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Publisher: Bantam Books
Release Date: June 07, 2011

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Anthrax Letter


Praise & Reviews

"The Mirage Man" should be required reading in every journalism school, and law school, in this country. It should be the textbook of a case study at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Va. -- and police academies everywhere. It should be taught in college government classes, and handed out to freshman members of Congress when they arrive in Washington, and to staffers assigned to the Capitol Hill committees and the White House National Security Council."

Real Clear Politics

"The Mirage Man is hard to put down and extremely well researched. ... It is a powerfully written book and a very engaging look at the Amerithrax investigation."

— Dan Kaszeta, former biodefense advisor, White House Military Office, CBRNe World

``A meticulous and mesmerizing account of the worst act of bioterrorism in American history.''

–Glenn C. Altschuler Jr., Cornell University professor, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

"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."

Publishers Weekly, Starred Review

"When government scientist Bruce Ivins committed suicide in 2008, he complicated closing the FBI case against the anthrax killer, who murdered five people and sickened many more by sending deadly anthrax through the mail. The FBI had spent years since the 2001 incident pursuing the wrong suspect. Ivins, who had severe psychiatric problems but had never been evaluated for mental fitness, worked in a sensitive biodefense lab. He held the patent on a new anthrax vaccine and was further motivated by a compulsive need for attention. Los Angeles Times investigative reporter Willman deftly chronicles how Ivins' life of suspicions and obsessions merged with the panicked atmosphere following the 9/11 terrorist attacks and led to the anthrax murders. Willman also details how the push by government officials and conspiracy theorists to conclude that there was terrorist involvement in the mailings to U.S. media and lawmakers led to the unjustified war cry against Iraq. Though Ivins died before he could be tried, Willman offers a compelling portrait of the man and the nearly fumbled investigation that was close to bringing him to justice for his chilling murders."


``Willman has produced an impressive piece of investigative journalism that will be of interest to all Americans but particularly to those involved in national security, law enforcement, and civil liberties.''

Library Journal

``The first behind-the-scenes account of one of the most far-reaching investigations in the history of the FBI.''

--Dina Temple-Raston, NPR correspondent, writing for theWashington Post

"Willman starts the story with Ivins' childhood in small-town Ohio, deftly drawing the portrait of a disaster waiting to happen: Brilliant, awkward, given to strange obsessions, his passive father terrorized and even beaten by Ivins' tyrannical mother, trying too hard to fit in and succeeding only when his chameleon like personality convinced others that he was someone other than who he was."

—Paul Jablow, Philadelphia Inquirer

``Willman's account, stitched together from government documents, Ivins' own emails to friends and colleagues, and hundreds of interviews, is the most compelling account so far.''

—Joe Volz, Gazette Newspapers of Maryland


“This is a book of alternative history and alternative truth about one of the most misrepresented incidents of our 9/11 trauma. David Willman has set a grand standard for investigative reporting—and investigative history—in his account of America’s anthrax scare. There are few heroes in this story of psychosis, official dithering, and political scaremongering, but it is uplifting nonetheless. It is simply fun to read someone at the top of his craft.”

—Seymour M. Hersh, author of Chain of Command:The Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib

The Mirage Man is a mystery story about murder committed on the national stage. The characters include an innocent man hounded by investigators and the press, politicians fixated on justifying a foreign invasion, a mixed bag of FBI agents, and scientists who try to crack the code. And, at the story’s heart, we have a twisted villain whose secret life is laid utterly bare. Unlike most mysteries, this one is literally true, carefully documented and skillfully told by one of America’s finest investigative journalists.”

—John S. Carroll, former editor of the Los Angeles Times

“Peering through David Willman’s magnifying glass into the anthrax-laced heart and soul of Bruce Ivins is chilling. Willman’s investigative chops and skilled yarn-weaving make for a compelling read. Most strikingly, Willman shows how this emotionally warped man pumped the bellows that fanned the flames of war with Iraq. It’s a haunting and heartbreaking tale.’’

—Mark Thompson, national security correspondent, Time