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Extended Audio Sample Beating Back the Devil: On the Front Lines with the Disease Detectives of the Epidemic Intelligence Service, by Maryn McKenna, Ellen Archer Click for printable size audiobook cover
3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 3.00 (332 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Maryn McKenna, Ellen Archer Narrator: Ellen Archer Publisher: Tantor Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date:
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In the war against diseases, they are the Special Forces.

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 US 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.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “McKenna’s personal portraits of these dedicated health professionals illuminate the bravery as well as the anxiety that accompany this demanding work.”

    Publishers Weekly

Listener Opinions

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 by Sally | 2/12/2014

    " I picked this book because my husband was an EIS officer for the last 2 years. He loved his time as one and I wanted to read more about other's experience. The author probably picked the 2 busiest years the CDC has had in a long time. They dealt with 9/ll, Anthrax and SARS on top of all of the normal stuff. It seems like those couple of years were pivotal when it came to the world and not only the USA getting it's act together to enable them to handle global public health threats. My husbands 2 years weren't nearly as exciting, although he did get to work on some interesting stuff and go to some very interesting places, it would have been crazier had the world not had it's act together. I think that is one thing that this book brings to light. It was an interesting read for me and is well written, but I don't know how interesting it would be for someone that didn't have a connection to EIS or had an interest in infectious disease. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 by Pancha | 2/4/2014

    " After reading a really depressing fiction book, I reached for the book about horrible epidemics to cheer myself up. And with the exception of the chapter on a refugee camp and terrorism, it worked. Beating Back the Devil is broken up into chapters that deal with specific outbreaks and the EIS agents who worked them. It ranges from TB to AIDS to SARS. The book is based on lots of interviews with the agents past and present, which gives the narrative a sense of personality and veracity. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 by Kate | 2/3/2014

    " The book comes off as disjointed. The attempts to maintain a human element by tracking a few members of a single class are thwarted by the huge amount of territory this book seeks to cover. As a result you find yourself bouncing between characters, times, places and between descriptions of the service's structure and the minutia of the people in it. While I am glad for such an ambitious overview, a more narrow focus on any one or two aspects of the EIS would have made this book much more enjoyable and/or informative. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 by Jessica | 1/31/2014

    " This book was interesting in that each chapter was a different case that the EIS worked on. It went from Malaria in Africa to ADIS in LA to SARS in Asia and even NYC in September 2001. The EIS officers are called in usually by a state (or country's) health department to help manage or confirm an outbreak of a disease. The officers leave sometimes on a few hours notice and can go anywhere in the world. Their stint with EIS runs for 2 years after which many stay on with the CDC. Since each chapter was a different case study, there were a lot of names to keep straight. It wasn't just the EIS officers, there were also many health care workers from the different countries that were mentioned. "

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About the Author
Author Maryn McKenna

Maryn McKenna is an award-winning science and medical writer at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where she has covered the CDC since 1997. She is a graduate of Georgetown University and the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, and has also studied at Harvard Medical School. In 1998-1999 she was the Knight Fellow in Medicine at the University of Michigan’s Schools of Medicine and Public Health. She lives in Atlanta.