Beating Back the Devil

By Maryn McKenna
(Free Press, Paperback, 9781439123102, 320pp.)

Publication Date: July 28, 2008

Shop Local
Enter your zip code below to find indies closest to you.




They always keep a bag packed. They seldom have more than twenty-four hours' notice before they are dispatched. The phone calls that tell them to head to the airport, sometimes in the middle of the night, may give them no more information than the country they are traveling to and the epidemic they will tackle when they get there.

The universal human instinct is to run from an outbreak of disease. These doctors run toward it.

They are the disease detective corps of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the federal agency that tracks and tries to prevent disease outbreaks and bioterrorist attacks around the world. They are formally called the Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) -- a group founded more than fifty years ago out of fear that the Korean War might bring the use of biological weapons -- and, like intelligence operatives in the traditional sense, they perform their work largely in anonymity. They are not household names, but over the years they were first to confront the outbreaks that became known as hantavirus, Ebola virus, and AIDS. Now they hunt down the deadly threats that dominate our headlines: West Nile virus, anthrax, and SARS.

In this riveting narrative, Maryn McKenna -- the only journalist ever given full access to the EIS in its fifty-three-year history -- follows the first class of disease detectives to come to the CDC after September 11, the first to confront not just naturally occurring outbreaks but the man-made threat of bioterrorism. They are talented researchers -- many with young families -- who trade two years of low pay and extremely long hours for the chance to be part of the group that has helped eradicate smallpox, push back polio, and solve the first major outbreaks of Legionnaires' disease, toxic shock syndrome, and E. coli O157.

Urgent, exhilarating, and compelling, Beating Back the Devil goes with the EIS as they try to stop epidemics -- before the epidemics stop us.

About the Author

Maryn McKenna is an award-winning science and medical writer and author of Beating Back the Devil: On the Front Lines with the Disease Detectives of the Epidemic Intelligence Service (named one of the top 10 science books of 2004 by Amazon). She currently works as a contributing writer for the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota and is a media fellow at the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. She is a graduate of Georgetown University and the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, and has also studied at Harvard Medical School. She lives in Minneapolis.

Praise For Beating Back the Devil

"Even people who think they know about the CDC and its elite corps of physicians, the Epidemic Intelligence Service, will be surprised by Beating Back the Devil, a rare inside account of how EIS works in an age of terrorist threat. McKenna hopscotches the globe -- from a malaria outbreak in Malawi to SARS in Vietnam -- to bring to life some of the most compelling mysteries confronted by these fearless disease detectives."

"In the tradition of Laurie Garrett and Richard Preston, medical journalist Maryn McKenna tells the fascinating story of some of the most intrepid medical detectives at work today: the Centers for Disease Control's Epidemic Intelligence Service. Beating Back the Devil is both an accessible and detailed account of how these microbe hunters survey, contain, and combat deadly germs in the twenty-first century. It's also a great read."

"In her enthralling first book, Maryn McKenna takes us inside the unexplored world of the Epidemic Intelligence Service, a vital but rarely discussed part of our national public health service. Without McKenna's thorough research and lively narrative, who would have known of the crusading role the EIS has played since the 1950s in solving our most perplexing medical mysteries? In a new world of bioterror threats and harrowing viruses, McKenna's book is a must-read for anyone concerned about the daunting medical challenges of the future."
-Marilyn W. Thompson, author of The Killer Strain: Anthrax and a Government Exposed

Indie Bookstore Finder

Update Profile