The Hot Zone: The Terrifying True Story of the Origins of the Ebola Virus

The Hot Zone: The Terrifying True Story of the Origins of the Ebola Virus

by Richard Preston

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The bestselling landmark account of the first emergence of the Ebola virus.

Now a mini-series drama starring Julianna Margulies, Topher Grace, Liam Cunningham, James D'Arcy, and Noah Emmerich on National Geographic.

A highly infectious, deadly virus from the central African rain forest suddenly appears in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. There is no cure. In a few days 90 percent of its victims are dead. A secret military SWAT team of soldiers and scientists is mobilized to stop the outbreak of this exotic "hot" virus. The Hot Zone tells this dramatic story, giving a hair-raising account of the appearance of rare and lethal viruses and their "crashes" into the human race. Shocking, frightening, and impossible to ignore, The Hot Zone proves that truth really is scarier than fiction.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307817655
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/14/2012
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 448
Sales rank: 8,475
File size: 7 MB

About the Author

Richard Preston is the author of several books, most recently The Cobra Event. He is a regular contribuot to The New Yorker. He has also won the AAAS-Westinghouse Award and the McDermott Award in the Arts from MIT.


Hopewell, New Jersey

Date of Birth:

August 5, 1954

Place of Birth:

Cambridge, Massachusetts


B.A., Pomona College, 1976; Ph.D. in English, Princeton University, 1983

Read an Excerpt

The headache begins, typically, on the seventh day after exposure to the agent. On the seventh day after his New Year’s visit to Kitum cave-January 8, 1980-Monet felt a throbbing pain behind his eyeballs. He decided to stay home from work and went to bed in his bungalow. The headache grew worse. His eyeballs ached, and then his temples began to ache, the pain seeming to circle around inside his head. It would not go away with aspirin, and then he got a severe backache. His housekeeper, Johnnie, was still on her Christmas vacation, and he had recently hired a temporary housekeeper. She tried to take care of him, but she really didn’t know what to do. Then, on the third day after his headache started, he became nauseated, spiked a fever, and began to vomit. His vomiting grew intense and turned into dry heaves. At the same time, he became strangely passive. His face lost all appearance of life and set itself into an expressionless mask, with the eyeballs fixed, paralytic, and staring. The eyelids were slightly droopy, which gave him a peculiar appearance, as if his eyes were popping out of his head and half closed at the same time. The eyeballs themselves seemed almost frozen in their sockets, and they turned bright red. The skin of his face turned yellowish, with a brilliant starlike red speckles. He began to look like a zombie. His appearance frightened the temporary housekeeper. She didn’t understand the transformation in this man. His personality changed. He became sullen, resentful, angry, and his memory seemed to be blown away. He was not delirious. He could answer questions, although he didn’t seem to know exactly where he was.

When Monet failed to show up for work, his colleagues began to wonder about him, and eventually they went to his bungalow to see if he was all right. The black-and-white crow sat on the roof and watched them as they went inside. They looked at Monet and decided that he needed to get to a hospital. Since he was very unwell and no longer able to drive a car, one of his co-workers drove him to a private hospital in the city of Kisumu, on the shore of Lake Victoria. The doctors at the hospital examined Monet, and could not come up with any explanation for what had happened to his eyes or his face or his mind. Thinking that he might have some kind of bacterial infection, they gave him injections of antibiotics, but the antibiotics had no effect on his illness.

The doctors thought he should go to Nairobi Hospital, which is the best private hospital in East Africa. The telephone system hardly worked, and it did not seem worth the effort to call any doctors to tell them that he was coming. He could still walk, and he seemed able to travel by himself. He had money; he understood he had to get to Nairobi. They put him in a taxi to the airport, and he boarded a Kenya Airways flight.

A hot virus from the rain forest lives within a twenty-four hour plane flight from every city on earth. All of the earth’s cities are connected by a web of airline routes. The web is a network. Once a virus hits the net, it can shoot anywhere in a day æParis, Tokyo, New York, Los Angeles, wherever planes fly. Charles Monet and the life form inside him had entered the net.

The plane was a Fokker Friendship with propellers, a commuter aircraft that seats thirty-five people. It started its engines and took off over Lake Victoria, blue and sparkling, dotted with the dugout canoes of fishermen. The Friendship turned and banked eastward, climbing over green hills quilted with tea plantations and small farms. The commuter flights that drone across Africa are often jammed with people, and this flight was probably full. The plane climbed over belts of forest and clusters of round huts and villages with tin roofs. The land suddenly dropped away, going down in shelves and ravines, and changed in color from green to brown. The plane was crossing the Eastern rift valley. The passengers looked out the windows at the place where the human species was born. They say specks of huts clustered inside circles of thornbush, with cattle trails radiating from the huts. The propellers moaned, and the friendship passed through cloud streets, lines of puffy rift clouds, and began to bounce and sway. Monet became airsick.

