Book Review: Scourge: The Once and Future Threat of Smallpox by Jonathan B. Tucker

Scourge - Tucker

Scourge: The Once and Future Threat of Smallpox

By Jonathan B. Tucker

My Rating: 4 Stars


In Scourge, Jonathan Tucker chronicles the process of finding and creating, in mass quantities, a vaccine for smallpox. He discusses in great detail the long process of vaccine creation, specifically the vaccine for smallpox. There is some basic discussion of the smallpox virus itself and its affects not only on the human body but the world population as well. Considered a scourge that has been eradicated from the world since 1980 by the World Health Organization, smallpox continues to pose a threat to the world. Tucker, presents the history of this virus from a political and strategic military perspective since its eradication in the 1970’s. In terrifying detail, Tucker presents the discovery of a Soviet plan to use the virus as a biological weapon against the world. This discovery has forced countries to evaluate the safety in destroying stockpiles of the smallpox virus from which vaccines are created and tested on. But keeping stockpiles of the virus present other issues, for example, what would happen should the virus be stolen or mishandled? It’s a difficult question and one that doesn’t come with an easy answer since most countries stopped vaccinating their populations soon after the WHO considered the virus eradicated. The result: creation of vaccine also ceased and thus has left the majority of the world population as risk should an outbreak occur naturally or strategically planned by some group or country.

My Thoughts

This was a fascinating book to read. I’ve always found myself interested in learning about diseases and plagues throughout history and was very interested in seeing how one is eradicated from the world. The efforts to remove the threat of this virus was astounding. The process it took to get to the point of considering it eradicated was long and arduous for those involved. The dedication and perseverance of those involved is to be commended since for many of those involved it became a lifetime endeavor. In addition, I found the aftermath of the eradication to be enlightening if not surprising. Being someone who works for government, I have first hand knowledge of the bureaucracies involved in government decision making. It often feels that those who know what’s best aren’t the ones making the decisions. Sadly, that appears to also be the case here as well, which is both terrifying and disappointing. I’m not trying to imply that the decisions are easy, because they aren’t but I do hope that all sides will be considered and that one government of the world won’t dictate the course of action for the whole world. Don’t worry about this book getting bogged down in a bunch of scientific terms as Tucker is very good at keeping the language simple enough for the layperson.  Never once did I feel like I was in over my head in learning about this topic.  Overall, a great read and highly recommended for anyone interested in scourges and vaccines that aid in eradicating them.


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