Science books for thriller fans #2

Still shopping for the perfect gift?  Here are more recommendations of great books that science thriller fans might enjoy.

Anthrax: The Investigation of a Deadly Outbreak by Jeanne Guillemin (2001).  This nonfiction book is a fascinating case study in epidemiology, a combination murder mystery and political documentary about biological weapons.  It’s not Jurassic Park, but I found it a very interesting read.  In 1979, in a remote part of the Soviet Union, dozens of people died in an outbreak of anthrax (the stuff feared in white powders sent by anonymous terrorists).  The Soviets claimed this was a natural outbreak, originating in tainted meat, but everything about the event was suspicious.  It wasn’t until after the collapse of the Soviet Union that a team of investigators (which included author Guillemin) in 1992 was allowed into the area.  A systematic study follows, and the data point to an accident at an illegal, secret Soviet biological weapons factory.  Anthrax is about biological warfare, about the methods of epidemiology and airborne disease, and about the suffocating repression of Soviet Russia.

On a completely different note, Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions (1884) is a short novel set in a two-dimensional world inhabited by polygons (men) and lines (women).  Flatland accomplishes two things.  As a math story, it illustrates to the reader how an inhabitant of a particular universe cannot truly comprehend a universe with a greater number of dimensions.  This is illustrated by the narrator (“a square”) traveling to a 1D world (consisting only of a point) and a 3D world (escorted by a godlike sphere).  The story is also a social commentary, describing an elaborate and unforgiving social system in which the number of sides you have determines your status, and irregularity leads to euthanasia.  Really interesting stuff!

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