Cover image for Anthrax : the investigation of a deadly outbreak
Anthrax : the investigation of a deadly outbreak
Guillemin, Jeanne, 1943-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Berkeley : University of California Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
xviii, 321 pages, 24 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, maps ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
RA644.A6 G85 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



In April of 1979 the city of Sverdlovsk in Russia's Ural Mountains was struck by a frightening anthrax epidemic. Official Soviet documents reported sixty-four human deaths resulting from the ingestion of tainted meat sold on the black market, but U.S. intelligence sources implied a different story, and the lack of documentation left unresolved questions. In her riveting investigation of the incident, Jeanne Guillemin unravels the mystery of what really happened during that tragic event in Sverdlovsk.

Anthrax is a virulent and deadly bacteria whose spores can remain in soil for as long as seventy years, killing grazing animals and putting humans in jeopardy of eating infected meat. Contemporary concern is more centered on anthrax as an airborne biological weapon whose inhaled spores can result in ninety percent mortality for those infected.

As part of a team of doctors and researchers, Jeanne Guillemin traveled to Russia in 1992 to determine the cause and extent of the epidemic. Her affecting narrative transforms a case of epidemiological investigation into a politically charged mystery. She creates a vivid sense of immediacy and drama with her insider's account of the team's investigative work--the analysis of pathology photos and slides, meetings with political and public health officials, the retrieval of essential medical data--and candidly reveals the subjective side of science as she conducts interviews with afflicted families, visits sites, and interacts with those suspected of clouding the truth.

Complete with medical case information and three epidemiological maps, this classic account relates directly to growing concern over bioterrorism and how the United States and other nations should respond. In the final chapters Guillemin surveys past and present covert biological weapons arsenals scattered around the world and the international legal efforts to eliminate them.

Author Notes

Jeanne Guillemin is Professor of Sociology at Boston College and a senior fellow at the Security Studies Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Guillemin was part of an international team of scientists that visited Russia in 1992 to investigate a 1979 outbreak of anthrax in the Ural Mountains region that officially killed 64 people who had eaten tainted meat. Unofficially, the toll was estimated in the thousands, and the cause was pinned on the government's surreptitious experiments with biological warfare. In this medical detective story, Guillemin tracks the process of gathering information, some of it mishandled or misplaced, including autopsies, slides, and tissue samples. Guillemin conveys the human side of this frightening outbreak through interviews with family members of the anthrax victims. Anthrax is a deadly disease, typically found in animals and capable of remaining in the soil for as long as 70 years. Russian officials later conceded the outbreak was due to government experiments, but many details remain a mystery. Guillemin's fascinating account includes an exploration of how anthrax is being used in biological warfare by groups as diverse as religious fundamentalists in the Middle East and white supremacists in the U.S. --Vanessa Bush

Publisher's Weekly Review

In a dense and unsettling work, Boston College sociologist Guillemin depicts her 1992 journey to Russia to research a mysterious 1979 anthrax epidemic: little was known about the outbreak, in which 64 died in the remote province of Yekaterinburg, between Kazakhstan and Siberia. In pat and conflicting comments, Russian authorities said the outbreak had followed anthrax's usual pattern, deriving from either soil, ceramics dust or contaminated meat. But a general suspicion developed in the scientific and intelligence communities that the anthrax had resulted from a more unusual aerosol emission from the nearby Compound 19, a weapons facility. Was the outbreak a result of biological weapons technology? Guillemin's team members gather the evidence, though they are unable to establish a definitive answer. Her sociological background leads her to focus on the human variables in this scientific mystery; by tracking down survivors of the outbreak, she hoped to shed light on the enigmas of the disease's dispersal rate and pattern. Unfortunately, her recounting of many minute sparring sessions with the team's wily Russian counterparts, as well as a morass of sociological commentary on a fragmenting postcommunist Russian society, are prolix. Though it raises disturbing questions about research in biological warfare, this medical mystery is more appropriate for epidemiology and other medical professionals rather than fans of The Hot Zone. (Dec.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Table of Contents

List of Figures
Preface Principal Participants
1 Anthrax: Accursed Fire and Biological Weapon
2 Moscow: Fragments of Evidence
3 Moscow: Conflicting Visions
4 In the Urals: The Quest Begins
5 Autopsy Visions
6 The Community of the Dead: Vostochniy Cemetery
7 Abramova's Treasure
8 To Chkalovskiy Rayon
9 Constraints, Fears, Frustrations
10 on Doors
11 Public Health and Private Pain
12 The Unnatural Steals the Natural
13 Resignation
14 Vulnerability and Chance
15 The KGB List of Victims
16 Moscow Redux
17 Names Go to Places: Map Building Begins
18 Biological Weapons and Political Outbreaks
19 Manifestation
20 Mirage: The Animal Outbreak
21 Chkalovskiy: The Final Pieces
22 Do No Evil, See No Evil
23 The Summing Up
24 The Threat of Bioweapons
25 Return to Yekaterinburg
26 "The World Is Global"
App. A List of 1979 Sverdlovsk Anthrax Fatalities
App. B Summary of Case Data for Known Victims of the Sverdlovsk Anthrax Outbreak of 1979