One line overview:

An interesting account of the history of Ebola and the Reston Ebola outbreak, but with some shite science.

The Hot Zone: The Chilling True Story of an Ebola Outbreak is a relatively old book by Richard Preston, but it caught my eye when I saw it on Amazon one day. It’s great, as it details the first outbreak of Marburg near Mount Elgon in Kenya. Here, you get some grim details of Marburg and what it does, particular focus on ‘bleeding out’ and a particular favourite of mine: a patient with Marburg on a plane whilst undergoing a ‘bleed out’, some real grim descriptions. It then progresses onto the Reston Ebola outbreak in a monkey house just outside of Reston in Virginia and the subsequent outbreak.

The book can be gripping in parts, as you want to know “Did they get infected?”, “Are they going to die?” or “What the hell is about to happen?!” but these were relatively rare and only happened all of 4 times max.

But what annoyed me about this was the error in the science. Preston talks about how viruses replicate within our cells but then goes on to say ‘the viruses break the cell wall’ and this reallllllly annoyed me. But it’s not the only time it happened throughout the book, it was a recurrent error among others (something other reviewers have also said) and in the words of Peter Griffin:


The book progresses quite well, in that you start with the discovery of Marburg, the outbreak of Reston Ebola and back to a cave that viruses such as Ebola and Marburg could be emerging from, whilst simultaneously explaining how everything is related in the book. But the scientific inaccuracies and the constant emphasis on “the hot zone” and “biosafety level 4 agents” kinda really annoyed me. We get it, Ebola is a virus that requires high level containment, but no need to keep telling us it is a high level agent…

Overall: 4/10