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Book Review: Crisis in the Red Zone, by Richard Preston

By Annie St. Francis

Crisis in the Red Zone: The Story of the Deadliest Ebola Outbreak in History, and of the Outbreaks to Come

Crisis in the Red Zone is the true story of Ebola, one of the most terrifying viral pathogens known to man. In telling it, author Richard Preston, takes the reader on a journey back and forth through time, and around the world. Survivor interviews, and countless hours of research surrounding reports – published and unpublished – are the foundation and framework for Preston’s work. He masterfully uses these structures and narrative strategies to tell the stories of the few who survived their encounters with Ebola, and the many who did not.

Playful children including Emile Ouamoung. Village healers like Menindor who practiced medicine and mysticism in the form of ancient traditions. Loved ones who attended the dying, and those left behind to mourn and bury the dead. Clinicians including dedicated nurses and doctors like Dr. Humarr S. Kahn, and “Auntie” Mbalu S. Fonnie. Research specialists and highly trained experts including epidemiologists and virologists, among them Lisa Hensley. The volunteers of charitable organizations including Dr. Lance Plyler of Samaritan’s Purse. Hospital administrators and staff including Simbirie Jalloh. Government officials, among them Gene Olinger. Survivors including Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol. Each of these people becomes the voice of Ebola. In the telling of their encounters, the virus itself speaks.

The drama is palpable, but not by virtue of Preston’s writing style. Preston is a storyteller with the style and form of a skilled investigative journalist. The drama flows forth through the story of Ebola, its path and course in the lives of very real people, the intersections of these life journeys, and the impact and aftermath the virus left in its wake. Having confronted such a pathogen, its vicious consequences including the terror of uncontrolled hemorrhage, the delerium of the gravely ill, and the blank, mask-like faces of the sick who were succumbing to death, those who survived were forever changed.

Richard Preston gives us a look, as well, into the world of viral science, and a future we must face which is filled with grave risk, It is a future for which we must prepare.

Crisis in the Red Zone is an excellent and important work, highly recommended alongside other titles by Richard Preston including The Hot Zone, and Demon in the Freezer. You can find additional titles of interest at our page Disaster Preparedness, Survival Skills, Survival Psychology and Catastrophism.