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Extended Audio Sample Beating Back the Devil: On the Front Lines with the Disease Detectives of the Epidemic Intelligence Service Audiobook, by Maryn McKenna 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 Narrator: Ellen Archer Publisher: Tantor Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date: October 2004 ISBN: 9781400171408
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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 U.S. 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. Download and start listening now!

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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

  • Ellen Archer coolly delivers the story of the CDC's inception and its battles with polio, smallpox, AIDS, anthrax, and SARS, along with other terrifying diseases and the organisms that cause them. BEATING BACK THE DEVIL is real-life drama with real high stakes. AudioFile

Listener Opinions

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 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 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 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 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. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Colleen McCarthy | 1/26/2014

    " Fascinating book that gives you an inside view of the CDC and EIS.....very cool stories that give you the background behind many of the diseases that have been in the news over the past few decades.... "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Katie | 1/21/2014

    " I'm becoming more interested in epidemiology, so this was fascinating and has peaked my interest even more. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 John Wiswell | 1/13/2014

    " The true stories themselves are fascinating, following people connected to the Epidemic Intelligence Service, an organization founded some sixty years ago to combat biological warfare and disease epidemics. That means that for decades they have been deployed to deal with small pox, SARS, and a mysterious immune disorder striking gay men that became the nightmare of HIV/AIDS. They were in charge during the post-9/11 anthrax scare, and were deployed on desperate missions to fight primitive diseases in third world countries. Every anecdote-driven chapter is worth reading for its information, though McKenna does the book few favors with a dry, highly procedural writing style that turns life-threatening situations dull. In particular her style of providing unhelpful miniature biographies of many people who rapidly become faceless casts in epidemics slows things down, and she has a habit of throwing a paragraph of false information at you only to dispel it in the next that seriously grates. The writing itself is well worth overcoming, though, to learn about an amazing service most readers will never have heard of before. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Alex | 1/4/2014

    " Fascinating read about the struggle against unseen killers. My only criticism is that the chapters build up so that you're expecting a climax, but next thing you know the data has been crunched or the problem just fixes itself, and it's on to the next story. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 hillary | 12/22/2013

    " I am so in love with the this I can't stand it. This is exactly the reason why I want to do what I want to do. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Elisabeth | 12/14/2013

    " Great insight into the work of the EIS, a division of the CDC. Chronicals many famous outbreaks and events, but reveals the hardwork and the people behind uncovering the solutions. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Michael | 12/2/2013

    " This is the sort of work I would be doing if I were ten times as ambitious, but just as cool. "

  • 1 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 5 Kris Catrine | 11/30/2013

    " Love the subject, but this is what happens when a scientist is allowed to write without help. Reads like an owners manual for a complicated calculator. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 JuliAnna | 11/14/2013

    " This book provides and entertaining intro to some of the more interesting CDC investigations. I found it enjoyable, but lacking in depth. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Kathy | 10/23/2013

    " Ya gotta love reading CDC data to like this one. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Mark | 2/12/2013

    " A fascinating, though slightly lacking in detail, look into the world of the EIS. While great, the vignette story-telling wasn't quite as compelling as a longer story, like The Hot Zone. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Beka | 1/17/2013

    " A very interesting book detailing some of the work done by the EIS (Epidemic Intelligence Service). Though this book doesn't delve into the science of disease, you do learn about some of the different disease and how the CDC and EIS work to combat them. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Janet | 11/7/2012

    " Interesting book about the CDC's special group and their investigations of international outbreaks - TB, HIV, Listeria, SARS, polio, West Nile, smallpox, anthrax, MRSA, etc. Some in third world conditions even if they are in the US! "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Colleen | 10/27/2012

    " Wow -- I never knew food poisoning could be so interesting. Kind of makes me want to be an epidemiologist! "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Wendy | 8/17/2012

    " This book was fascinating! I loved reading about how the EIS tackles the outbreaks of various diseases. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Valerie F | 7/15/2012

