Sunday, May 10, 2009

Panic in Level 4 by Richard Preston

Bizarre illnesses and plagues that kill people in the most unspeakable ways. Obsessive and inspired efforts by scientists to solve mysteries and save lives. From The Hot Zone to The Demon in the Freezer and beyond, Richard Preston's best selling works have mesmerized readers everywhere by showing them strange worlds of nature they never dreamed of.

Panic in Level 4 is a grand tour through the eerie and unforgettable universe of Richard Preston, filled with incredible characters and mysteries that refuse to leave one's mind. Here are dramatic true stories from this acclaimed and award-winning author, including:

  • The phenomenon of "self-cannibals", who suffer from a rare genetic condition caused by one wrong letter in their DNA that forces them to compulsively chew their own flesh - and why everyone may have a touch of this disease.
  • The search for the unknown host of Ebola virus, an organism hidden somewhere in African rain forests, where the disease finds its way into the human species, causing outbreaks of unparalleled horror.
  • The brilliant Russian brothers - "one mathematician divided between two bodies" - who built a supercomputer in their apartment from mail-order parts in an attempt to find hidden order in the number pi .
In fascinating, intimate, and exhilarating detail, Richard Preston portrays the frightening forces and constructive discoveries that are currently roiling and reordering our world, once again proving himself a master of the nonfiction narrative and, as noted in The Washington Post, "a science writer with an uncommon gift for turning complex biology into riveting page-turners".


This was the unabridged audiobook on CD edition (7 CDs/7.75 hours).

In The Mountains of Pi story I kept thinking that the brother's apartment sounded like a giant fire hazard with all those wires and exposed PC contents. And just thinking out renting the supercomputer for $750 an hour made my skin crawl. All that wasted money just to beat the Japanese and get multiple billions of pi digits seemed indicative of our world today. Just think what all that money would do if spent on medicines for people who can't afford them, or spend $750 at Heifer International! The waste of our culture is just obscene!

The Search for Ebola section certainly turned off any slight amount of desire I had to visit Africa!! It also really angered me to hear about all these poor people infected with Ebola who were forced to hemorrhage and slowly and painfully die (in horrible conditions, no less) when the medical staff knew that there was nothing they could do for them. It really made me wonder why the medical staff didn't take any sort of mercy on these people and euthanize them? Why should they have to suffer like that? It's just unconscionable and sadistic to do that to any living thing.

The section about the self-cannibals was quite moving and you really felt for the men interviewed, but I felt as if it didn't really fit with the "Edge of Science" theme. Yes, it's a horrible, horrible disease, but it's a genetic disease, which nothing particularly new. I really wish the author had interviewed the parents who had more than one child with this disease. I'd like to hear their reasoning on why they had more children after learning that they were carriers of the genes. Did they enjoy playing Russian Roulette with their children's lives?

In the Human Kabbalah I immediately intensely disliked Craig Ventor and found myself wishing he'd fail. What a vulture! The companies making money off the Human Genome Project just make me sick. This is yet another example of how sick our nation, and world, has become. I was quite pleased to hear that his company tanked, the stock bottomed out, and he was fired. That's karma for you.

This one gets six stars. It was okay, but rather dry in spots. James Lurie was quite good as the reader though. This was certainly not something you would want to read while eating! It was also rather slow moving at points. I kept thinking that they should pick up the pace and leave out most of the background information that rather seemed like filler. I also didn't quite get how The Mountains of Pi or A Death in the Forest stories were actually about "the Edge of Science". The Pi thing was more of a giant waste of time and money than anything, and the Forest story was rather more of an ecology lesson.

Rating: ★★★★★



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