Plague: The Mysterious Past and Terrifying Future of the World's Most Dangerous Disease

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9780743236850: Plague: The Mysterious Past and Terrifying Future of the World's Most Dangerous Disease
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A history of the plague documents its outbreaks from the early Roman Justinian plague, to the Black Death, to more recent occurrences, identifying the conditions that can precipitate an epidemic and offering a sobering prognosis for its potential as a bioterrorist weapon. 30,000 first printing.

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Anthrax, smallpox, West Nile virus, mad cow disease... and now Black Death? The 21st century’s list of new and returning biological scourges is enough to make anyone go a little Howard Hughes. But knowledge is the best defense, and Wendy Orent’s Plague is full of facts and educated speculations about the "world's most dangerous disease." Although always caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, plague can manifest in many ways, from a relatively benign and uncontagious infection to a potent airborne form that spreads like wildfire and kills without fail. Orent provides a gripping history of plague outbreaks around the world, such as the notorious Black Death of medieval Europe, and explains why reservoirs in rodent populations mean we will never eradicate the disease. Then, in chapters echoing recent books about smallpox and anthrax, Orent investigates the 20th century Soviet bioweapons program that focused on plague. Growing it, perfecting it, stockpiling it to use in wartime. Her insider information comes from Igor Domaradskij, a leading scientist in Soviet biological weapon development and vaccine production. In her interviews with Domaradskij, Orent allows him to show how easy it is for well-meaning scientists to shift back and forth between humanitarian and military work. Plague reveals the inner workings of a terrifying research effort, the products of which may or may not have been destroyed in 1992, when Boris Yeltsin ordered Soviet bioweapon labs shut down. Without resorting to alarmism, Orent cautions the world that plague is still out there, in nature and in laboratories, waiting for a chance to spread again. --Therese Littleton

About the Author:

Wendy Orent holds a Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Michigan. She is a leading freelance science journalist who writes for theLos Angeles Times, The Washington Post, and The New Republic, among others. She recently collaborated on the English edition of Soviet bioweaponeer Igor Domaradskij's memoir, Biowarrior. Orent lives in Atlanta, Georgia.

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