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The Best American Magazine Writing 2000  by Clay Felker

There is, ethically, one essay in here that matters, “Demon in the Freezer,” Richard Preston’s essay on smallpox. The rating for this book is based solely on Preston’s essay.

            

Belief has it that only two tiny samples of smallpox left in the world, both kept locked up. Preston has evidence that there may be tons—tons!—as in thousands of pounds—of smallpox hidden in Russia and elsewhere. Worse, almost no vaccine exists, and that is of dubious quality. The vaccinations older Americans received when they were young expired, though they may still offer some protection.

            

Recent attempts to add more vaccine sputtered due to government incompetence, feckless scientists, military blunders, and a greedy corporation. Manufacturing vaccine once an epidemic has started is too late. Smallpox is extremely contagious and could spread faster than junk mail from Publisher’s Clearinghouse.

            

Preston writes that quick action and an ample supply of vaccine in Yugoslavia in 1972 prevented a single case from becoming a major epidemic. Towns were quarantined and eighteen million vaccinations in a country of 21 million were delivered. The U.S. currently does not have enough vaccine to meet the needs of a single major city.

            

The only other essay I read was a savage and hilarious review of Saving Private Ryan. And the author did not mention the incoherent scene where the fresh prisoner starts yammering about the breasts of some celebrity. I can not imagine those words coming out of a new prisoner unless his entire head was made of bone. Recommended.

 

Book review by J.T. Fournier, last updated July 26, 2009.

 

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