The Hot Zone

Pdf fan dd71f526917d6085d66d045bd94fb5b55d02a108dd45d836cbdd4abe2d4c043d Tap here to download this LitChart! (PDF)
Although through much of The Hot Zone Richard Preston functions as a kind of disembodied third-person narrator, in the final section of the book, he becomes a character in his own right. In deciding to visit Kitum Cave in full spacesuit gear, Preston displays his own human curiosity and his dedication to his research. After visiting both the cave and the Reston Primate Quarantine Unit, he develops an even more personal relationship to his work, realizing how fragile his own life is, and how easily the human race could be decimated by a virus such as Ebola.

Richard Preston Quotes in The Hot Zone

The The Hot Zone quotes below are all either spoken by Richard Preston or refer to Richard Preston. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Anchor Books edition of The Hot Zone published in 1999.
Part 1, Chapter 1 Quotes

[S]omething was making copies of itself inside Monet. A life form had acquired Charles Monet as a host, and it was replicating.

Related Characters: Richard Preston (speaker), Charles Monet
Related Symbols: Mount Elgon and Kitum Cave
Page Number: 11
Explanation and Analysis:

After hiking in Kitum Cave, Charles Monet has unknowingly contracted the Marburg virus. The ominous tone that Preston strikes in this quote is appropriate, given the potentially disastrous circumstances that he is describing (and it also sets the tone for the book as a work of "non-fiction horror"). Although Marburg rarely infects humans, when it does, the results are nothing short of disastrous. 

This passage brings up a pattern that recurs repeatedly in the book: that of humans as vectors for disease. Over and over again we will see people living their day-to-day lives—boarding planes, shopping at markets, going to work—unaware that they are in fact exposing others to deadly viruses. To these "life form[s]," we are nothing but excellent hosts, perfectly suited to helping them spread and replicate. As of this moment, Monet is a virus's host. Although he may not show symptoms yet, Marburg has begun incubating, and the things living inside of him will soon render him fatally ill. 

A+

Unlock explanations and citation info for this and every other The Hot Zone quote.

Plus so much more...

Get LitCharts A+
Already a LitCharts A+ member? Sign in!
Part 1, Chapter 3 Quotes

When you begin probing into the origins of AIDS and Marburg, light fails and things go dark, but you sense hidden connections. Both viruses seem part of a pattern.

Related Characters: Richard Preston (speaker)
Related Symbols: Kinshasa Highway
Page Number: 34
Explanation and Analysis:

As he often does within the book, Preston here compares the Ebola family of viruses with HIV/AIDS. The major difference, of course, is that AIDS has become a worldwide pandemic, while Ebola is (at least for now) confined to certain parts of the African continent. The "pattern" to which Preston refers is the increase of viruses that originate in animals, such as Ebola, HIV, swine flu, and Zika making their way towards infecting the human race.

Preston implies frequently throughout the book that this upswing in such viruses has to do with human globalization, and our increased encroachment on the natural environment. He believes that as humans continue to populate the globe, such outbreaks and pandemics will become more and more frequent. These diseases will only be aided by modern conveniences such as planes and trains, which make it even easier for diseases to spread quickly across continents.

The "pattern" that Preston describes is a foreboding one, especially if you believe, as he does, that it is going to occur more and more frequently in the years to come. This belief sits at the center of The Hot Zone, and is responsible for the book's continued relevance long after its publication. 

Part 1, Chapter 5 Quotes

Ebola has not yet made a decisive, irreversible breakthrough into the human race, but it seemed close to doing that. It had been emerging in microbreaks here and there in Africa. The worry was that a microbreak would develop into an unstoppable tidal wave. If the virus killed nine out of ten people it infected, and there was no vaccine or cure for it, you could see the possibilities. The possibilities were global.

Related Characters: Richard Preston (speaker)
Page Number: 49
Explanation and Analysis:

As Preston discusses the history and pathology of the Ebola virus, he notes that Ebola has yet to infect large numbers of people at once. This quote is notable because it is no longer true. The Hot Zone was written in 1994, a full decade before the West African Ebola outbreak of 2014-2015. Tragically, when this epidemic did hit, many of Preston's predictions were proven true. With no cure and horrific symptoms, Ebola devastated the countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea. Although the epidemic spurred a new wave of Ebola research, this did not come soon enough to save the lives of tens of thousands of people. 

Preston's direst prediction, however—that the disease might spread on a global scale—did not come to pass. This salvation is most likely due to the fact that this strain Ebola was not transmitted through the air. Yet as Preston notes, viruses excel at mutating in order to become more contagious, and an airborne strain of Ebola could still be on the horizon. 

Part 1, Chapter 6 Quotes

They were two human primates carrying another primate. One was the master of the earth, or at least believed himself to be, and the other was a nimble dweller in trees, a cousin of the master of the earth. Both species, the human and the monkey, were in the presence of another life form, which was older and more powerful than either of them, and was a dweller in blood.

Related Characters: Richard Preston (speaker)
Page Number: 62
Explanation and Analysis:

As Army scientists Nancy Jaax and Tony Johnson of USAMRIID prepare to dissect a monkey that has been purposely infected with Ebola, Preston describes them in very different terms. He makes sure to note the humans' kinship to the monkey, reminding readers that genetically, we are all primates, and therefore very similar when it comes to contracting Ebola. This fact will be particularly significant when it becomes clear that the Ebola virus infecting the Reston monkey house is fatal to monkeys, but completely harmless to humans—an unspeakably lucky genetic mystery.

