At 2:00am on October 2, 2001, Robert Stevens entered a hospital emergency room. Feverish, nauseated, and barely conscious, no one knew what was making him sick. It was the doctors and public health officials who solved this medical mystery. Stevens was the first fatal victim of bioterrorism in America.
The events of September 11th and the anthrax attacks that followed only three weeks later were horrifying. Many of us felt we were living in a world gone mad. Already shaken by the images of jetliners deliberately flown into the Twin Towers at the World Trade Center, we were soon scared to open our mail. No longer could we look forward to birthday wishes or holiday postcards. We couldn t even safely face the delivery of our monthly bills. We had now become literally afraid of the microbial menace that could be lurking in our mailboxes. This time terror had struck close to home to everyone s home.
But behind the panic and the politics was a key line of defense. While the police and FBI frantically investigated a crime, there were other professionals at work, conducting their own painstaking inquiry medical and scientific detectives hot on the trail of deadly organisms deliberately set loose in the postal system. Modern heroes in a quickly changing world, the public health officials, physicians, researchers, and scientists who staff our hospitals, clinics, and laboratories will be the first responders on the scene of any future biowarfare event.
Conducting his own detective work, bioterrorism expert Leonard Cole has composed a series of fascinating stories that get to the heart of all the noisy sound bytes and hysterical headlines. Cole is the only person outside law enforcement to have interviewed every one of the surviving inhalation-anthrax victims, along with the relatives, friends, and associates of those who died, as well as the public health officials, scientists, researchers, hospital workers, and treating physicians indeed, anyone who has something of value to add to the story. Speaking through their voices, the narrative reflects the tension and emotions stirred by the events from the fall of 2001.
Fast paced and riveting, this minute-by-minute chronicle of the anthrax attacks recounts more than a history of recent current events, it uncovers the untold and perhaps even more important story of how scientists, doctors, and researchers perform life-saving work under intense pressure and public scrutiny. The Anthrax Letters amply demonstrates how vulnerable America and the world really were in 2001. It also shows quite clearly how scientific research promises to strengthen our ability to address the challenges we must meet in the future.
Named a 2004 Honor Book by the New Jersey Council for the Humanities
"The anthrax attacks of 2001 took five lives and terrified a nation. Leonard Cole assumed the massive task of considering how these unprecedented attacks touched us individually and collectively, and he skillfully put them in a context that will help us understand how they unfolded and how we might address the bioterrorist threat in the future. The Anthrax Letters
is a compelling human story told with scientific integrity."
-- Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD)
"Mr. Cole's new study is one of the most authoritative of the recent crop of books on the anthrax letters, and it is helped by the author's unfailingly clear writing style, which makes the biological threat of anthrax easy to understand. The narrative Mr. Cole weaves is undeniably intriguing."
-- The Washington Times
, November 16, 2003
"... [a] thoroughly researched, detailed, and fascinating book... Anyone interested in learning more about this unique episode in the history of biological warfare would find Professor Cole's book informative and enlightening. The Anthrax Letters
is a well-written forensic mystery, much more intellectually challenging, stimulating, and rewarding than any fictional television program."
-- Journal of the American Medical Association
, July 21, 2004
"...a lucid and compelling narrative, meticulously and thoroughly researched, which sheds light on our country's recent encounter with bioterrorism. ...[a] comprehensive presentation of the science underlying our encounter with anthrax, of its victims, as well as the role that continued work in the field will play in strengthening our defense against future acts of this kind. ...a laudable work."
-- New Jersey Council for the Humanities
, August 2004
"The subject of bioterrorism is probably not high on your holiday reading list, but The Anthrax Letters
ought to be. It is absolutely riveting. Here's a promise. Read the prologue and you'll read the book. ... [Cole is] a superb writer and his book reads like a fine-tuned suspense novel. The story, of course, is not fiction, but a true mystery that probes behind the panic of the anthrax attack of 2001. Cole undertook his own, enlightened investigation, and has interviewed all of the surviving victims whose stories--until now--have remained out of the news. There are also fascinating portraits of the doctors, researchers, and scientists who worked behind the scenes amid the storm of events. Like the spores themselves, secrets are swirling, and the author brings them into the light in this inspired account."
