Book Review

Book cover image  


Medical Aspects of Chemical and Biological Warfare

U.S. Government Printing Office, 721 pages, 1997


This book concentrates on medical symptoms and treatment of chemical agents and diseases used in warfare including nerve agents, cyanide, anthrax, plague, incapacitating agents, tularemia, brucellosis, Q fever, smallpox, viral encephalitis, hemorrhagic fevers, staphylococcal enterotoxin B, ricin, botulinum toxin, and trichothecene mycotoxins. Although this book is out of print and difficult to purchase, it can be downloaded free of charge as a PDF file at The free version is missing a few of the illustrations. This is not necessarily a disadvantage, because judging from the captions to the missing illustrations, these photographs would be pretty gruesome and unpleasant for a layperson.

Medical Aspects of Chemical and Biological Warfare concentrates on general classes of CBW agents and is not particularly complete in its coverage of specific agents. For example, Novichok nerve agent is not even mentioned. Although it is more thorough and much more accurate than some of the popular books that have recently appeared (such as Germs by Judith Miller and Living Terrors by Michael T. Osterholm), the information is not as detailed or as densely packed as one might hope for a medical textbook. There is also very little information on the chemistry of the substances themselves. For example, there is no information on the precursor compounds, intermediates or byproducts whose presence would reveal a functioning chemical warfare program. There is almost no information on binary nerve agents or on the more exotic or obscure agents. There is also no technical information such as infrared or mass spectra, cultivation media, DNA sequences, or chemical tests that would facilitate identification of specific agents or development of new treatments or detection technologies.

The chapters on the history of chemical and biological warfare are also a little disappointing. These first two chapters cover nearly identical material. The standard information such as symptoms and treatment are generally very well discussed, however, with the exception of the chapter on anthrax which gives relatively little information and contains a few factual errors. Most of the really detailed information on chemical and biological agents themselves is classified, and there are few medical texts on the subject. Considering that the only cost of this book is the inconvenience of binding a three inch thick pile of paper from your printer, this book may be the best source for medical-oriented general background knowledge available to the public. This book would be quite useful as a medical reference on this unpleasant subject and would give you something to read when your city gets hit by a chemical and biological attack. Pray you never need to know the information in this book.

name and address
October 14, 2001 Back