Preston also takes care to emphasize how much "older and more powerful" Ebola is than either monkeys or humans. Although humans are "master[s] of the earth," taking over and studying everything that we find, we can easily be laid low by microscopic organisms such as viruses. Specifically evolved to infect and spread, viruses have existed on this planet for billions of years longer than the human race. While reading his narrative, Preston wants us always remember this fact, and to view viruses as far more dangerous and powerful than humans could ever dream of becoming. 

A virus does not “want” to kill its host. That is not in the best interest of the virus, because then the virus may also die, unless it can jump fast enough out of the dying host into a new host.

Related Characters: Richard Preston (speaker)
Page Number: 64
Explanation and Analysis:

Preston here explains the difference between contagion and deadliness. Although viruses have no free will (they cannot “want” things the way that humans can), they do act in ways that are most beneficial to their survival and reproduction. If a virus kills its host very quickly, then it will have fewer chances to spread to other hosts. In fact, this is one of the reasons that a major Ebola epidemic had yet to break out when Preston was writing this book (and why as of this writing it has yet to go fully global): it is so deadly that it often kills hosts before it can spread to a large number of people.

Contrast the quick incubation period of Ebola with that of HIV/AIDS, which can often lie dormant in its host for over a decade before manifesting as symptoms. Although HIV spreads even less easily than Ebola, this long period of time without symptoms can allow HIV to jump to many other hosts.

[Nancy] had almost caught Ebola from a dead monkey, who had caught it from a young woman named Mayinga, who had caught it from a nun who had caught it from a nun who had crashed and bled out in the jungles of Zaire in years gone by.

Related Characters: Richard Preston (speaker)
Page Number: 70
Explanation and Analysis:

As he discusses Nancy Jaax’s near miss at the Institute, Preston takes care to outline the chain of infection, tracing the Ebola virus strain in question back to its original source: a nun in Zaire. In this way, Preston is able to show how easily a single infected source can spread their illness to many, many others. Even though the nun died many years ago, the virus found in her blood still remains powerful and deadly. Nancy is removed from the nun by both time and space, and yet she was still in grave danger from said virus.

Even as he draws a clear line of infection from Nancy all the way to the original infected nun, Preston also implies the mysterious nature of Ebola’s source. We have no idea how the nun he mentions got infected; whether she received Ebola from another human, or whether it made the jump from animal to human. An understanding of this question—how Ebola makes its way into the human populace in the first place—is a crucial one, as it may help scientists and researchers to prevent future outbreaks before they occur.

Part 1, Chapter 7 Quotes

The Ebola virus…retreated to the heart of the bush, where undoubtedly it lives to this day, cycling and cycling in some unknown host, able to shift its shape, able to mutate and become a new thing, with the potential to enter the human species in a new form.

Related Characters: Richard Preston (speaker)
Page Number: 76
Explanation and Analysis:

While narrating the tapering off of the Zaire epidemic, Preston emphasizes that the end of an epidemic does not mean the end of a virus. Just because this particular outbreak burned itself out doesn't mean that the disease will not return to infect the human race again. Indeed, just the opposite is true. Viruses evolve at an incredibly fast rate, and the Ebola virus in particular lives in an unknown host. This means that humans could easily come into contact with an animal infected by a new form of Ebola—one that can perhaps infect humans more easily—without even knowing it, especially considering the increased invasion by humans of the natural environment.

What makes Preston’s ominous statement so tragic is that this is exactly what occurred in West Africa Ebola Epidemic from 2013-2015. The virus mutated, became more infectious, and struck, killing tens of thousands of people. Preston’s prediction has been proven correct, but under terrible circumstances.

Ebola Zaire attacks every organ and tissue in the human body except skeletal muscle and bone. It is a perfect parasite because it transforms virtually every part of the body into a digested slime of virus particles.

Related Characters: Richard Preston (speaker)
Page Number: 79
Explanation and Analysis:

As Preston continues to explore the causes and effects of Ebola, he describes in great detail what the virus does to its hosts. In this passage he focuses on Ebola Zaire, the most deadly of the Ebola viruses, which kills nine out of ten of the people that it infects. As Preston calls the virus “the perfect parasite,” it is important to remember that Ebola is transmitted through bodily fluids. Thus by turning the body into “digested slime,” Ebola Zaire is essentially transforming its host into a walking, breathing vector for infection. When they emit bodily fluids (in the form of blood, vomit, saliva, stool, etc.), they increase the risk of infection for everyone around them.

This passage also hints at why exactly Preston has chosen to focus on Ebola. While the virus brings up interesting issues surrounding globalization, environmentalism, and modernization, it is also an organism that appears uniquely suited to destroy humans—and this fact makes it an intriguing subject for the kind of "horror" book Preston is writing. Preston is fascinated and terrified by Ebola, fearing its destruction but marveling at its perfection.

Mr. Preston: Unless you include the feeling generated by gazing into the eyes of a waving confrontational cobra, “fascination” is not what I feel about Ebola. How about shit scared?

Related Characters: Dr. Karl Johnson (speaker), Richard Preston
Page Number: 90
Explanation and Analysis:

Richard Preston seeks out Dr. Karl Johnson, one of the leading experts in Ebola. A virus hunter for the CDC during the Ebola outbreak in Zaire, Johnson was the first scientist to isolate an Ebola virus particle, and thus earned the right to name the disease. Now retired, he writes to Preston to explain his feelings about Ebola, describing himself as “shit scared” of the virus. It is also fascinating, however, that he describes Ebola as a “confrontational cobra.”

Although Ebola is not a thinking predator the way a cobra is, it does seem to have the same menacing quality for all who come across it. At the same time, scientists and journalists (such as Preston) alike seem entranced by the disease, even sometimes describing it as beautiful—in this way, we are like prey being hypnotized by a predator such as a cobra. Although Johnson may not have meant to, he has helped to explain why so many are drawn to study the disease, and why Preston himself feels compelled to write about it.

