Excerpt from Germs by Judith Miller, et. al., plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Germs

Biological Weapons and America's Secret War

By Judith Miller, et. al.

Germs
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • Hardcover: Sep 2001,
    352 pages.
    Paperback: Oct 2002,
    384 pages.

    Publication Information

  • Rate this book


Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt


The snow was deep and the sky clear when experimenters in a special car drove into a Minneapolis suburb of homes, light industry, trees, and pine foliage to release the test mist. There was very little wind, and the winter night was marked by a strong temperature inversion. Overhead, a dome of warm air trapped cool air below. Air samplers showed that the release traveled nearly a mile. The "dosage area," experimenters wrote, was "unusually large."

Until Patrick's arrival, America's hunt for living weapons had focused mainly on bacterial diseases, including anthrax, plague, and tularemia, a disease which kills one out of twenty people and leaves the rest very sick. Tularemia produced not only the usual chills, fever, and coughing of infectious disease but also skin lesions larger than those of smallpox -- ulcers up to an inch wide, their centers raw, their edges turned up in reddish mounds.

But the shortcomings of bacteria as weapons were becoming obvious. Infections acquired in attacks on cities or battlefields could be successfully treated by large doses of antibiotics -- the wonder drugs that Patrick as an industry researcher had been pioneering. That emerging fact of medical life diminished the role of bacteria as killers and cripplers for war.

Viruses were a beguiling alternative. Compared with bacteria, they were less complex and often more deadly. To Detrick scientists, their microscopic size offered a range of potential military advantages.

A single human egg is just visible to the naked eye and has a width of about one hundred microns, or millionths of a meter. Human hairs are seventy-five to one hundred microns wide and easier to see because they are long. An ordinary human cell is about ten microns wide and by definition invisible. Most bacteria are one or two microns wide. They and their cousins, such as the mycobacteria, are considered the smallest of the microscopic world's fully living things.

By contrast, viruses are hundreds of times smaller, and occasionally a thousand times. If bacteria were the size of cars and minivans, viruses would be the size of cell phones. One of the tinier ones, the yellow fever virus, is only two one-hundredths of a micron wide. The foot-and-mouth virus is smaller. Viruses are small because they lack most of life's usual parts and processes, such as metabolism and respiration. Scientists consider them barely alive, seeing them more as robots than organisms. To thrive and reproduce, they invade a cell and take over its biochemical gear, often at the expense of the host.

Over the ages, this biological intimacy has made viruses one of the most dangerous of all humanity's foes. They include the causative agents of influenza, smallpox, and Ebola, the scourge from Africa that bleeds its victims dry.

People can be powerless against them. Viruses are small enough to slip into cells, where they are safe from the assaults of the human immune system. By contrast, anthrax bacteria, lumbering giants at up to four microns wide, must battle their way into the body, with many thousands of them often needed to start an infestation.

Moreover, viruses are largely invulnerable to attack by antibiotics or other weapons of science because they are nearly indistinguishable from their human hosts. As an army reference book on germ warfare put it, viruses "may be particularly attractive" because so few treatments are available against them.

As Detrick scientists investigated such issues, they did know of one treatment that worked against viruses -- immunization. Most vaccines are made of viruses that are dead, weakened, or harmless yet biologically akin to noxious ones. When injected -- or, in some cases, swallowed -- the vaccine sends a false alarm of pending attack to the body's immune system, which then forms antibodies to fight a particular type of invader. The defensive buildup is slow. So, to ward off invaders effectively, vaccines must often be given weeks to months in advance. They seldom work right away.

Copyright © 2001 by Judith Miller, Stephen Engelberg, and William Broad.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!
Member Benefits

Join Now!

Check the advantages!
Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year

    •  
    • FREE
    • MEMBER
    • Range of media reviews for each book
    • Excerpts of all featured books
    • Author bios, interviews and pronunciations
    • Browse by genre
    • Book club discussions
    • Book club advice and reading guides
    • BookBrowse reviews and "beyond the book" back-stories
    •  
    • Reviews of notable books ahead of publication
    •  
    • Free books to read and review (US Only)
    •  
    • Browse for the best books by time period, setting & theme
    •  
    • Read-alike suggestions for thousands of books and authors
    •  
    • 'My Reading List" to keep track of your books
    •  

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The Promise
    The Promise
    by Ann Weisgarber
    Canadian author, Lucy Maud Montgomery of Anne of Green Gables fame, once wrote that "...all things ...
  • Book Jacket: Black Moon
    Black Moon
    by Kenneth Calhoun
    The popularity of book-turned-movie World War Z and television series The Walking Dead points to a ...
  • Book Jacket: Hyde
    Hyde
    by Daniel Levine
    In Robert Louis Stevenson's 1886 novel, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the story ends ...

First Impressions

Members read and review books ahead
of publication. See what they think
in First Impressions!

Books that
expand your
horizons.

Visitors can view a lot of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only

Find out more.

Book Discussions
Book Jacket

Sailor Twain
by Mark Siegel

Published Mar. 2014

Join the discussion!

Win this book!
Win The Steady Running of the Hour

The Steady Running of the Hour

"Exciting, emotionally engaging and amibtious. I loved it!" - Kate Mosse

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

I T T O A Eye

and be entered to win..

Books thatinspire you.Handpicked.

Books you'll stay up all night reading; books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, books that will expand your mind and inspire you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.