Book Review: "The Hot Zone" by Richard Preston

If someone were to ask me what the most horrifying book I have ever read is, she might be surprised. Having read books like "The Exorcist" by William Peter Blatty and "The Stand" by Stephen King, among countless other horror novels, you might think that I would choose an obvious horror fiction novel. That is not the case. The most horrifying book I have ever read is a true story about the scariest thing on Earth. That book is "The Hot Zone" by Richard Preston and it is about viruses that produce hemorrhagic fever-- particularly Marburg and Ebola.

The way Richard Preston wrote "The Hot Zone" was unusual, even now, nearly 20 years since its release. He interviewed people involved in the true events, reviewed what is known about them and meticulously reconstructed everything that takes place in the book. Sure, you might say this is not that unusual. People write non-fiction books in story format all the time. Yeah, they do, but they rarely do it with integrity, and Preston did. He took an extremely dramatic tale and somehow managed not to dramatize it further or embellish, as far as I can tell. Most "non-fiction" books written in story format are at least part fiction, in my experience. (Truman Capote, anyone?) That is after taking into account that people do not always give the author accurate recollections of true stories. At any rate, I had never read anything so true to reality yet told like it was virtually fiction until I read "The Hot Zone."

My astonishment at the slick way Preston presented a non-fiction novel is not the only reason I loved his book "The Hot Zone." What I loved about it most is that it gave me an in-depth perspective on something with which I was already loosely familiar. This novel took me from knowing that Marburg and Ebola exist, where they come from and what they do to people to understanding all of these things. I learned about how experts handle outbreaks of these viruses, how handling these killers makes them feel and how helpless even the most seasoned virus hunter can feel against these viruses. I learned exactly what they do to the body, not just what is visible on the outside, which is horrifying enough. During all of this learning, I was also told a story that I knew, but that I did not know as well as Richard did. By the end, I got the feeling that Preston was more familiar with the story he was telling than any individual in it, despite them having lived it.

Now for the horrifying part. I have no method of describing these horrors that could trump or even paraphrase how Preston so cleanly put it. You have to read the book for yourself. However, I only suggest this if you have can stomach understanding that the most horrifying things in the world are not in Stephen King novels. They are in the bloodstreams of the animals and people around you. They are waiting to find their way into yours. If they get in, they will brutalize you worse than any monster ever dreamt up by an overactive imagination. The worst part is that there is nothing an army of heroic doctors can do about it, which is a point "The Hot Zone" makes startlingly clear.

Shelly Barclay

1 comment:

  1. Wow! Will have to buy and read, Shelly. Sounds like an edge of your seat horror blast. Anne Rice is one of my personal fav's, but that's pretty much for vampire fans. The Hot Zone sounds wonderfully macabre and just scary enough to give one real nightmares. Thanks for the pro review.

    RS Wing