-- DingBat Magazine
, December 2003
"Disentangling a coherent story from the snarl of conflicting reports, multi-agency responses, blaring headlines, empty leads and the shaky scientific data surrounding the anthrax attacks is no simple task, which makes Cole's accomplished book all the more impressive. As an expert on the intersection of politics and terrorism, Cole (The Eleventh Plague
) takes the reader on a captivating, no-nonsense tour of America's public health system... The book also supplies the chilling details that the short-lived media flareup failed to convey... Without even a hint of sensationalism, this disquieting but hopeful book skillfully zeros in on the most crucial issues and scientific advances as well as the heroic individuals who averted disaster while under the intense glare of public scrutiny."
-- Publishers Weekly
, September 1, 2003
"[The Anthrax Letters
] offers us a wealth of detail on the case -- even as it reminds us how little we know."
-- James P. Pinkerton in Newsday
, October 7, 2003
"And while it can at times deliver all the drama of a modern-day thriller, the 240-page book also offers the most complete look available at the still-unsolved mystery of how and why 22 people became infected with anthrax between Oct. 4 and Nov. 21, 2001."
-- Roll Call
, October 14, 2003
"[Cole's] storytelling abilities rank with those of Richard Preston, without ever losing sight of the science. His detailed case histories and timelines flesh out the familiar media reports of the October 2001 U.S. anthrax by mail attacks, and give the human side of the tragedy."
-- Lancet Journal of Infectious Diseases
, January 1, 2004
"Carefully drawn chronology of the anthrax episodes of September and October 2001. They came and went at such speed and at such an overwhelming time that it is pardonable to remember the anthrax-bearing letters as a bad dream. But five people died from them, and this tight narrative of the events makes it clear that they were a mortal cog in the wheel that led to Homeland Security, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Bioterrorism expert Cole also makes it baldly clear that the letters' nasty cargo might easily have claimed many more lives if health professionals hadn't acted with admirable intuition and dispatch, rising to the occasion like latter-day Minutemen. ... The author sketches vivid portraits of the bacteria, those who were infected, and those whose job it was to counter the threat and prepare the nation for biological attack."
-- Kirkus Reviews
, August 2003
"For most of the 22 victims of the anthrax letters, Cole provides extensive detail on the circumstances surrounding their infection, diagnosis, treatment and eventual recovery or tragic death. ... As an expert in bio-terrorism, Cole is at his best narrating the physicians' initial suspicion of anthrax infection, and the subsequent awakening of the massive national response network at the local, state and federal levels. ...Cole provides a fascinating account of how quickly the diagnostic facts of medical science became national feelings of terror."
-- Rocky Mountain News
, October 31, 2003
"Cole provides excellent insights into how the attacks affected the victims, their families, and society, revealing the horror, fear, and confusion as well as efforts by the government and public health services to react quickly and appropriately. ... [he] provides a fascinating discussion of the attacks and how they will influence our level of preparedness for the future."
-- Library Journal
, November 1, 2003
"The Anthrax Letters
is a terrific read. The book is a masterful piece of reporting, written with absolute strength and clarity, and the background research Cole has done is slam-on right, impressive in its detail and insight. Cole talked to all kinds of sources no other reporter was able to reach, and he turned the research into a first rate work of narrative describing the first major bioterror event the modern world has seen."
-- Richard Preston, author of The Demon in the Freezer
and The Hot Zone
"Luck perhaps has been most accurately defined as where the road of preparation crosses the road of opportunity. For me, these two paths met when I encountered an ill Bob Stevens on October 2, 2001. Leonard Cole's chronicle of the anthrax attacks records with detailed accuracy the medical epidemiological and investigative aspects of these historical events. His narrative is fascinating, insightful, and thought-provoking."
-- Larry M. Bush, M.D.., Florida physician who diagnosed the first anthrax case
"The most effective antidote to biological terrorism is information. Only frank discussion of our vulnerabilities and preparedness will inoculate us against the most contagious agent we face: fear. Leonard Cole makes an invaluable contribution to that discussion with this in-depth look at the people, places and events involved in the 2001 mail-borne anthrax attacks. When the final chapter is written, and the case is solved, this book will have helped point the way to a safer America."
-- Congressman Christopher Shays (R-CT), Chairman of the Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats, and International Relations
"For those seriously interested in the 'anthrax letter' events, there is interesting and genuinely informative reading... The humanity of the individuals who contracted anthrax is effectively brought home and what they felt and how they and those around them reacted are enlighteningly described..."
-- Bulletin of the World Health Organization
, January 2004
"The author has done an excellent job with this investigation and this book is probably the most detailed book on the subject. For those who want the big picture of the anthrax attacks, this book is a must."
-- Counterterrorism Homeland Security Reports