technocracygirl: Black-and-white shot of Doctor Martha Jones, with the red phrase "Unseen Brilliance" underneath (Unseen Brilliance)
I keep having this feeling that there's some field of study out there that I would be really good at, some field that I would really enjoy being completely immersed in, if I could only figure out what that would be. (And by immersed, I mean, willing to write a thesis on.) So I try stuff on.

The current interest is epidemiology, which at least can be tangentially related to my current job. And in fact, it was people at work who recommended The Demon in the Freezer. Except that one of the ones who recommended it said, "Omigosh, isn't it scary!"

Which, yes, I do think that the idea of a smallpox epidemic is scary, but in another way...I'm just really, really interested in the spread of epidemic diseases, how they spread, what they do, how we can react to them, how we can slow or stop's just really, really interesting. Nifty, if you will.

Which kind of makes me wonder about my empathy abilities.

Anyway, the titular demon is the various known and unknown stashes of smallpox which were left in research labs after the Eradication And Preston (in a very high-tech thriller sort of way) talks about how the Eradication was done, what was involved, and why Americans started to work with smallpox again afterwards. (Hint: The USSR didn't just have nuclear engineers. And after the collapse, they didn't get paid for squat either.)

It's not exactly heavy on the science angle. (I don't know that I would get how a pipettor works or what serial dilutions are for if I didn't already know.) It's only okay on the cast of characters. It's a techo-thriller a la Tom Clancy, and hence a quick read. Not that it doesn't have much more information to impart than the average techno-thriller, but it's definitely the simple syrup to Smallpox and Its Eradication's baklava.

Smallpox and Its Eradication, you may ask? What is that? That would be the Big Red Book which a number of the people in the book refer to. It was written by the men in charge of the Intensified Smallpox Eradication Programme from 1967-1980, when smallpox was declared gone from the globe, and its a treatise on smallpox, what it is, how it moves, how it can be stopped, and how it was stopped. It was meant as a historical testament to one of, if not the, greatest achievement of modern epidemiology. Today, the WHO has made it publicly accessible in PDF form because "[i]n view of current concern about the threat of smallpox, WHO has decided with some urgency to make the book available on the World Wide Web." It is a hard slog, what with being meant for people who already know what maculae are, but, dang, it's a magnificent piece of work. (I am still in chapter 1 at this point, unfortunately.) It's definitely worth it if DitF piques your interest.

Another problem I had with DitF was the sidetracking of the theme of the book (smallpox) to spend two chapters on anthrax. By the end of it, the only reason I could find for the segue was because the smallpox hunters (who, by the nature of their work, are a tad paranoid about smallpox being used as a biological terror agent) thought that the mailed anthrax spores might also be contaminated with smallpox. Which, if DitF had talked about other BTAs, I wouldn't have minded. But having smallpox and B. anthracis be the only BTAs discussed made the anthrax seem out of place.

He also has a glossary (good for the average reader) but no index (bad for the person who wants to refer back to something.)

I did like the book though. I ripped through it in three days, which made for a nice change from the multi-week trek through The Hakawati. I thought the last paragraph was especially eloquent.

We will never find an explanation for the suffering etched in that child's hand, or for the evils done by people against other people, or for the love that drove the doctors to bring smallpox to an end. Yet after all they had done, we still held smallpox in our hands, with a grip of death that would never let it go. All I knew was that the dream of total Eradication had failed. The virus's last strategy for survival was to bewitch its host and become a source of power. We could eradicate smallpox from nature, but we could not uproot the virus from the human heart.

Dramatic? Yes. Literally inaccurate? Yes. Poetically correct? Probably yes.

I am currently chewing my way through Kate Elliot's Spirit Gate, which is way better than I expected.


technocracygirl: Cartoon Raven from "Teen Titans" glaring at you from over the top of her book (Default)

June 2012

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