Part 1, Chapter 8 Quotes

Some of the predators that feed on humans have lived on the earth for a long time, far longer than the human race, and their origins go back, it seems, almost to the formation of the planet. When a human being is fed upon and consumed by one of them, especially in Africa, the event is telescoped against horizons of space and time, and takes on a feeling of immense antiquity.

Related Characters: Richard Preston (speaker), Peter Cardinal
Related Symbols: Mount Elgon and Kitum Cave
Page Number: 103
Explanation and Analysis:

During the chapter in which he describes the death of a young boy of Marburg virus after a day of exploring Kitum Cave, Preston emphasizes the immense age of the Ebola virus. Unlike humans, who evolved fairly recently (and even more recently became the Earth’s dominant life form), viruses have existed on Earth for billions and billions of years. Described as “predators,” they have evolved to maximize their ability to spread, their age contrasting with the very short amount of time that we humans have been studying them.

As Preston describes the death of the boy—Peter Cardinal—he highlights the feeling of “antiquity” surrounding the event. Peter is dead after exploring an ancient cave and contracting an even more ancient virus. Although only a child, his death is the product of billions of years of evolution, something humans too often forget.

Gene felt a prickling sensation on his scalp. The paths of Charles Monet and Peter Cardinal had crossed at only one place on earth, and that was inside Kitum Cave. What had they done in the cave? What had they found in there? What had they touched? What had they breathed? What lived in Kitum Cave?

Related Characters: Richard Preston (speaker), Eugene (Gene) Johnson (speaker), Charles Monet, Peter Cardinal
Related Symbols: Mount Elgon and Kitum Cave
Page Number: 106
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Preston describes the reaction of researcher Gene Johnson as he realizes that Charles Monet and Peter Cardinal, both of whom died of Marburg virus, each visited Kitum Cave days before their deaths. The “prickling sensation” is because Johnson knows this cannot be a coincidence. Somewhere within Kitum Cave is the source of the Marburg virus. Although a chilling thought, Johnson is also excited and curious—if he were able to find this source, it would be a huge breakthrough for Ebola research as a whole.

Preston next asks a series of questions, helping his readers to understand all the possibilities that scientists must consider as they study a virus. Marburg might be spread through touch, it might be spread through the air, or it might incubate within an animal found in the cave. Of course, Preston also adds a touch of foreboding to the questions, helping readers to understand how simultaneously terrifying and illuminating such a discovery would be.

Part 2, Chapter 2 Quotes

[Peter Jahrling] had held in his gloved hands virtually every hot agent known, except for Ebola and Marburg. When people asked him why he didn’t work with those viruses, he replied, “I don’t particularly feel like dying.”

Related Characters: Richard Preston (speaker), Peter Jahrling (speaker)
Related Symbols: Spacesuits and Gloves
Page Number: 132
Explanation and Analysis:

During this passage, Preston introduces Peter Jahrling, a well-known virologist who often deals with monkey diseases. Despite his skill and his bravery, however, Jahrling refuses to handle Ebola, explaining, “I don’t particularly feel like dying.” Preston has included this quote for several reasons: first of all, it is ironic, considering that Jahrling will shortly (and unknowingly) be handling Ebola despite his wishes. Second of all, Preston wishes to emphasize just how dangerous Ebola is considered in the scientific community. Even a courageous and accomplished man like Jahrling believes Ebola too deadly to handle directly.

His attitude contrasts with that of someone like Gene Johnson, who finds the disease both terrifying and fascinating. Attitudes towards Ebola, Preston implies, can help us learn more about the individuals who hold those attitudes. Jahrling, for instance, is cautious and considered, in contrast to Gene, who is far more risk-taking and adventurous—but thus also more prone to the risks of hubris.

A freezer can be as hot as hell. When a place is biologically hot, no sensors, no alarms, no instruments can tell the story. All instruments are silent and register nothing.

Related Characters: Richard Preston (speaker), Peter Jahrling (speaker)
Page Number: 136
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Preston narrates the very beginnings of the Reston Monkey House Ebola outbreak. As Dan Dalgard and his employees freeze monkey corpses without realizing what has infected them, the narrator strikes an ominous tone. Without the necessary precautions (which Dalgard and his men are not equipped to take), a freezer will do absolutely nothing to stop the Ebola virus from spreading. 

This quote also points towards one of Preston's broader themes: that although humans believe we know a great deal about the natural world, our mechanisms of measurement are extremely limited. There are no tools to tell humans when an area has been contaminated by Ebola. Although we can take certain precautions (spacesuits, gloves, etc.), we have no way of knowing when those precautions are actually necessary. These limitations are especially dangerous in situations like the Reston Monkey House, when humans do not know (and have no reason to think) that a space has become contaminated.  

Part 2, Chapter 5 Quotes

He saw virus particles shaped like snakes, in negative images. They were white cobras tangled among themselves, like the hair of Medusa. They were the face of Nature herself, the obscene goddess revealed naked. This life form thing was breathtakingly beautiful. As he stared at it, he found himself being pulled out of the human world into a world where moral boundaries blur and finally dissolve completely. He was lost in wonder and admiration, even though he knew that he was the prey.

Related Characters: Richard Preston (speaker), Thomas Geisbert
Page Number: 149-150
Explanation and Analysis:

As the truth about the Reston Monkey House becomes clear, Thomas Geisbert, a scientist at the Institute, looks at the virus in question. Having not previously realized that he was dealing with Ebola, he has not taken the necessary precautions. Now, though, realizing his mistake, he feels the same horrified fascination that many other researchers experience within the book. Although he knows that a single particle of this virus could kill him, he remains entranced by its efficiency and perfection (this time on a cellular level).

