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The Anthrax Letters: A Medical Detective Story
by Leonard A. Cole
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From Publishers Weekly
On October 5, 2001, Bob Stevens, a 63-year-old photo editor for the tabloid newspaper the Sun, became the first confirmed bioterrorism fatality in the U.S. Over the next several weeks, nearly two dozen people were diagnosed with anthrax, five of whom died. Disentangling a coherent story from the snarl of conflicting reports, multi-agency responses, blaring headlines, empty leads and the shaky scientific data surrounding the anthrax attacks is no simple task, which makes Cole's accomplished book all the more impressive. As an expert on the intersection of politics and terrorism, Cole (The Eleventh Plague) takes the reader on a captivating, no-nonsense tour of America's public health system, where physicians, scientists and administrators work tirelessly to establish protocols and policies, task forces and education programs, emergency response strategies and stockpiles of vital medicines to safeguard the country from a potentially catastrophic bioterror event. The book also supplies the chilling details that the short-lived media flareup failed to convey-such as the durability of anthrax spores, which can lie dormant but remain lethal for hundreds of years; the contamination of massive postal facilities that remain unsafe even after multimillion-dollar clean-up efforts; the difficulties involved in diagnosing many anthrax cases, which can display ambiguous symptoms; and the persistent, residual effects of the disease. Without even a hint of sensationalism, this disquieting but hopeful book skillfully zeros in on the most crucial issues and scientific advances as well as the heroic individuals who averted disaster while under the intense glare of public scrutiny.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Counterterrorism Homeland Security Reports, 2004
"An excellent job... Probably the most detailed book on the subject. ... This book is a must."
Library Journal, November 1, 2003
"...excellent insights ... fascinating discussion of the attacks and how they will influence our level of preparedness for the future."
DingBat Magazine, December 2003
"...absolutely riveting. ... [Cole is] a superb writer and his book reads like a fine-tuned suspense novel."
The Washington Times, November 16, 2003
"...one of the most authoritative of the recent crop of books on the anthrax letters... undeniably intriguing."
Kirkus Reviews, August 2003
"...vivid portraits of the bacteria, those who were infected, and those whose job it was to counter the threat."
James P. Pinkerton in Newsday, October 7, 2003
"...offers us a wealth of detail on the case -- even as it reminds us how little we know."
Roll Call, October 14, 2003
"...deliver[s] all the drama of a modern-day thriller... offers the most complete look available at the still-unsolved mystery..."
Journal of the American Medical Association, July 21, 2004
"... [a] thoroughly researched, detailed, and fascinating book... a well-written forensic mystery..."
Lancet Journal of Infectious Diseases, January 1, 2004
"[Coles] storytelling abilities rank with those of Richard Preston, without ever losing sight of the science."
Bulletin of the World Health Organization, January 2004
"...interesting and genuinely informative reading..."
At 2:00am on October 2, 2001, Robert Stevens entered a hospital emergency room. He was feverish, nauseated, and barely conscious. Notations on his admitting chart indicate that he was "not oriented to person, place, or time." Perplexed by the sudden and especially severe onset of his symptoms, doctors ran a variety of tests. As armies of bacterial agents attacked and shut down every major organ in Bob Stevens's system, doctors quickly accumulated and analyzed medical data, fitting the pieces of this complicated puzzle together to arrive at a stunning diagnosis. Bob Stevens had anthrax -- and he was soon to become the first official bioterrorism fatality in America.
Behind the panic and the politics that would quickly ensue there remained a key line of defense. For while the police and FBI frantically investigated a crime, there were other professionals at work, conducting their own painstaking inquiry -- medical and scientific detectives hot on the trail of deadly organisms deliberately set loose in the postal system. Modern heroes in a quickly changing world, the public health officials, physicians, researchers, and scientists who staff our hospitals, clinics, and laboratories will be among the first responders on the scene of any future biowarfare event.
Conducting his own detective work, bioterrorism expert Leonard Cole has composed a fascinating account that gets right to the heart of all the noisy sound bytes and hysterical headlines. Cole is perhaps the only person outside law enforcement to have interviewed every one of the surviving inhalation-anthrax victims, along with the relatives, friends, and associates of those who died, as well as the public health officials, scientists, researchers, hospital workers, and treating physicians -- indeed, anyone who has something of value to add to the story. Speaking through their voices, the narrative reflects the tension and emotions stirred by the events from that fall in 2001.
Fast paced and riveting, this minute-by-minute chronicle of the anthrax attacks recounts more than a history of recent current events; it uncovers the untold and perhaps even more important story of how scientists, doctors, and researchers perform life-saving work under intense pressure and public scrutiny. The Anthrax Letters is a spellbinding behind-the-scenes expose that amply demonstrates how vulnerable America and the world really were in 2001 -- and how critical scientific research promises to strengthen our ability to address the challenges we must meet in the future.
"The Anthrax Letters is a terrific read. The book is a masterful piece of reporting, written with absolute strength and clarity, and the background research Cole has done is slam-on right, impressive in its detail and insight. Cole talked to all kinds of sources no other reporter was able to reach, and he turned the research into a first rate work of narrative describing the first major bioterror event the modern world has seen."
"The most effective antidote to biological terrorism is information. Only frank discussion of our vulnerabilities and preparedness will inoculate us against the most contagious agent we face: fear. Leonard Cole makes an invaluable contribution to that discussion with this in-depth look at the people, places and events involved in the 2001 mail-borne anthrax attacks. When the final chapter is written, and the case is solved, this book will have helped point the way to a safer America."
"Luck perhaps has been most accurately defined as where the road of preparation crosses the road of opportunity. For me, these two paths met when I encountered an ill Bob Stevens on October 2, 2001. Leonard Cole's chronicle of the anthrax attacks records with detailed accuracy the medical epidemiological and investigative aspects of these historical events. His narrative is fascinating, insightful, and thought-provoking."
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