The seats are narrow and jammed together on these commuter airplanes, and you notice everything that is happening inside the cabin. The cabin is tightly closed, and the air recirculates. If there are any smells in the air, you perceive them. You would not have been able to ignore the man who was getting sick. He hunches over in his seat. There is something wrong with him, but you can’t tell exactly what is happening.
He is holding an airsickness bag over his mouth. He coughs a deep cough and regurgitates something into the bag. The bag swells up. Perhaps he glances around, and then you see that his lips are smeared with something slippery and red, mixed with black specks, as if he has been chewing coffee grounds. His eyes are the color of rubies, and his face is an expressionless mass of bruises. The red spots, which a few days before had started out as starlike speckles, have expanded and merged into huge, spontaneous purple shadows: his whole head is turning black-and-blue. The muscles of his face droop. The connective tissue in his face is dissolving, and his face appears to hang from the underlying bone, as if the face is detaching itself from the skull. He opens his mouth and gasps into the bag, and the vomiting goes on endlessly. It will not stop, and he keeps bringing up liquid, long after his stomach should have been empty. The airsickness bag fills up to the brim with a substance know as the vomito negro, or the black vomit. The black vomit is not really black; it is a speckled liquid of two colors, black and red, a stew of tarry granules mixed with fresh red arterial blood. It is hemorrhage, and it smells like a slaughterhouse. The black vomit is loaded with virus. It is highly infective, lethally hot, a liquid that would scare the daylights out of a military biohazard specialist. The smell of the vomito negro fills the passenger cabin. The airsickness bag is brimming with black vomit, so Monet closes the bag and rolls up the top. The bag is bulging and softening threatening to leak, and he hands it to a flight attendant.

When a hot virus multiplies in a host, it can saturate the body with virus particles, from the brain to the skin. The military experts then say that the virus has undergone “extreme amplification.” This is not something like the common cold. By the time an extreme amplification peaks out, an eyedropper of the victim’s blood may contain a hundred million particles. In other words, the host is possessed by a life form that is attempting to convert the host into itself. The transformation is not entirely successful, however, and the end result is a great deal of liquefying flesh mixed with virus, a kind of biological accident. Extreme amplification has occurred in Monet, and the sign of it is the black vomit.

He appears to be holding himself rigid, as if any movement would rupture something inside him. His blood is clotting upæhis bloodstream is throwing clots, and the clots are lodging everywhere. His liver, kidneys, lungs, hands, feet, and head are becoming jammed with blood clots. In effect, he is having a stroke through the whole body. Clots are accumulating in his intestinal muscles, cutting off the blood supply to his intestines. The intestinal muscles are beginning to die, and the intestines are starting to go slack. He doesn’t seem to be fully aware of pain any longer because the blood clots lodged in his brain are cutting off blood flow. His personality is being wiped away by brain damage. This is called depersonalization, in which the liveliness and details of character seem to vanish. He is becoming an automaton. Tiny spots in his brain are liquefying. The higher functions of consciousness are winking out first, leaving the deeper parts of the brain stem (the primitive rat brain, the lizard brain) still alive and functioning. It could be said that the who of Charles Monet has already died while the what of Charles Monet continues to live.

The vomiting attack appears to have broken some blood vessels in his noseæhe gets a nosebleed. The blood comes from both nostrils, a shining, clotless, arterial liquid that drips over his teeth and chin. This blood keeps running, because the clotting factors have been used up. A flight attendant gives him some paper towels, which he uses to stop up his nose, but the blood still won’t coagulate, and the towels soak through.

When a man is ill in an airline seat next to you, you may not want to embarrass him by calling attention to the problem. You say to yourself that this man will be all right. Maybe he doesn’t travel well in airplanes. He is airsick, the poor man, and people do get nosebleeds in airplanes, the air is so dry and thin. . . and you ask him, weakly, if there is anything you can do to help. He does not answer, or he mumbles words you can’t understand, so you try to ignore it, but the flight seems to go on forever. Perhaps the flight attendants offer to help him. But victims of this type of hot virus have changes in behavior that can render them incapable of responding to an offer of help. They become hostile, and don’t want to be touched. They don’t want to speak.. They answer questions with grunts or monosyllables. They can’t seem to find words. They can tell you their name, but they can’t tell you the day of the week or explain what has happened to them.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"One of the most horrifying things I've ever read. What a remarkable piece of work."
—Stephen King

"Popular science writing at its best and the year's most infectious page-turner."

