Inside the Hot Zone
A Soldier on the Front Lines of Biological Warfare
Mark G. Kortepeter
Potomac Books, Lincoln, Nebraska, 2020, 336 pages
Book Review published on: January 10, 2020
Inside the Hot Zone: A Soldier on the Front Lines of Biological Warfare is a first-hand account of life inside one of the most dangerous places on the earth, the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) at Fort Detrick, Maryland. Author Mark G Kortepeter spent seven and one-half years working there in a variety of positions, including in the Biosafety Level 4 maximum-containment lab that deals with diseases of the highest hazard level such as anthrax and Ebola.
He focuses on three main areas: an understanding of the six deadliest known diseases (botulism, tularemia, Ebola, plague, smallpox, and anthrax), life working inside USAMRIID, and the events and fallout from the anthrax-laced letters sent to several news media outlets and a couple members of Congress shortly after 9/11.
The information on the six diseases, referred to as the “Chessmen of Doom,” is captivating and easy to understand for the average reader. Kortepeter also describes what it is like to work inside USAMRIID with all of its safety procedures and associated bureaucracy. He then does an excellent job of tying his three main ideas together in describing his tenure as deputy commander of USAMRIID in 2008 when the FBI alleged that an insider at USAMRIID was the main suspect in the 2001 anthrax letters.
At this point, the book changes in tone from one of an information book about combatting the most extreme diseases to one of a murder-mystery novel. Some of the facts surrounding the case certainly point to a possible insider job, but the author opines that while the means were possible, it would have taken specialized equipment and other specialized personnel to transform anthrax into a powder. These means were highly unlikely to be available to the FBI’s chief suspect in 2001. The final outcome will never be known for sure because the suspect committed suicide as his life began to fall apart from the second- and third-order effects of the investigation. (The suspect was the second USAMRIID person the FBI investigated. The first eventually fought and overcame the initial accusations.)
Life at USAMRIID continued after the anthrax investigation and, even today, it is on the front line of helping the Department of Defense prepare defenses and responses against diseases such as the Ebola outbreak in West Africa from 2014 to 2016 and the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2018.
Inside the Hot Zone is very well written and covers sufficient background about the author’s journey, his medical credentials, and simplified explanations of medical diseases and associated protocols. It is a great successor to Richard Preston’s The Hot Zone and will captivate readers from start to finish. I highly recommend this to all members of the military regardless of rank or branch of service. It is very informative and easy to read.
Book Review written by: Lt. Col. George Hodge, U.S. Army, Retired, Lansing, Kansas