Do you enjoy being terrified? Do you love learning about deadly viruses that kill in the messiest of ways? If so, The Hot Zone is the book for you. I first read this book when I was in middle school and it made me afraid of everything for about a week. But, the book was so good that I just couldn't put it down. I loaned it to a friend and she lived in constant fear of the Ebola virus until high school. This book is terrifying, and it's true.
The Hot Zone tells of the early days of the Ebola virus in vivid and nauseating detail. Richard Preston tracks the first known outbreaks of the 1970s in West Africa and then continues with the Reston, Virginia scare (yes, there was a hiccup at a "monkey house" in the US, doesn't that make you feel safe?). Although this book is a non-fiction piece, it reads like a thriller. It is one of the only books I have re-read (the other two are Watership Down and Black Beauty).
What makes this book so special is the detail that Preston uses to describe the symptoms of Ebola. From bleeding eyes to blackened vomit, no symptom gets neglected. Also, you don't need a doctorate in order to understand Preston's writing. It is very easy to follow. The only fault I can find in this book is that Preston does exaggerate at times. This book sparked an interest in virology for me and I have sense read countless books on the subject. I have learned that your organs do not actually liquefy, as Preston mentions, but instead they tend to harden when infected with Ebola. Also, not all victims reach the "bleeding out" phase of the disease. Some get better or simply die sooner (interesting note: all patients die once they reach the bleeding out stage).
This book is not for the faint of heart...or for the faint of stomach. You should not read this book after a heavy meal...seriously. The Hot Zone is a wonderful and fast read for medical students, nurses, sick freaks like me. I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone planning a trip to central Africa though. It might make you change your plans.