"A top-drawer horror story...the best literary roller coaster of the fall."

Customer Reviews

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The Hot Zone: The Terrifying True Story of the Origins of the Ebola Virus 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 342 reviews.
lost_in_a_book More than 1 year ago
This book was recommended to me after I had commented about non-fiction books that weren't dry and dull. I picked the book up and read it straight through. Parts of the book actually creeped me out thinking about what is actually out there around us and how fragile human life really is. Unlike some books this title reels you within the first 10 pages. I would recommend this book to anyone who needs information on the Ebola virus or just wants a, 'different read'.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The amazing writing makes this book worth reading. I never would have bought the book because I had no interest in horrible diseases. I started reading this book on an airplane only because another airline customer had left it behind. I could not put it down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This non-fiction book, about the outbreak of the Ebola virus, is terrifying on a visceral level. To learn about the details of how the virus works, and how close we have come to a epidemic, is chilling. Preston writes in a very journalistic fashion, which is factual and clear, but can be a bit repetitive at times. Overall, a great read that will keep you up at night!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was extremely enjoyable. When I wasn't glued to its pages, I was thinking about it. I didn't sleep for days because it was absolutely terrifying. I am paranoid whenever I get a headache, but it is worth it. This book has made me interested in pathology and virology and of course Ebola.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read this book when it first came out. I just bought it again because I loved it sooo muchand wanted it as a ebook. It scares me that it is a true story. I think it is a MUST READ for everyone.
RebeccaScaglione More than 1 year ago
I was going to pick up The Hot Zone by Richard Preston on Thanksgiving, but then thought better of it when I realized it was about the Ebola virus. Ebola virus and handling raw turkey and tons of food. . . probably not a good idea. So after Thanksgiving, I picked up The Hot Zone, and flew through this book. This true story is part history of the Ebola virus, and part horror story about its outbreak in Africa and, in the 1990s, near Washington, D.C. The Ebola virus is a "hot" virus, meaning that it spreads like crazy with victims having little chance of getting better after being infected. Ebola is transferred through minuscule amounts of blood and possibly through the air. Up to 90% of people infected with Ebola will die within a very short period of time, and die a very gruesome death. This book was not gory (except in one or two quick parts), but the Ebola virus sure is! The virus can cause humans to "bleed out" of every opening in their bodies, turning their insides to mush. The Hot Zone is a fantastic book about the outbreak of the Ebola virus, a supremely deadly virus without a cure or vaccination. But it sure makes me want to wash my hands a lot!!!! Have you read any good health or virus books? Thanks for reading, Rebecca @ Love at First Book
sakumi90 More than 1 year ago
The Hot Zone by Richard Preston was an amazing read that keeps you enthralled throughout the whole book. It starts off with the introduction of the Ebola virus into the world of the human beings. It describes the virus in such a vivid and descriptive way that even through all of the gore I was amazed by how the author could put such vivid descriptions in my head. There is no real storyline throughout Part 1 of this book but, with such detail it kept me wanting to read more every time I picked it up. The plot begins in Part 2 where we meet military microbiologists that research deadly diseases. Part 2 felt like a slow area to me where the setting and characters are introduced while the tension builds to a turning point. Each page of Part 2 leads the reader into a deeper part of the character's lives especially the Jaaxes. Then once at Part 3 the book explodes into a scene of chaos with the characters introduced in Part 2 being the main characters. I felt that Part 3 was the best part of this book because it had all the detail of Part 1, exciting and exhilarating action scenes, while keeping the plot going and still keeping the focus on the characters. Part 3 had a certain feel to it that conveyed emotions to me. When the action picked up and the characters were in a tense state, I could feel the tension from just reading. Richard Preston is a great writer in that he could make me feel those emotions with words. Overall, just the readability of this book is what got me. When I first picked up this book, I thought, "Oh, it's a science book, it's going to be boring." But, it was not. With the plot and detail, it hooked me instantly. I one hundred percent recommend for you to read this book, you will not regret it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The first time I read this book, right after it was published, it scared the hell out of me - literally!! I grew up in a doctor's family, and blood, diseases, hospitals and car accidents were just a part of the stories that my family sometimes (not always, of course) heard at the dinner table...that is, when my father, a small-town surgeon, actually made it home in time for dinner. But.....he had done his residency and internship at Grady Memorial Hospital, Atlanta's largest facility, and also its public hospital, so my Mom was always worried that he would bring something exotic home to which he had been exposed. He and I actually shared the Mumps one year! Anyway - Atlanta is also the home both the Centers for Disease Control, AND also for the USA's busiest airport - Hartsfield General