Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Book Review: Phage -- Do you know what's in the air you breathe or the food you eat?

Go ahead & check it out!
How safe is our food supply? How hard would it be for someone with nefarious intent to infiltrate that food supply at any point along the way?

PHAGE is a bio thriller that speculates on these questions. The answers are not encouraging. Mark Tamplin is an author-scientist whose specialities are microbiology and immunology, and whose vitae include work with the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the UN Food and Agriculture Org. He scares up a nifty little tale about how easy it would be for a bio terrorist to use the technology of gene manipulation to contaminate the nation's food supply in a catastrophic way. 

Far-fetched? I wouldn't say so. As I am writing this review, on May 5, 2016, the FBI reports that it has in custody a man who entered several grocery stores in Ann Arbor, Michigan to spray mouse poison on produce and good bars. That was a localized incident. This past year, national restaurant chain Chipotle has suffered outbreaks of illness caused by e-coli whose origin is still being investigated. Cruise ship populations regularly break out in ship wide mini-epidemics caused by the noro virus. So far, these incidents seem random and easily controlled. But what if a dedicated bioterrorist put his or her mind to the effort?  Could we escape so easily?

Tamplin presents a plausible scenario with enough detail about how to create and disseminate a bio weapon to keep the reader fascinated. 

The opening chapters take us into the guts (sic) of a factory farm in the small town of Wilmer, Alabama. Here, pigs are born, housed, raised, slaughtered and processed in close confinement, all in the service of the most intensive production possible of pork products. This is contemporary agribusiness, the type of animal farming most prevalent in developed countries like the United States. We follow one worker as she goes through a typical day on the job, not knowing that as she sprays water to clean the areas where the pigs are confined, she breathes in a microscopic droplet of water containing a genetically mutated E. coli bacteria that had been purposely merged with DNA from a highly toxic pathogen and left to reproduce. I might not even have the terms right. It’s a fascinating but complex process Tamplin describes. But it only took me a little googling of the CDC to find out that he is right on the money when he writes about the ease with which a pathogen can be introduced to a human population through normal factory farming conditions.

The mutation jumps the factory inside its human host. A small microbial outbreak in Wilmer brings the attention of the CDC, the USDA, the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and the CIA.  We meet Dr. Sam Townsend, academic and professional consultant/troubleshooter of microbial outbreaks, and follow him as he puts together an investigative team from his young graduate assistants. We watch our governmental and scientific bureaucracy in action as key players jockey to advance agendas and politics while Sam tries to get to the truth of the situation. Is this a random event, or is a more nefarious scheme at work?

I am an inveterate reader, and the digital publishing revolution has provided such a profusion of fiction that it would take several lifetimes to read all the novels a real book addict might want to read. This is a blessing and a curse. Part of the curse involves the deterioration of grammar and writing skills among published authors, as well as the lack of real editing from even the biggest publishing companies. I am happy to report that Phage does not suffer from these difficulties. Tamplin knows his way around the English language. The book is tightly constructed, well-written, and bears the marks of professional editing.
Buy it with confidence and have yourself a thrill. And a chill.  

Oh, and another thing I like about this book that is purely personal?  I know and love the locales in which the action takes place!

1) My permanent home is in Newark, Delaware, and I worked for 27 years at the University of Delaware where a main character in the book studied. The Philadelphia area, where I grew up, is the site of a lot of the action. 

2) I have a small second home in Selma, Alabama, near my daughter. The book opens in the rural Alabama area and stays there for its entire first section.

3) My husband and I, now retired, cruise the Caribbean as often as we can, several times each year. The book sends its protagonist to the the Bahamas and the warm islands of the Caribbean!

And I didn't even know any of this going into the book blind. What serendipity!

1 comment:

Steve Finnell said...

ANY OTHER WAY TO BE SAVED? by steve finnell

Galatians 1:8 Let God's curses fall on anyone, including myself, who preaches any other way to be saved than the one we told you about; yes, if an angel comes from heaven and preaches any other message, let them be forever cursed. (TLB-Paraphrased)


1. No convert was told to say a sinner's prayer in order to be saved.

2. No infant was sprinkled with water in order to saved them.

3. No persons were told they were saved by grace alone.

4. Nobody was told they were saved by faith only.

5. No one was told to pray until they felt like they were saved.


They all followed the teaching of Jesus. Mark 16:16 He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned. (NASB)

On the Day of Pentecost the apostle Peter preach the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. He preached Jesus as Lord and Christ. He told the people to repent and be baptized.
Acts 2:22-41......So then, those who received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls. (NASB)
The three thousand believed and were baptized in water.

Peter did not tell them to say a sinner's prayer. He did not tell them they had been saved by faith only. He did not inform them that they had been saved by grace alone. He did not ask them to have their unbelieving infants baptized in order to be saved. He did not say to pray until they felt saved.

All converts in the book of Acts believed and were baptized.
Acts 16:31-34
Acts 16:15-16
Acts 8:12
Acts 8:35-38
Acts 22:16
Acts 19:3-5
Acts 10:34-48

Every person saved under the new covenant believed and was immersed in water. Jesus said it, how could anyone honestly doubt it. (Mark 16:16)

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