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The Mirage Man

Bruce Ivins, the Anthrax Attacks, and America's Rush to War

This book is available for download with iBooks on your Mac or iOS device, and with iTunes on your computer. Books can be read with iBooks on your Mac or iOS device.


For the first time, Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist David Willman tells the whole gripping story of the hunt for the anthrax killer who terrorized the country in the dark days that followed the September 11th attacks. Letters sent surreptitiously from a mailbox in New Jersey to media and political figures in New York, Florida, and Washington D.C. killed five people and infected seventeen others. For years, the case remained officially unsolved—and it consumed the FBI and became a rallying point for launching the Iraq War. Far from Baghdad, at Fort Detrick, Maryland, stood Bruce Ivins: an accomplished microbiologist at work on patenting a next-generation anthrax vaccine. Ivins, it turned out, also was a man the FBI consulted frequently to learn the science behind the attacks.

The Mirage Man reveals how this seemingly harmless if eccentric scientist hid a sinister secret life from his closest associates and family, and how the trail of genetic and circumstantial evidence led inexorably to him. Along the way, Willman exposes the faulty investigative work that led to the public smearing of the wrong man, Steven Hatfill, a scientist specializing in biowarfare preparedness whose life was upended by media stakeouts and op-ed-page witch hunts. 

Engrossing and unsparing, The Mirage Man is a portrait of a deeply troubled scientist who for more than twenty years had unlimited access to the U.S. Army’s stocks of deadly anthrax. It is also the story of a struggle for control within the FBI investigation, the missteps of an overzealous press, and how a cadre of government officials disregarded scientific data while spinning the letter attacks into a basis for war. As The Mirage Man makes clear, America must, at last, come to terms with the lessons to be learned from what Bruce Ivins wrought.  The nation’s security depends on it.

From the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

May 30, 2011 – Willman, a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist, offers a nuanced account of the bungled FBI investigation into the "anthrax attacks" as the Bush administration strove to use the public panic to strengthen their case to go to war, while the culprit was, in all likelihood, a military microbiologist named Bruce Ivins. Willman traces Ivins's unhappy life, how he endured childhood abuse and privation to become a successful scientist only to find his life unraveling as a result of his bizarre obsessions and fixations with women—from co-workers to a reality TV star and members of a local campus sorority. Willman pivots to focus on the flawed investigation—how the FBI targeted terrorist groups and, later, the wrong scientist, Steven Hatfill—and how, perversely, Ivins benefited both financially and professionally from the public paranoia about anthrax as his research into an anthrax vaccine became a national priority. Willman makes the case against Ivins—and against the political uses of the case—with admirable fair-mindedness and narrative flair.

Customer Reviews

A riveting true crime thriller

Here is one of the most amazing true crime, true life stories to come along in years. Bruce Ivins, a cheerful and eccentric scientist who was a top biowar researcher for the government, had a secret life as an obsessed psychopath who plotted murders and ultimately launched the worst biological warfare attach in the nation's history. It is an amazing portrait of a twisted mind.

The FBI's seven year search for the anthrax killer is a compelling story in its own right. But contrary to the usual heroic feats of cops and prosecutors, the FBI mishandles the investigation for years on end, relentlessly and sometimes foolishly pursuing the wrong person.

And if anyone wanted still more from this excellent book, it shows how unscrupulous White House manipulated public fears and ignored the facts to help make a case for the invasion of Iraq.

The Mirage Man book is outstanding !!!

I am a Medical Technologist, (ASCP) with a 4 year degree in Microbiology from The Univ of Alabama -1976.

I was fascinated & mesmerized at the same time while reading this book.

I read it on my iPad's iBook which made it very easy to read the extensive footnotes.

I can't believe that researchers / workers with access to the worst pathogens are not held to the same standard of regular mental health background checks as are the ones who have access to chemical / nuclear materials.

It's as if we have opened our doors of our most pathogenic organisms to mentally unstable people simply because the top researchers in this field simply do not want to know that some of them might be certifiably crazy. This is very sad.

We, the United States, have created the perfect recipe for history to repeat itself.

Who will be the next Bruce Ivins ????

The Mirage Man
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  • $13.99
  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: Politics & Current Events
  • Published: Jun 07, 2011
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Seller: Penguin Random House LLC
  • Print Length: 464 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: To view this book, you must have an iOS device with iBooks 1.3.1 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

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