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Three reporters from The New York Times survey the recent history of biological weapons and sound an alarm about the coming threat of the "poor man's hydrogen bomb." Germs begins ominously enough, recounting the chilling attack by the followers of the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh in 1984 on the Dalles, Oregon--no one died, but nearly 1,000 were infected with a strain of salmonella that the cult had legally obtained, then cultured and distributed.
While the U.S. maintained an active "bugs and gas" program in the '50s and early '60s, bio-weapons were effectively pulled off this country's agenda in 1972 when countries around the world, led by the United States, forswore development of such weapons at the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention. The issue reemerged in the early '90s thanks to Saddam Hussein and revelations of the clandestine and massive buildup of bio-weapons in remote corners of the Soviet Union. The book's description of the Soviet program is horrific. At its peak the program employed thousands of scientists, developing bioengineered pathogens as well as producing hundreds of tons of plague, anthrax, and smallpox annually. The authors conclude that while a biological attack against the United States is not necessarily inevitable, the danger of bio-weapons is too real to be ignored. Well-researched and documented, this book will not disappoint readers looking for a reliable and sober resource on the topic. --Harry C. Edwards [via]