International. Right now, the death toll for Ebola is over 700, and climbing OUT OF CONTROL! The CDC has announced today that they are dispatching DOZENS of more personnel to West Africa, AND the US State Department today issued a report cautioning US Citizens NOT to travel to West Africa until further notice. Read this book - learn how both the Ebola and Marburg viruses were discovered back in 1976 (in one instance after contaminated monkeys almost escaped from a facility in Maryland, into the Wasington, D.C. suburbs....the book reads like a thriller, but it was, AND NOW IS AGAIN! all true. You may not sleep very well for a while...;-)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read this book in high school after my biology teacher read the first couple chapters in class. I was hooked and this was the first book that I read for pleasure in my entire life. I couldn't put it down. I highly recommend it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
In light of the current outbreak of Ebola, this book scared the sh*t out of me. His prediction has become a reality. A factual story but very readable. I only wish it was a work of fiction. This last ongoing outbreak has killed more people in the last six months than all the other cases since the sixties. Fore-warned is fore-armed. I'm not a doomsday freak but this book along with the current status of Ebola Zaire outbreak has me wondering. Unfortunately, Mr. Preston was correct in his assessment in 1994. Read this book and prepare.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Not Preston's best work in my opinion but certainly informative and shocking. If you liked this book and enjoy fiction than 'The Cobra Event' by Preston may be just what you need.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is the scariest book I've ever read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
In the early 70s I interviewed for an animal caretaker's job at Hazelton Labs. As an animal lover, a tour of the facility convinced me I was a poor fit for the type of work they were doing. After reading this book I'm grateful I wasn't hired.
Kris90 More than 1 year ago
I would recommend the novel, The Hot Zone, because it shows how easily an unknown virus could harm the human race. The Hot Zone also makes one realize the fragility of humanity I chose to read and do the assignment on a novel because I love to read anything I can get my hands on and I enjoy writing. I chose this book particularly because I find learning about viruses, the food chain and the science of biology interesting. It is fascinating to learn that humans are still prey to some organisms and humans are not the most dangerous species to other life on Earth. I learned a great deal from this novel about Bio-safety containment. For example the fact that hot agents are kept in negative air pressure so if there is a breach in security they will go into the other zones instead of the outside world. (Page 57) and I also learned how viruses manifest in organisms. There are only two negative aspects about this novel: the first is that it needs to be read in a short period of time or you risk forgetting characters and their relationship to the virus and other characters. "Her immediate superior was Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Johnson (he is not related to Gene Johnson, the civilian who was the head of the Ebola project." (Page 65). The second negative component is the author's detailed description about what the virus will do to the victim's body. "The muscles of his face droop. The connective tissue in his face is dissolving, and his face appears to hang from the underlying bone, as if the face is detaching itself from the skull."(Page 17). The Hot Zone it is a great reading experience and assisted me in understanding viruses. It also makes me ponder what other virus are out there undiscovered waiting to make the leap into infecting the human race.
bayard More than 1 year ago
I liked this book the most because It is true. If it weren't for that than it would not be nearly as good.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The book starts with a case of what we later find out is a Level 4 Biosafety hot virus called Marburg. The beginning of the book follows “Charles Monet” and his case of Marburg throughout his home in Central Africa and to the Nairobi Hospital. Monet has symptoms vomiting, diarrhea and red eye and without treatment, his condition deteriorates further. This leads to a coma that he never recovers from. Marburg is categorized as a filovirus that also classifies other sister viruses such as the different strains of the Ebola virus. In this book you follow different stories that all lead back to one collective case; this case brings the book to a close and all of the loose ends are tied up. Overall, I found Hot Zone to be enlightening and informative; as well as, disturbing and scarring. Richard Preston did not with hold the grueling details of the Ebola Virus. Having read this book at a time when Ebola is a threat was slightly discomforting and left me feeling uneasy. This book had a huge impact on my outlook of Ebola and other Level 4 Biosafety hot viruses in more ways than just scaring me. For instance, I learned a lot about how active the United States government is when it comes to disease control and the spread of fatal viruses which I found to be very reassuring. USAMRIID at Fort Detrick along with the C.D.C. closely monitor and research any biological threat to our population and “nuke” any risk when there is one. This book was broken up into 4 different parts and followed several people that all came together in the end. I like how the book was split into 4 parts because it made it easier to follow while reading the book; however, following multiple people at once got confusing. It became hard to keep track of all of the different characters and corresponding virus stories, but when they all came together at the end I realized what Preston was doing and it all made sense as well as benefitted the story.  I would recommend this book to someone who enjoys reading about viruses and diseases as well as the more medical side of biology, which I like about it. This book revolves around Ebola and other hot agents, so if that is something that interests you, this book will be entertaining for you. I would not recommend this book to anyone with a sensitive stomach due to the graphic details apparent. Also, anyone who does not find biology interesting is not recommended to read this book because although it is very well written, it would not grasp your attention.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It starts a little slow. Well, after the first few pages. :) It picks up steam and doesn't slow down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