To describe Geisbert's experience, Preston takes on an almost mythical tone. Once again, he describes the Ebola virus as a predator (and humans as "prey"), even comparing individual viral particles to the hair of Medusa, a Greek monster known for turning men to stone with her eyes. Preston wants readers to understand that these particles represent nature in its purest form: gorgeous, deadly, and ruthless. Although we can observe it, we will never control it, nor will we ever be able to escape the scope of its power. 

Part 2, Chapter 9 Quotes

C. J. Peters observed the comings and goings at the gas station. It gave him a sense of life and time passing, and he enjoyed the pleasant normality of the scene…What would these people think if they knew what had invaded their town? He had begun to think that the Army might have to act decisively to put out this fire. He had been in Bolivia when a hot agent called Machupo had broken out, and he had seen a young woman die, covered with blood. North America had not yet seen an emergence of an agent that turned into bleeders. North America was not ready for that, not yet. But the possibilities for a huge break of Ebola around Washington were impressive when you thought about it.

Related Characters: Richard Preston (speaker), Colonel Clarence James Peters (C. J.)
Page Number: 185
Explanation and Analysis:

As the government, led by USAMRIID and the CDC, begins to comprehend what might be lurking in the Reston Monkey House, Army scientist C. J. Peters begins to imagine the worst case scenario: a massive Ebola outbreak in a major American city. He watches ordinary people going about their day, completely unaware that nearby is a lethal virus that could easily end life as they know it.

This passage brings up some of The Hot Zone's most important themes: first of all, there is the fact that the United States has not had to deal with an epidemic in many decades (since the times of influenza and polio). We do not comprehend how fragile our "normal" lives are, or how easily a mistake in the wrong place at the wrong time (or even no mistake at all) could end them. At the same time, there are knowledgeable people such as Peters, Nancy Jaax, and Gene Johnson who do fully understand the fragility of life. It is their job, Preston emphasizes, to keep us safe without ever knowing that we have been in danger. 

Part 3, Chapter 1 Quotes

Some of the monkeys that were dying in Room H had become essentially a heap of mush and bones in a skin bag, mixed with huge amounts of amplified virus.

Related Characters: Richard Preston (speaker), Lieutenant Colonel Nancy Jaax
Related Symbols: Blood and Bleeding
Page Number: 229
Explanation and Analysis:

As the Army prepares to enter the Reston Monkey House and euthanize the infected primates within it, Preston takes a moment to remind readers of the deadly effects that Ebola has on its victims. It should be noted that Preston is exaggerating the "liquefaction" that Ebola produces, but this in the interest of keeping up his tone of horror and foreboding. His description also emphasizes the fact that the virus not only kills its host, but also increases the chances that others may become infected through the very means with which it kills.

This passage helps us to understand the grave danger in which the scientists and soldiers of USAMRIID find themselves, while also emphasizing the effectiveness of Ebola. It is a virus that has evolved to spread as efficiently and quickly as possible, and is dangerous long after it has killed any individual host. 

Part 3, Chapter 6 Quotes

What on earth was going on with this virus? It killed monkeys like flies, they were dripping virus from every pore, yet no human being had crashed. If the virus wasn’t Ebola Zaire, what was it? And where had it come from?...Something very strange was going on here. Nature had seemed to be closing in on us for a kill, when she suddenly turned her face away and smiled. It was a Mona Lisa smile, the meaning of which no one could figure out.

Related Characters: Richard Preston (speaker)
Page Number: 269
Explanation and Analysis:

After the Army decontamination operation in the Reston Monkey House is over, mysteries still remain: the virus has made monkeys fatally ill, yet no exposed humans have become sick. This fact alone implies that the virus is not the deadly Ebola Zaire, as scientists initially feared. The symptoms are even more curious when considering the genetic similarities between humans and monkeys. 

Once again, Preston turns to metaphor in order to describe the power of nature. He uses personification to describe the human race's close call with calamity, before using a symbol of mystery—the famous painting of the smiling Mona Lisa—to emphasize how confusing and strange this entire incident has been. Having been spared by nature, however, does not comfort either the scientists in the narrative or Preston. All understand that the positive outcome of this incident had nothing to do with skill, and everything to do with luck. The virus did not sicken humans, yet we do not understand why or how; and a tiny mutation in its genetic makeup could easily have led to a different, far deadlier outcome. 

The monkey house had been sterilized. Ebola had met opposition. For a short while, until life could re-establish itself there, the Reston Primate Quarantine Unit was the only building in the world where nothing lived, nothing at all.

Related Characters: Richard Preston (speaker)
Page Number: 271
Explanation and Analysis:

At least for the moment, the specter of Ebola infecting the United States populace has faded. In the aftermath, Preston describes the completely sterile Reston Monkey House, calling it "the only building in the world where nothing lived." This phrase illustrates the extreme measures to which the Army has gone in order to cleanse the facility of Ebola. In order to make fully sure that the virus no longer lives within those walls, the operation has killed literally every living thing inside—from monkeys to bacteria to viruses. This episode highlights the extreme precautions taken around this kind of decontamination process, and the power of Ebola, which only the strongest measures imaginable can destroy. 

Even after such a complete sterilization, however, life will soon "re-establish itself there," a testament to the power and resilience of nature. Even after humans have taken every effort imaginable to destroy lifeforms, they will soon inevitably return. 

