Book Review: Crisis in the Red Zone by Richard Preston (eARC)

Crisis in the Red Zone

Author: Richard Preston

Publication Date: 23 July 2019

Genre: Non-Fiction/Science

Pages: 400

Publisher: Random House

The 2013-2014 Ebola epidemic was the deadliest ever–but the outbreaks continue. Now comes a gripping account of the doctors and scientists fighting to protect us, an urgent wake-up call about the future of emerging viruses–from the #1 bestselling author of The Hot Zone, soon to be a National Geographic original miniseries.

This time, Ebola started with a two-year-old child who likely had contact with a wild creature and whose entire family quickly fell ill and died. The ensuing global drama activated health professionals in North America, Europe, and Africa in a desperate race against time to contain the viral wildfire. By the end–as the virus mutated into its deadliest form, and spread farther and faster than ever before–30,000 people would be infected, and the dead would be spread across eight countries on three continents.

In this taut and suspenseful medical drama, Richard Preston deeply chronicles the outbreak, in which we saw for the first time the specter of Ebola jumping continents, crossing the Atlantic, and infecting people in America. Rich in characters and conflict–physical, emotional, and ethical–Crisis in the Red Zoneis an immersion in one of the great public health calamities of our time.

Preston writes of doctors and nurses in the field putting their own lives on the line, of government bureaucrats and NGO administrators moving, often fitfully, to try to contain the outbreak, and of pharmaceutical companies racing to develop drugs to combat the virus. He also explores the charged ethical dilemma over who should and did receive the rare doses of an experimental treatment when they became available at the peak of the disaster.

Crisis in the Red Zone makes clear that the outbreak of 2013-2014 is a harbinger of further, more severe outbreaks, and of emerging viruses heretofore unimagined–in any country, on any continent. In our ever more interconnected world, with roads and towns cut deep into the jungles of equatorial Africa, viruses both familiar and undiscovered are being unleashed into more densely populated areas than ever before.

The more we discover about the virosphere, the more we realize its deadly potential. Crisis in the Red Zone is an exquisitely timely book, a stark warning of viral outbreaks to come.

I read The Hot Zone over a decade ago, and I instantly fell in love with Richard Preston’s writing. As someone who has always loved science, especially virology, Ebola was always the virus that I found to be the most fascinating and also most terrifying. It’s one of the simplest viruses (as contagious as the common cold), it has the capacity to cross-species jump and evolve, and it completely decimates the human immune system in just 7-10 days (something that takes YEARS for HIV to do). That being said, I have always dreamt of becoming an epidemiologist for the CDC and working in the Hazmat suits on Biosafety Level 4. When I found out that he was doing a follow up to my beloved The Hot Zone, I couldn’t request the book fast enough!

Richard Preston does an incredible job of immersing you into the gruesome reality of Ebola outbreaks. He doesn’t spare you the gorey details. When The Hot Zone was first released in 1994, the seriousness of the Ebola virus did not really register for many Americans since it was a virus that was mostly confined to Africa, and there wasn’t widespread media coverage in the 1970s to really highlight the grim reality. The recent outbreak in 2014, brought Ebola into international spotlight, and The Crisis in the Red Zone provides the details that the media outlets did not have access to.

Preston is able to humanize Ebola. He is able to take the medical and scientific jargon surrounding viruses as a whole and make them digestible to all audiences. He recounts stories of medical workers who attempted to save patients and their horrifying experiences in the Ebola wards. (If medical procedures and bodily fluids that are described in painstaking detail make you queasy, this will most definitely not be for you.) The story alternates between the original 1976 outbreak to the 2014 outbreak to answer what has been learned about Ebola and its evolution during that time period.

Overall, this was another fantastic piece by Richard Preston that gives even more insight into this virus as well as provides hope for a future where we are ultimately able to eradicate this virus once and for all.

Thank you to Random House and NetGalley for providing an eARC. This did not influence my review. All opinions are my own.

Have you read any of Richard Preston’s novels? Is Crisis in the Red Zone on your tbr? Let’s discuss!


  1. You have me sold! I had the opportunity to tour the Rocky Mountain Lab in high school and I have always been curious about the work that goes into research of outbreaks. Lovely review

    Liked by 1 person

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