MrsGris More than 1 year ago
In 2014 with Ebola once again un the news, I found this book fascinating.  Filled with informative details about viruses, animals and human biology and nature, this book is anything but dry.  It is written as a great story that kept me riveted page after page.  Anyone who wants to learn about modern day virus outbreaks and how the government and news media  might handle such events would like this book.  
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read this years ago and found it fascinating and frightening. The current Ebola epidemic in Africa makes this a timely read. Highly recommend!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book scared the hell out of me .... an excellent and thrilling read!
TRing More than 1 year ago
The story was very exciting and interesting at the beginning but it didn't keep my attention on every page like I would have liked it to. As for the character,s there were many of them and the book wasn’t focused on any certain one so it was hard to follow. I did find myself waiting to see what they would do and how they would deal with Ebola, though; if they would continue research with a family at home that needed them, what one of the characters was going to do when her father was dying, if anyone was going to get infected, and so on. The story took place in many different towns, even different countries. At first, the story took place in Kitum Cave and then it moved to places like Sudan. The viruses took over hospitals and houses, so it took place there, too. It took place on airplanes and in buildings. Wherever the Ebola virus could have traveled, the story took place. In the middle, it took place in Reston, Virginia in a monkey house. It ended touching on Kitum Cave and the monkey house in Reston again. It was terrifying to read about how the viruses affected the body. At one point, I had a stomach ache from envisioning the details. Considering it's nonfiction, it's definitely believable. The science content presented is definitely accurate. I don’t think it kept my attention very well, constantly discussing the facts and details and using big words, but in the end it made me realize that those things actually kept me understanding how real it was. While I was reading the book, I started looking up things about Ebola because I wanted to learn more. It’s a very scary virus.  I would give the story a four out of five stars and recommend it to people who are interested in viruses and epidemiology. I wouldn't recommend it to people who lose interest easily because there were some points where it got extremely boring. Teenagers and up is an appropriate age range along with both males and females. People who are interested in science would definitely enjoy the book.  
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The book The Hot Zone, by Richard Preston, is a riveting nonfiction thriller. It captures the reader’s attention during the first chapter, and keeps it through the last page. Preston gives a terrifying and detailed description of the effects of the filovirus Ebola, which is a level four “hot agent,” which means that it is lethal, highly contagious, and potentially airborne. Once you begin reading this book, you won’t be able to put it down. You are wondering nonstop who has contracted the virus, and whether or not it will spread. Although the virus originated in Africa, it shows up in the Reston Monkey House, just outside of Washington DC. To prevent a massive outbreak of the horrific virus in the human population, the United States army gets involved. Preston introduces you to many of the characters, making you care about them, and then puts them in a position where they could potentially contract Ebola. This makes the book even more exhilarating. Although this is a nonfiction read, it has just as much action and excitement as any science fiction novel. This makes it the perfect book to read for science courses, because it is educational as well as interesting. Although I personally read this book for school, I would highly recommend it to anyone who wanted to read it for leisure as well. The fact that this is a true story makes is even more shocking and frightening. It makes readers realize just how fragile life is. A virus so small that it cannot be seen with the naked eye has the capability to kill ninety percent of the people who come in contact with it. The Hot Zone has made me appreciate the value of true stories. I never used to enjoy nonfiction, but now I know that there are nonfiction books out there that are thought-provoking and fun to read. I for one will be looking for another book by Richard Preston. He definitely knows how to capture a reader’s attention.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A great read,hard to put down.
gragonfly More than 1 year ago
i remember years ago --- working for ladenburge thalman in the mailroom --- i was cool with one of the security guards ( an ex - marine)...he once suggested this read with a heads up, " no joke ". he was right on. i couldn't put this book down. a lucid read that will make your hairs stand up ( if you're bald, then this book will make your hair grow)...serious none BS read.