Part 4, Chapter 1 Quotes

The paving of Kinshasa Highway affected every person on earth, and turned out to be one of the most important events of the twentieth century. It has already cost at least ten million lives, with the likelihood that the ultimate number of human casualties will vastly exceed the deaths in the Second World War. In effect, I had witnessed a crucial event in the emergence of AIDS, the transformation of a thread of dirt into a ribbon of tar.

Related Characters: Richard Preston (speaker)
Related Symbols: Kinshasa Highway
Page Number: 287
Explanation and Analysis:

As he travels to Mount Elgon, Richard Preston describes his childhood, some of which he spent near the construction of the Kinshasa Highway, which ended up spreading HIV/AIDS throughout many African nations because of the ease of travel—and thus of disease transmission—that it allowed. By telling the story of the Kinshasa Highway, Preston hopes to show that human progress can often have unintended consequences. Although the highway was supposed to be a source of trade, convenience, and modernity, it in fact provided a quick and easy way for HIV/AIDS to expand its range.

Preston puts the story of Kinshasa Highway in dramatic terms, saying that the highway has "already cost at least ten million lives" and calling its paving a vital twentieth-century event. He wants his readers to understand how easily and yet unpredictably humans can cause destruction, especially when viruses are involved. Preston's message is clear: the fact that HIV/AIDS spread so quickly and easily means that Ebola could one day do the same. 

Part 4, Chapter 2 Quotes

Say “Ahh,” Kitum Cave. Do you have a virus? No instruments, no senses can tell you if you are in the presence of the predator. I turned off my lights and stood in total darkness, feeling a bath of sweat trickle down my chest, hearing the thump of my heart and the swish of blood in my head.

Related Characters: Richard Preston (speaker)
Related Symbols: Mount Elgon and Kitum Cave, Spacesuits and Gloves, Blood and Bleeding
Page Number: 307
Explanation and Analysis:

Towards the end of the novel, the narrative turns personal, as author and narrator Richard Preston explores Kitum Cave himself, in a spacesuit, in order to learn more about the Marburg virus that lurks within it. He emphasizes to his readers that though he's protected by a spacesuit, he has no way of knowing if he is being exposed to viral particles at the moment or not. To emphasize his blindness, Preston turns off his flashlight and stands in total darkness, unable to see his surroundings just as he is unable to detect the possible presence of Marburg.

As he stands there, Preston observes his sweat, pulse, and blood pumping—all signs of an alive but intensely vulnerable human body that could easily be attacked by Marburg or some other "predatory" agent. Preston is implicitly comparing his own small, human fragility to the massive, ancient cave, and to the hidden menace of Marburg that lurks somewhere inside of it. 

The emergence of AIDS, Ebola, and any number of other rain-forest agents appears to be a natural consequence of the ruin of the tropical biosphere. The emerging viruses are surfacing from ecologically damaged parts of the earth…In a sense, the earth is mounting an immune response against the human species…Perhaps the biosphere does not “like” the idea of five million humans…Nature has interesting ways of balancing itself. The rain forest has its own defenses. The earth’s immune system, so to speak, has recognized the presence of the human species and is starting to kick in. The earth is attempting to rid itself of an infection by the human parasite. Perhaps AIDS is the first step in a natural process of clearance.

Related Characters: Richard Preston (speaker)
Page Number: 311
Explanation and Analysis:

Preston begins to wrap up his narrative by returning to one of the core theories of his book: that human encroachment on nature is directly responsible for the emergence of more and more deadly, contagious viruses such as Ebola. Here he creates a fascinating metaphor, theorizing that viruses are a kind of "immune response" against the huge human population that is in essence infecting the earth. 

This theory about tropical diseases like Ebola and AIDS is a hugely pessimistic one, as it suggests that the very innovations that have prolonged human life—modern medicine, convenient transportation, urban centers of trade—are also in fact destroying it. 

Even more foreboding here is the idea that humans have had a wholly negative effect on the earth, and that nature is taking steps to correct us. Modernizations such as cities and roads, which seem so natural to us, are in fact (Preston implies) disturbing the natural balance. In his eyes, diseases such as AIDS and Ebola are inevitable, as Nature tries to regain equilibrium. 

I suspect that AIDS might not be Nature’s preeminent display of power. Whether the human race can actually maintain a population of five billion or more without a crash with a hot virus remains an open question. Unanswered. The answer lies hidden in the labyrinth of tropical ecosystems. AIDS is the revenge of the rain forest. It may only be the beginning.

Related Characters: Richard Preston (speaker)
Page Number: 312
Explanation and Analysis:

As his narrative ends, Preston comes back to the topic of HIV/AIDS, which he has often used as an example of a terribly destructive virus that passed from monkeys to the human race. Despite the enormous death toll due to AIDS, however, Preston asserts that there may be far more deadly viruses on the way. 

The author also discusses a "labyrinth of tropical ecosystems," another reference to the mysterious and intricate quality of nature, which humans have studied for centuries but which still remains unknowable and unpredictable. To Preston, AIDS is a perfect example of the tangled, complex web that nature can create—but it may not be the most dramatic or destructive example. He views AIDS not as the pinnacle of nature's catastrophic power, but as a kind of opening shot. In other words, the author seems to say, the worst (very possibly in the form of Ebola) is yet to come. 

Life had reestablished itself in the monkey house. Ebola had risen in these rooms, flashed its colors, fed, and subsided into the forest. It will be back.

Related Characters: Richard Preston (speaker)
Page Number: 314
Explanation and Analysis:

In the final scene of The Hot Zone, Richard Preston visits the Reston Monkey House, and finds that various types of flora and fauna have begun to return to the building, which was thoroughly and completely sterilized by the Army after their operation.

