The Hot Zone

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The Hot Zone Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Richard Preston's The Hot Zone. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Richard Preston
Richard Preston grew up in Wellesley, Massachusetts, and then attended Pomona College and Princeton University. He became interested in non-fiction and journalism, and wrote several books and many articles before publishing an article called “Crisis in the Hot Zone” in a 1992 issue of The New Yorker. After deciding to expand the article into a book, he wrote The Hot Zone, which quickly became a bestseller. Since then Preston has continued to focus on scientific issues, and has written books about the eradication of smallpox, the Redwood Forest, and the steel industry. The Hot Zone returned to the bestseller list in 2014 as a result of the devastating Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Preston, too, resumed his focus on Ebola during this time, participating in many interviews about the disease and writing articles about it for The New Yorker.
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Historical Context of The Hot Zone
The word “globalization” became widely used in the 1980s, meaning essentially, the process by which the world has become increasingly interconnected—first by railroads and steamships, and now by planes and the Internet. With globalization also came the rise of worldwide epidemics. The most notable of these is HIV/AIDS, which came to prominence in the 1980s and has since claimed about 39 million lives. Recent events, however, have made The Hot Zone’s discussion of Ebola even more relevant. In 2014 the Ebola epidemic that Preston prophecies in his book came to pass, infecting over 28,000 people in West Africa and killing over 11,000. Cases were also reported in countries such as the UK, Italy, and the US, and the spread of Ebola to these nations was undoubtedly the effect of globalization. In July 2015, scientists began testing an Ebola vaccine that has thus far proved extremely effective in combating the virus. This cure, however, has come far too late for the tens of thousands of West Africans who were victims of this disease.
Other Books Related to The Hot Zone
Although The Hot Zone is nonfiction, the threat of a widespread epidemic similarly motivates many works of fiction as well. In Michael Crichton’s 1969 thriller The Andromeda Strain, an extraterrestrial super-virus threatens to wipe out a small town in Arizona. Preston also often compares Ebola to AIDS within his book—and And the Band Played On by Randy Shilts (1987) explores the beginnings of the AIDS epidemic in the late 1970s. While Preston references the huge power that diseases have to shape human events, author Jared Diamond expands on this theme with his 1997 book Guns, Germs, and Steel, in which he places the study of epidemics within a geopolitical narrative. On a stylistic level, the author Tom Wolfe, the founder of New Journalism (in which nonfiction events are described in dramatic, vivid writing) has clearly influenced Preston’s own writing. Wolfe’s The Right Stuff (1979), about America’s participation in the space race, is written in a theatrical, gripping style similar to that of The Hot Zone.
Key Facts about The Hot Zone
  • Full Title: The Hot Zone
  • When Written: 1992-1995
  • Where Written: Hopewell, NJ
  • When Published: 1995
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Thriller nonfiction
  • Setting: Reston, VA; Frederick, VA; and various African countries including Kenya, Zaire, Sudan, and South Africa
  • Climax: US Army soldiers and veterinarians must seal off the Reston Primate Quarantine Unit and euthanize hundreds of Ebola-stricken monkeys
  • Antagonist: The Ebola virus
  • Point of View: Third person omniscient
Extra Credit for The Hot Zone

A Star is Born? Hollywood director Ridley Scott is currently adapting The Hot Zone into a miniseries for Fox; he has owned the rights to the book for over two decades.

Sibling Rivalry. Richard Preston’s brother, Douglas Preston, is a bestselling writer himself. Both authors focus on thrillers and nonfiction, and Richard Preston says that the two often “talk shop.”