    " Found this account of the CDC fascinating. Ironically, the chapter on listeria in luncheon meat triggered a craving for a turkey sandwich. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Daniel Stokes | 5/18/2012

    " Awesome book. I'm into this kind of thing, though. This is ultimately my career goal, becoming one of these. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Joe Dibuduo | 11/4/2011

    " Tells how the CDC disease detectives work. I found it very interesting. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Emily | 9/2/2011

    " This is an excellent book. I particularly enjoyed learning about the history of the EIS and the many overseas assignments that EIS officers serve. Beating Back the Devil is one of those books that I was disappointed to finish and would have happily read several more chapters. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Natalie | 1/24/2011

    " Excellent book, very well researched and accessibly written for readers without any medical training. McKenna is an engaging writer and neatly ties together current events, history, and the ongoing mission of EIS. This is an excellent read. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Steve | 1/14/2011

    " Good, not great. The book focuses more on the people and their stories than the actual diseases - which can be a good or a bad thing depending on what kind of read you're looking for. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Rusty Tobin | 12/14/2010

    " Engaging & informative. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Sarah | 12/14/2010

    " Some parts can be a little dry, but otherwise a fascinating account of many pandemics that the EIS has handled. Very informative about the field of epidemiology. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Karla | 10/1/2010

    " This wasn't a thriller in an over-the-top drama kind of way, but the slow reveal of details definitely made me want to keep reading to find out how each outbreak started and resolved. It also made me think about a career switch... "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Chris | 8/4/2010

    " An excellent read. A great insight into a well known agency that is oddly not that well known. If you're at all curious about the CDC and the EIS this book will offer a primer on what they do and just how dangerous the work can be. Enjoy. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Natalie | 6/28/2010

    " Excellent book, very well researched and accessibly written for readers without any medical training. McKenna is an engaging writer and neatly ties together current events, history, and the ongoing mission of EIS. This is an excellent read. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Kathy | 6/9/2010

    " Ya gotta love reading CDC data to like this one. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Mark | 8/13/2009

    " A fascinating, though slightly lacking in detail, look into the world of the EIS. While great, the vignette story-telling wasn't quite as compelling as a longer story, like The Hot Zone. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 hillary | 4/6/2009

    " I am so in love with the this I can't stand it. This is exactly the reason why I want to do what I want to do. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Katie | 10/21/2008

    " I'm becoming more interested in epidemiology, so this was fascinating and has peaked my interest even more. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Janet | 10/5/2008

    " Interesting book about the CDC's special group and their investigations of international outbreaks - TB, HIV, Listeria, SARS, polio, West Nile, smallpox, anthrax, MRSA, etc. Some in third world conditions even if they are in the US! "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Elisabeth | 8/7/2008

    " Great insight into the work of the EIS, a division of the CDC. Chronicals many famous outbreaks and events, but reveals the hardwork and the people behind uncovering the solutions. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 JuliAnna | 6/25/2008

    " This book provides and entertaining intro to some of the more interesting CDC investigations. I found it enjoyable, but lacking in depth. "

  • 1 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 5 Kris | 2/21/2008

    " Love the subject, but this is what happens when a scientist is allowed to write without help. Reads like an owners manual for a complicated calculator. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Valerie | 11/4/2007

    " Found this account of the CDC fascinating. Ironically, the chapter on listeria in luncheon meat triggered a craving for a turkey sandwich. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Colleen | 10/27/2007

    "
    Wow -- I never knew food poisoning could be so interesting. Kind of makes me want to be an epidemiologist! "

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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.

About the Narrator

Ellen Archer is an award-winning narrator, actress, and singer with a degree in Opera Performance from the Boston Conservatory. She has performed extensively on the New York stage and in regional theaters. She has narrated numerous audiobooks and has won several AudioFile Earphones Awards, as well as the prestigious Audie Award for best narration.