Book Review: INSIDE THE HOT ZONE – you’ll wish it was fiction, but it’s a true account

 

Happy Publication Day to
Inside the Hot Zone: A Soldier on the Front Lines of Biological Warfare
by Mark G. Kortepeter

Inside the Hot ZoneMost people who know about the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) in Fort Detrick, Maryland have seen it in movies or (like me) read about it in books. USAMRIID’s is charged with researching countermeasures against biological warfare and investigating disease outbreaks or threats to pubic health. Scientists there work with the most dangerous substances on the planet—such as anthrax, smallpox, Ebola, and the plague—to keep others safe from them.

Retired U.S. Army Col. Mark G. Kortepeter was literally inside the “hot zone,” first, as Medical Director of USAMRIDD, responsible for the health of the employees working in the facility, then in the Virology department doing direct research, and finally as the deputy commander making daily operational decisions. His seven-and-a-half year tenure began in 1998, so he was on the front lines as USAMRIDD was alerted in the aftermath of 9/11, called to assist in the FBI investigation of anthrax letters, and deployed to protect soldiers serving in the 2003 Gulf War from potential bioweapon attacks.

Inside the Hot Zone operates as a memoir of Kortepeter’s time in the trenches and as revealing account of the inner workings of USAMRIID. Deftly weaving science and politics, Kortepeter’s book is astonishing and frightening both for how much we know about potential bioweapons and, even more, how much we don’t know. Washington squabbles, bureaucratic hurdles, and internecine conflicts often impeded effective operation of the organization.

Though Kortepeter highly identifies as a solider, his account doesn’t shrink from criticizing the armed forces apparatus, especially in the case of Bruce Ivins, a USAMRIID scientist accused by the FBI of sending the anthrax-laced letters in 2001 and believed by many of his colleagues to be innocent. He also reveals the frustrations of taking orders from commanders who don’t understand the science or medicine behind what they are demanding. Additionally, his account touches on the affect his all-consuming career had on his family.

Reading Inside the Hot Zone, you forget it’s nonfiction—and then you hope that it is the stuff of imagination. Instead, Kortepeter’s account is an all to true engaging if disturbing narrative and recommended for anyone interested in germ warfare or USAMRIID.

Thank you to NetGalley and University of Nebraska Press/Potomac Books for an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.

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