It seems appropriate that I’m publishing a ThriveAP Book Club post this afternoon. My Nashville book club (i.e. excuse to get together and drink wine) is having our annual holiday party this evening. Our sig-o’s will be joining us at a lively downtown eatery for some live music and conversation. Can’t wait. While my Nashville book club is a bit more social, I always enjoy a good, thought-provoking medical read like those I post here on the blog. 

I selected The Hot Zone as this month’s Book Club pick for obvious reasons. With Ebola’s arrival in the United States and an outbreak of the deadly disease still raging across the globe, I wanted to get as much perspective as possible on the illness. The Hot Zone did not disappoint.

I first read The Hot Zone in nursing school, it came highly recommended by a friend. The book fascinated me then, but was read, ditched in a bookshelf, and ultimately forgotten. I digested it as an interesting read rather than a unique perspective on current events in science and medicine. Given The Hot Zone’s newfound relevance, I found the read even more fascinating the second time around.

In the book, Richard Preston recounts a graphic description of the Ebola virus and the toll it takes on the human body. He describes how Ebola “liquefies the liver…turning it into pudding” and how it’s victims “crash and bleed out”. He describes the virus’ spread stating it transforms the ill into “human virus bombs”. Preston personifies the virus, “it did not know what humans are; or perhaps you could say that it knew only too well what humans are: humans are meat”, describing it’s biology with chilling effect.

Preston traces outbreaks of Ebola and it’s cousin Marburg virus back to specific individuals describing how these deadly viruses travel from one host to another. He recounts stories of doctors treating the Ebola virus and scientists studying it’s intricacies under the protection of a bulky space suit.

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Admittedly, The Hot Zone’s riveting language and grotesque descriptions that make it such a compelling read are a little over the top. Words like “liquefy” predominate throughout the novel instilling an emotional and reactionary response to the nonfiction novel. Preston focuses on the extremes of what the virus can do, although the course the virus runs in the body doesn’t always take such a dramatic turn. Not all Ebola victims bleed out or “weep tears of blood”. Preston plays on the dramatic when he describes “airborne Ebola” with a muddied explanation of aerosolization vs. actual airborne transmission.

Despite Preston’s over-the-top description of the toll Ebola takes on the human body and dramatization of the research process, I enjoyed the novel. It gave life to the dry, research articles I have read about the virus and context to the faces of Ebola victims we have recently seen on the news. While Preston’s Hot Zone reads as a scientific thriller and adds to the recent hype behind the virus’ outbreak, it offers valuable insight and information about the Ebola virus. It gives, at the very least, context for the hype and interest behind the outbreak. Regardless of if you find Preston’s flare for the dramatic too much for a nonfiction read, The Hot Zone is a must-read for nurse practitioners.

What did you think of The Hot Zone?


Follow along with the ThriveAP Book Club! Next month’s pick is The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat: And Other Clinical Tales by Oliver Sacks. Feel free to post suggestions for future ThriveAP Book Club reads by posting a comment .


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