Saturday, March 28, 2009

Panic in Level 4

Panic in Level 4: Cannibals, Killer Viruses, and Other Journeys to the Edge of Science by Richard Preston was originally published in 2008. My hardcover copy has 188 pages. As Preston notes in the introduction: "In this book, we are embarking on a deep probe through the realms of the vanishingly small, where, at times, all we can say is, 'There be monsters.' The chapters in this book were originally published in The New Yorker, but I've expanded, updated, and linked them." (pg. xxxvii) Since the chapters in Panic in Level 4 are all basically independent nonfiction articles, I'm writing this review a little bit differently, placing the quotes included after the title of the chapter they are from.
Very Highly Recommended - one of the best

Chapters in the book, including quotes:

Introduction: Adventures in Nonfiction Writing

"Biosafety Level 4, also known as BL-4 or Level 4, is the highest and tightest level of biosecurity in a laboratory. Laboratories rated at Biosafety level 4 are the repositories of viruses called hot agents - lethal viruses for which there is no vaccine or effective cure." pg. xv

"We know that the Ebola virus was one of the more powerful bioweapons in the arsenal of the old Soviet 1991, bioweaponeers had reportedly been experimenting with aerosol Ebola - powdered, weaponized Ebola that could be dispersed through the air, over a city, for example." pg. xvi

"In narrative nonfiction writing, taking notes is an essential part of the creative process. We tend to think of a reporter's notes as being a transcript of the words of someone speaking to the reporter. If you who are reading this happen to be a student of journalism, remember that you can take notes about anything. It can be quite useful to jot down observations on any and all details of a person and a scene, including sights, smells, and sounds, as well as the emotional aura of the scene." pg. xx

The Mountains of Pi

"When he was thirty-six, Gregory Volfovich Chudnovsky began building a supercomputer in his apartment from mail-order parts. Gregory Chudnovsky was a number theorist, a mathematician who studies numbers, and he felt that he needed a supercomputer to do it." pg.3

A Death in the Forest

"Invasive species of Microbes, plants, and animals are changing ecosystems all over the planet in a biological upheaval that may affect almost everything that lives. The cause of the upheaval is the human species. Life on the planet is being homogenized by the expanding human population and the frequent and rapid movement of people and goods, which carry invasive organisms with them. pg. 51-52

"In effect, the trees of North America have been hit with all sorts of Ebolas of their own." pg. 53

The Search for Ebola

"Months later, when the epidemiologists finally arrived, they traced the threads of horror back to one man, Patient Zero, who became known only by his initials, G.M. The threads converged on one little spot in the world. It was a sinuous patch of forest called Mbwambala." pg. 71

The Human Kabbalah

" 'He's an idiot. He is a thorn in people's sides and an egomaniac,' a senior scientist in the Human Genome Project said to me one day. The Human Genome Project was an ongoing nonprofit international research consortium that had been working to decipher the complete sequence of nucleotides, or letters, in human DNA. " pg. 88

"To the intense surprise and wonder of the scientists, nature was turning out to be an uncharted sea of unknown genes. The code of life was far richer and more beautiful than anyone had imagined." pg. 120

The Lost Unicorn

"In 1998, The Cloisters - the museum of medieval art in upper Manhattan - began a renovation of the room where the seven tapestries known as The Hunt of the Unicorn hang. The Unicorn Tapestries are considered by many to be the most beautiful tapestries in existence. They are also among the great works of art of any kind." pg. 132

The Self-Cannibals

" 'This is a very horrible disease, and a very complex brain problem.... It is also one of the best models we have for trying to trace the action of one gene on complex human behavior.' " H. A. Jinnah, pg. 155

"There is still great uncertainty about how much of a role genes play in major, common conditions such as depression or bipolar disorder. One wonders where obsessive-compulsive disorders come from, or such behaviors as compulsive hand-washing, compulsive neatness. Do some people suffer from OCDs that are caused by misspellings in their code? What about borderline personality disorder? How many mental illnesses are the result of errors in the code or certain combinations of errors?" pg. 159

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