The Hot Zone

Pdf fan dd71f526917d6085d66d045bd94fb5b55d02a108dd45d836cbdd4abe2d4c043d Tap here to download this LitChart! (PDF)
Themes and Colors
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
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Hot Zone, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Globalization Theme Icon

Throughout The Hot Zone, Richard Preston emphasizes how globalization has made worldwide pandemics a real and present danger for the human race. When Charles Monet falls ill at the beginning of the book, he boards an airplane, an act that could easily have spread Ebola throughout the world. Although Mayinga N. knows that she is sick, she still travels all around a populated and crowded city, another instance in which a pandemic could have begun. Kinshasa Highway, another emblem of progress, actively helped to facilitate the spread of HIV/AIDS. A plane, a city, a highway—all of these are common elements of modern life, and have helped to make the world feel ever smaller and more interconnected. This kind of globalization is supposed to make life easier, but when it comes to the spread of disease, it can instead extinguish life entirely. Perhaps the most powerful example of the dangers globalization poses is the monkeys in the Reston Primate Quarantine Unit. They are imported from the Philippines to Virginia, and somehow manage to bring an African virus to American shores, demonstrating the ways that Ebola has adapted to and taken advantage of the modern world.

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

Globalization Quotes in The Hot Zone

Below you will find the important quotes in The Hot Zone related to the theme of Globalization.
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. 


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 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

[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 8 Quotes

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 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 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

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.