In a different narrative, this might be a hopeful symbol that life, no matter what, always returns. For Preston, however, the fact that plants and animals—as well as bacteria and viruses—have returned to the facility is an ominous sign. Nature, he emphasizes yet again, is stronger than humans will ever be. No matter our efforts, nature will always prevail. If plants and animals can return to the primate facility, then Ebola can return as well. 

Get the entire The Hot Zone LitChart as a printable PDF.
The hot zone.pdf.medium

Richard Preston Character Timeline in The Hot Zone

The timeline below shows where the character Richard Preston appears in The Hot Zone. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1, Chapter 1: Something in the Forest
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
Richard Preston, the author of the book, goes on a brief digression, relating how difficult it is... (full context)
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
Globalization Theme Icon
...the Kinshasa Highway, a new road that spans much of the width of Africa. HIV, Preston explains, is a dangerous but not particularly infective Biosafety Level 2 agent, meaning that it... (full context)
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
Innovation and Curiosity vs. Hubris  Theme Icon
Moving back to Monet, Preston describes the man’s routine, in which he works during the week and explores nearby forests... (full context)
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
Describing Monet’s walk to work, Preston moves on to describe Mount Elgon, which looms above the surrounding landscape. He recounts how... (full context)
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
...he invites one of his friends to go camping on Mount Elgon with him, but (Preston tells us) no one can now remember her name. (full context)
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
Innovation and Curiosity vs. Hubris  Theme Icon
...his friend drive to a cliff called Endebess Bluff on the side of Mount Elgon. Preston observes that the volcanic dust there is as red as blood. He adds that Mount... (full context)
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
Innovation and Curiosity vs. Hubris  Theme Icon
...by Cape buffalo. Above them looms the Elgon forest, huge, menacing, and full of wildlife. Preston lists the kinds of life forms and plants that the forest contains, and finishes by... (full context)
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
...moves in during the afternoon, and Monet and his friend stay in their tent (with Preston speculating that perhaps they have sex). Afterwards, on New Year’s Eve, they build a fire,... (full context)
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
...as they can and then following elephant trails (while staying away from dangerous Cape buffalo). Preston takes the opportunity to describe the cave, which is filled with animals, including elephants, who... (full context)
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
Innovation and Curiosity vs. Hubris  Theme Icon
As Monet and his friend explore, Preston speculates about where their vacation went wrong—perhaps Monet pricked his finger on a crystal. He... (full context)
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
Preston reveals that Monet’s friend resurfaced years after this incident. While working as a prostitute in... (full context)
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
Globalization Theme Icon
...send him to board a Kenya Airways plane. “A hot virus from the rain forest,” Preston warns, “lives within a twenty-four-hour plane flight from every city on earth,” because of an... (full context)
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
Globalization Theme Icon
As Monet’s plane, full of passengers, flies towards Nairobi, Preston describes the landscape beneath it. They pass plantations and villages, and Preston reminds readers that... (full context)
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
Globalization Theme Icon
Preston explains that the virus has now saturated Monet’s body in a process called “extreme amplification.”... (full context)
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
Globalization Theme Icon
Monet falls asleep, and Preston again describes the landscape, from the afternoon sun on the valley to the national park... (full context)
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
...blood pools around him, other people move away and a doctor is summoned. The virus, Preston relates, has “destroyed its host” and is attempting to find another. (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 3: Diagnosis
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
Preston describes the effects of Marburg on the human body, likening it to “nuclear radiation.” It... (full context)
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
Globalization Theme Icon
Innovation and Curiosity vs. Hubris  Theme Icon
In 1982, an English veterinarian whom Preston calls Mr. Jones reveals that at the time of the Marburg outbreak, he was inspecting... (full context)
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
Globalization Theme Icon
Preston compares Mr. Jones’s experience of Marburg to “a flashlight pointed down a dark hole,” giving... (full context)
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
Globalization Theme Icon
Innovation and Curiosity vs. Hubris  Theme Icon
Preston goes on to mention a nearby fishing village called Kasensero, one of the origin points... (full context)
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
Bravery and Teamwork Theme Icon
...writing, he is one of the foremost doctors at Nairobi Hospital. In an interview with Preston, he relates that he remembers only shreds of his time while infected with Marburg. No... (full context)
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
Globalization Theme Icon
Innovation and Curiosity vs. Hubris  Theme Icon
Preston, however, does not draw an optimistic conclusion from this outcome. He explains that when a... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 4: A Woman and a Soldier
Globalization Theme Icon
Bravery and Teamwork Theme Icon
Preston now sets the scene in Thurmont, Maryland, on September 25, 1983—four years after Charles Monet... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 5: Project Ebola
Innovation and Curiosity vs. Hubris  Theme Icon
Bravery and Teamwork Theme Icon
...4 biocontainment area, where she intends to see what has happened to “the Ebola monkeys.” Preston explains the setup of USAMRIID’s biocontainment system, which creates negative air pressure to keep diseases... (full context)
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
Globalization Theme Icon
Innovation and Curiosity vs. Hubris  Theme Icon
Bravery and Teamwork Theme Icon
Preston briefly digresses, introducing the Ebola River, where Ebola Zaire first originated in September 1976, erupting... (full context)
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
Explaining the theory of microbreaks, Preston introduces the worry that Ebola will one day become an epidemic. Gene Johnson calls Ebola... (full context)
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
Innovation and Curiosity vs. Hubris  Theme Icon
Bravery and Teamwork Theme Icon
...and Tony prepare to enter Level 4, which is covered in a giant biohazard warning. Preston calls the Level 4 air lock a “gray area…where the hot zone touches the normal... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 6: Total Immersion
Globalization Theme Icon
