Cole also touches upon the smallpox eradication campaign, the fight against biological weapons, the evolving first line of defense against chemical and biological attack, and the sorry history of anthrax hoaxes over the past decade.
Despite the impressive containment work of health professionals, an unsettling story of all-too-accessible weapons.