Home > Uncategorized > Mark Pendergrast: “Inside The Outbreaks”

Mark Pendergrast: “Inside The Outbreaks”

June 25, 2010

A few days ago, the Science News Book Club offered a free copy of Inside The Outbreaks: the elite medical detectives of the Epidemic Intelligence Service for the first seven people to respond.  So I did, and I was, and today the book came in the mail!  Yipee!

There’s a lot of weird stuff on my bookcases but certain themes indicate a personal fascination with disaster and failure.  There are lots of books about structural engineering and collapses, about plane crashes, about industrial explosions and toxic leaks, about big projects gone horribly wrong, about forensic crime investigations, and maybe twenty books on disease and epidemiology.  It’s not a new thing with me; I even have a book about Kuru that predates the discovery of prions.  Call me ghoulish but for some reason I like knowing about this stuff.

Inside The Outbreaks is about teams of CDC investigators who are first on the ground to face horrors most people would rather not think about. The agency dates back to the Korean War, and in “lives saved per dollar” they’re a fantastic investment.  In one way or another they’ve probably saved your life or that of someone you love, but hardly anyone knows about them.  They worked around the world before the word “globalism” was even a thing. 

UPDATE: I’m now four chapters into the book, and it reads as if it were written by Joe Friday from Dragnet; unflinching and crystal-clear.  Considerable drama, but no speculative descriptions of someone raising an eyebrow and pondering what was around the corner.  No punches pulled, either.

UPDATE: Chapter 11, on the final push to eliminate Smallpox, is incredibly moving.  I sort of knew abstractly how complex it had to be, to get into little villages in Bangladesh and vaccinate people who are afraid of strangers and foreigners, but it takes on a whole other dimension in this story.  The narrative style of the book is well suited to focusing the intensity of events.

Pendergrast and other contributors to the book will be on the Science News Book Club site over the next few weeks, answering questions from readers.  Thanks SNBC!


  • Review of the book by Steve Schoenbaum, former CDC Epidemic Intelligence Service investigator.

  • Yeah, awful as the BP spill is, you know I’ll be studying it for a long time to come.  There’s just so much to know.


Categories: Uncategorized
  1. June 26, 2010 at 16:27 | #1

    “a lot of weird stuff on my bookcases but certain themes indicate a personal fascination with disaster and failure.”

    Same here, cept they’re all self-authored. 

    I do remember when you bought the book on the Johnstown Flood … I thought that was pretty cool.

  2. June 27, 2010 at 11:40 | #2

    Yeah that’s a “good” one.  (Horrible, actually).  Diane and I visited the area and drove the path up the Little Conemaugh, saw the interactive displays and the remains of the dam at the former South Fork Hunting and Fishing Club.

    Remember the one about the Frank slide, that I got while we were camping in Superior?

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