The monkeys, Preston relates, have been injected with a specific type of Ebola Zaire known as the Mayinga... (full context)
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
Innovation and Curiosity vs. Hubris  Theme Icon
Bravery and Teamwork Theme Icon
...wakes up and bites her. As the two maneuver the monkey into a biohazard container, Preston notes the kinship between human “master[s] of the earth” and monkeys. He contrasts both primates... (full context)
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
Preston describes the anatomy of a virus, “a small capsule made of membranes and proteins” that... (full context)
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
Preston relates that Gene Johnson’s Ebola experiments were unsuccessful because he was never able to find... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 7: Ebola River
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
Globalization Theme Icon
...a town called Nzara, a product of the “human population explosion” of the twentieth century. Preston calls attention to the beauty and diversity of the landscape, which changes from savanna to... (full context)
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
Globalization Theme Icon
Innovation and Curiosity vs. Hubris  Theme Icon
Preston explains that while being fatal to its host is not in the best interest of... (full context)
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
Globalization Theme Icon
Innovation and Curiosity vs. Hubris  Theme Icon
The Sudan strain, Preston explains, is more than twice as lethal as Marburg, meaning it kills about 50% of... (full context)
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
Bravery and Teamwork Theme Icon
...as lethal as Ebola Sudan. Although no one knows who the first human case was, Preston asserts that it was likely someone who ate meat from an animal infected by the... (full context)
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
Preston describes the effects of Ebola Zaire, which “attacks every organ and tissue in the human... (full context)
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
...facility, the Mama Yemo Hospital—it is unclear why she didn’t return to Ngaliema Hospital, but Preston speculates that it was “a case of psychological denial.” It was a crowded building, packed... (full context)
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
Innovation and Curiosity vs. Hubris  Theme Icon
Bravery and Teamwork Theme Icon
...aficionado in Montana, who does a great deal of consulting work on global health issues. Preston tries several times to contact him, and finally receives a response via fax, in which... (full context)
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
Globalization Theme Icon
Innovation and Curiosity vs. Hubris  Theme Icon
Preston visits Karl Johnson and the two go fly-fishing together. Johnson discusses his trip to Kinshasa,... (full context)
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
Globalization Theme Icon
Innovation and Curiosity vs. Hubris  Theme Icon
Bravery and Teamwork Theme Icon
...ward, which was filled with bloody syringes, and the corpses of infected women and fetuses. Preston takes a moment to describe the beauty of the surrounding landscape before recounting the team’s... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 8: Cardinal
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
Globalization Theme Icon
Innovation and Curiosity vs. Hubris  Theme Icon
Preston gives us background on the Cardinal family, which had recently taken a vacation in Kenya.... (full context)
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
Globalization Theme Icon
Innovation and Curiosity vs. Hubris  Theme Icon
Bravery and Teamwork Theme Icon
Preston meets David Silverstein in a coffee shop to learn more about Peter Cardinal. Silverstein describes... (full context)
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
Preston compares hot viruses to predators, describing the moment when a lion attacks a zebra on... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 9: Going Deep
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
Globalization Theme Icon
Innovation and Curiosity vs. Hubris  Theme Icon
Bravery and Teamwork Theme Icon
Preston visits Gene Johnson near Fort Detrick. The scientist recounts his discovery that Peter Cardinal and... (full context)
Bravery and Teamwork Theme Icon
...the cave—a terrible disappointment for Gene Johnson. Despite the apparent waste of the expedition, however, Preston suggests that Johnson’s knowledge and experience may still be useful in the future. He stores... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 1: Reston
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
Globalization Theme Icon
Innovation and Curiosity vs. Hubris  Theme Icon
...Strong creatures with sharp canines and human-like hands, they tend to be mistrustful of humans. Preston describes their life in the wild, from their ability to catch crabs in the river... (full context)
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
Globalization Theme Icon
Innovation and Curiosity vs. Hubris  Theme Icon
Preston introduces Bill Volt, the Reston monkey house manager. On October 1st he calls Dan Dalgard... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 3: Exposure
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
Innovation and Curiosity vs. Hubris  Theme Icon
Bravery and Teamwork Theme Icon
Preston introduces readers to a trainee at USAMRIID called Thomas Geisbert, who operates the Institute’s electron... (full context)
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
Innovation and Curiosity vs. Hubris  Theme Icon
...separate out the different kinds of cells, and then sets off on his hunting trip. Preston mentions that when a filovirus takes residence in a human host, its incubation period lasts... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 5: Medusa
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
Innovation and Curiosity vs. Hubris  Theme Icon
...prey. He is also awed by what the virus has done to the cell, which Preston describes as “a chocolate-chip cookie that was mostly chocolate chips”—the “chips” in question being viral... (full context)
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
Innovation and Curiosity vs. Hubris  Theme Icon
Preston explains the term “inclusion bodies,” which are masses of viral particles that form brick-shaped structures,... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 10: Space Walk
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
Preston takes a moment to note that when most organisms die, they are never able to... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 11: Shoot-Out
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
Bravery and Teamwork Theme Icon
...a nervous Dalgard explains the symptoms that he has observed. After this, Joe McCormick speaks. Preston explains that the Army people in the room find his words condescending and dismissive, while... (full context)
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
Globalization Theme Icon
Innovation and Curiosity vs. Hubris  Theme Icon
Bravery and Teamwork Theme Icon
Preston recounts the history of conflict between the Army and Joe McCormick, who had in the... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 13: Reconaissance
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
Innovation and Curiosity vs. Hubris  Theme Icon
Bravery and Teamwork Theme Icon
...also notices that the monkeys have their canine teeth, making them all the more dangerous. Preston notes that a six-foot-tall man and a ten-pound monkey “are pretty evenly matched in a... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 1: Insertion
