Book Reviews

The Hot Zone

Richard Preston

Coincidentally, my bedtime reading this last couple of weeks has been The Hot Zone by Richard Preston.  I say coincidentally, because of the recent reports of a new Ebola outbreak in west Africa.  The book, written in 1994, is a true account of the time that Ebola infected a monkey house within a few miles of the White House in the United States.


Preston takes the reader deep into western Kenya to Mount Elgon around 1979 with Charles Monet, to explore Kitum Cave, a favoured destination for mammals, reptiles, bats and insects over many millennia.  Seven days after his visit, Monet feels unwell and we are treated to a vivid description of what dying from Ebola is like.  To make sure we understand the horrors of death by a filovirus, Preston continues to present cases and uses these as a vehicle to describe the science behind Ebola.  He makes a good job of this, and never was I left feeling as though I needed a PhD in infectious diseases to understand what he was saying.

1983 sees the USAMRIID make an entrance, the US institute responsible for safeguarding against biological weapons and disease.  They are involved in carrying out experiments to create protection against diseases such as the Ebola virus.

Preston moves back and forth between the institute and the African rain forests describing more terrifying cases as he goes.  You would think by now the book would have become repetitive, but it didn’t seem like that to me.  I just felt as though something bad was building.

Suddenly, we are taken to a monkey house in Reston, Virginia, and the ‘something bad’ became apparent.  A new consignment of monkeys is flown into JFK International Airport from south-east Asia.  We are still not halfway into Preston’s work, but we know enough to work out that these monkeys are going to get sick.   This is where the book became a page-turner for me, the reason behind a few very late nights.

I guess the ending is predictable, although strangely the final part of the book, which takes us back to Kitum Cave, appears to take on a different genre.  We are treated to sensory descriptions, mental imagery and artistic metaphor.  Sufficient to give me goose-bumps, anyway.

After reading this book, you will be in no doubt that should Ebola wriggle its way into city populations that we will all be in trouble  Deep trouble.

The Hot Zone?  A chiller, for sure.


The Testament of Jessie Lamb

by Jane Rogers


testament of jessie lamb


Some of the best science fiction stories are those that you can imagine actually happening in real life, and Jane Rogers treads a cautiously trodden path between the credible and the scary with The Testament of Jessie Lamb.

Yet this is not science fiction in its purest sense.  Sure enough, the massive impact of a biological disaster sets the framework for the book, but it is really all about relationships, principles and the idealistic pressures on a young girl to do her bit for society.  The author understates the catastrophe that has befallen the human race.  She doesn’t drag the reader through a cataclysmic ‘end of the world’ scenario, but lends a gentle realisation to the terrible tragedy.

Written in the first person from Jessie’s point of view pulls the reader deep inside her character, but leaves plenty of room to play the schema reinforcement or refreshment game.  Sometimes I had been there and recognised her actions, and sometimes she showed me a different perspective on what I had always imagined was the correct thing to do.  Although Jessie’s parent’s are, unsurprisingly I suppose, a little predictable, the supporting characters are well-rounded and help to intensify the feelings behind her decision-making process through subtle suggestion and scientific argument.

I found the book provocative, stimulating, and well-engineered, but felt let down by the ultimate simplicity of the plot.  Whether or not you agree with Jessie’s train of thought or find her reasoning reckless and immature, it’s a fair bet that you’ll read to the end.


Paxton’s Protégé

The Milner White Landscape Gardening Dynasty

by J.P. Craddock

Gardening has never been my thing, and I confess a preference for picking the occasional bloom and admiring a well-trimmed lawn.  Admittedly my gardens have never been large enough to ‘landscape’ but now I know of many that have benefited from the experience.

John Craddock’s latest book invites us to take a leisurely stroll through the parks and grounds of the famous and not so famous.  Not a random selection, though, but ones linked by the ancestral history of one Edward Milner who founded what was to become the landscape gardening company of choice for prominent land gentry.

Using an enthusiastic mulch of ancestral heritage and family dealings spanning four generations, forked in with barrow loads of background information regarding a seemingly endless collection of distinguished clientele, the author presents a detailed vision of the gardens and parks which have celebrated the creative handiwork of Milner and his partners.

The degree of detail concerning the landscape works described is astonishing, yet every fact, every morsel of history, every revelation, is eminently readable.  Add in some fifty original plans and photographs, many taken by the author during his research, and I challenge you to close the covers before you reach the end.

But this is not just a book for the casual reader to roam through in front of a snug fire on a winter’s evening, or to enjoy among garden scents on a summer patio.  For the enthusiast and gardening professional, there are indexed references, including a list of all the gardens and parks entrusted to the firm, complete with client names and dates.

From the cover:  ‘Born in 1819, the son of a gardener at Chatsworth, Edward Milner was apprenticed to Joseph Paxton who sent him to London to report on various horticultural establishments and to Paris to study.  Milner then became Paxton’s assistant and superintendent for establishing the gardens of the Crystal Palace at Sydenham.  After further work with Paxton, in 1858 Milner formed his own firm which designed and executed numerous landscape projects in Britain and abroad.

In 1870 Milner’s son, Henry, joined his father to work for increasingly prestigious clients including royalty.  Henry later condensed their combined experiences into a controversial book, and laid out Wembley park.  On Henry’s death the firm’s principal was his son-in-law Edward White, who became a director of the first Chelsea Flower Show in 1913.

The fourth generation evolved the firm into corporate work and when it closed in 1995 it was the oldest landscape gardening practice in the country.’

The book is exclusively available from the author, who has commissioned a limited edition print run of 250 copies, each of which he will number and sign.  Email him at johncraddock17*at* ( replace *at* with @ ) for further details.

2 responses to “Book Reviews

  1. Sounds llike a possible Christmas present for someone I know!

    • Not the kind of ‘plots’ you are usually interested in, Penny! I was surprised to enjoy a ‘non-fiction’ book so much. John has an easy writing style which makes you forget he’s talking about factual information. I’m sure that he would be over the moon to receive an enquiry from you.

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