Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Hot Zone by Richard Preston

This book, like my previously reviewed one (The Red Market) involves exotic locales, disturbing subjects, and how these things can affect the United States. The exotic locale? Africa. The disturbing subject? The Ebola virus. And what do these things have to do with the United States? Just the simple fact that there was nearly an Ebola breakout in Virginia in the late 1980's.

Preston begins his tale in Kitum cave in Kenya, a possible origin of the ebola virus. He details accounts of people who have suffered from the virus, or similar viruses and describes their symptoms in horrifying detail. Besides Ebola itself, Preston gives a lot of interesting information about viruses in general, viruses related to Ebola, and how viruses are studied and tracked by organizations such as the USAMRIID (US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases). Some of my favorite parts of the book involve his descriptions of researchers who study risk group 4 pathogens. He describes the safety measures they must take, the environment they must work in, and yes, the close calls they face when things don't always work properly.

Preston focuses the second half of his book on a monkey holding facility in Reston, Virginia that quarantines monkeys from around the world destined for US research laboratories. When monkeys at this facility begin dying, a crisis begins behind the scenes in the United States that many people are probably not aware of.

This book is a great example of why I love the non-fiction genre. It truly can be stranger than fiction. And more horrifying.

The Red Market by Scott Carney

"On the Trail of the World's Organ Brokers, Bone Thieves, Blood Farmers, and Child Traffickers"

Who wouldn't want to read a book with a subtitle like this?

According to Wikipedia...

White market = legal goods in a legal market
Gray market = legal goods in an unofficial, unauthorized, or unintended market
Black market = illegal goods

According to Scott Carney...
Red Market = The secret and lucrative trade in human bodies and body parts

Carney is a freelance investigative journalist who studied how things like kidneys, blood, bones, and even human eggs are sold and traded throughout the world. Although a lot of his research focuses on India, where he lived for several years, Carney's research also takes him to places like Brazil, China, and Cyprus. And don't think his topics don't make it to the United States. Although illegal trade in body parts may not be a major issue here, we are definitely the recipient of such trade - whether it's in buying skeletons for medical schools, wigs for women, overseas kidney transplants, or childbirth services abroad.

Each chapter focuses on a different body topic. While I can't really describe any chapter as light-hearted, there are definitely some that are more disturbing than others. Is there really a village in India called Kidneyville because so many of its residents have donated their own for money? Are young children really kidnapped from their families only to be sold to orphanages that work with American organizations? Were vital organs from executed members of a Chinese spiritual group harvested for profit?

Carney addresses these and many other questions in a thought-provoking, eye-opening way. Somewhat morbid (and morbidly entertaining), this is a recommend from me.