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
Innovation and Curiosity vs. Hubris  Theme Icon
Bravery and Teamwork Theme Icon
...rinse the blood off of their gloves frequently in order to spot holes or tears. Preston notes that these types of suits have a battery life of six hours—after that, the... (full context)
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
Bravery and Teamwork Theme Icon
...the nearby daycare, the team exits the hot zone in pairs, looking pale and weak. Preston notes that the wind is strong and cold, and that Jarvis Purdy is resting comfortably... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 3: Tangos
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
Bravery and Teamwork Theme Icon
Preston outlines the new plan: Jerry is going to have to go back into the monkey... (full context)
Bravery and Teamwork Theme Icon
Preston explains that the Army does not consider this work hazardous, because the spacesuit should act... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 4: Inside
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
Bravery and Teamwork Theme Icon
...other side of the building. Had they only pointed their video cameras towards a window, Preston speculates, they would have gotten video of “soldiers in spacesuits smeared in Ebola blood engaged... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 6: Decon
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
Globalization Theme Icon
...where monkeys have been dying in large quantities but no human fatalities have been reported. Preston comments on the strange and mysterious ways of nature. (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 7: The Most Dangerous Strain
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
General Russell reveals to Preston that he was even more terrified of Ebola after the mission was over, when he... (full context)
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
Preston goes to visit Nancy Jaax. She offers to show him Ebola, and he looks at... (full context)
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
...the principal scientist at USAMRIID—name the new virus Ebola Reston. In Jahrling’s office, Geisbert and Preston compare Zaire to Reston and wonder why Zaire is hot in humans while Reston is... (full context)
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
Preston sums up what’s happened: Marburg, Ebola Sudan, and Ebola Zaire have been joined by a... (full context)
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
Globalization Theme Icon
Preston next contemplates why Reston supposedly comes from Asia while Zaire comes from Africa. The most... (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 1: Highway
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
Globalization Theme Icon
Innovation and Curiosity vs. Hubris  Theme Icon
It is August 1993. Preston describes the road to Mount Elgon, which runs from the Kenyan highlands to the Rift... (full context)
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
Globalization Theme Icon
Preston is currently driving along a bumpy road in a Land Rover along with an intrepid... (full context)
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
Innovation and Curiosity vs. Hubris  Theme Icon
Preston explains that “Robin MacDonald is a professional hunter and safari guide.” He is also the... (full context)
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
Innovation and Curiosity vs. Hubris  Theme Icon
...the Masai have been raiding an ethnic group called the Bukusu. Robin, however, has assured Preston that they will be relatively safe on their journey. Robin questions Preston about the reasons... (full context)
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
Globalization Theme Icon
Innovation and Curiosity vs. Hubris  Theme Icon
Preston describes the restaurants and small hotels that they pass along the way, many of which... (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 2: Camp
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
Innovation and Curiosity vs. Hubris  Theme Icon
Bravery and Teamwork Theme Icon
Preston introduces us to Robin’s wife and business partner, Carrie MacDonald, who often travels along with... (full context)
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
Globalization Theme Icon
...dinner, and observe a Cape buffalo watching them. Robin wanders down to the stream with Preston and tells him a story about fishing for crocodiles. They observe an armed guard named... (full context)
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
Globalization Theme Icon
The men continue exploring, observing many animals, including a rodent called a hyrax that Preston notes might be a carrier of Marburg. He describes the forest around the mountain—“one of... (full context)
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
Globalization Theme Icon
...does the smell of bats. Nettles sting their legs and insects fly in their faces. Preston observes that either nettles or insects could be the hosts. They stop by an elephant... (full context)
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
Innovation and Curiosity vs. Hubris  Theme Icon
Bravery and Teamwork Theme Icon
At the mouth of the cave, Preston assembles his gear. He does not have the kind of pressurized spacesuit that USAMRIID uses—instead,... (full context)
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
Globalization Theme Icon
Innovation and Curiosity vs. Hubris  Theme Icon
Preston enters the huge mouth of Kitum Cave and walks across a floor covered in bat... (full context)
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
As a side note, Preston explains that Tom Geisbert once did an experiment on Marburg to see how long it... (full context)
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
Innovation and Curiosity vs. Hubris  Theme Icon
Preston reaches the top of a mound in Kitum Cave and puts his hand on the... (full context)
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
Innovation and Curiosity vs. Hubris  Theme Icon
When Preston emerges from Kitum Cave, the afternoon rains have come. Fred Grant welcomes him back, and... (full context)
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
Innovation and Curiosity vs. Hubris  Theme Icon
...they drink scotch and beer and play poker as night falls. Robin MacDonald playfully asks Preston if he’s experiencing any “mental symptoms.” Preston privately relates that he’s already begun to obsess... (full context)
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
Globalization Theme Icon
Innovation and Curiosity vs. Hubris  Theme Icon
Preston asserts that “the emergence of AIDS, Ebola, and any number of other rain-forest agents appears... (full context)
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
Globalization Theme Icon
Innovation and Curiosity vs. Hubris  Theme Icon
Preston calls AIDS “the worst environmental disaster of the twentieth century.” He explains that HIV most... (full context)
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
Innovation and Curiosity vs. Hubris  Theme Icon
Bravery and Teamwork Theme Icon
Preston remembers reassuring himself after leaving Kitum Cave, but also knows that there is an incubation... (full context)
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
Globalization Theme Icon
Innovation and Curiosity vs. Hubris  Theme Icon
On a warm day in autumn Preston drives out to visit the monkey house. The door is locked, with shreds of duct... (full context)