Best Book Ever: The Shining Vs. The Hot Zone

Book covers for the Hot Zone and The Shining.

A difficult face off indeed. Master of fantastical horrors Stephen King against master of real world horrors Richard Preston. Both books gave me shivers when reading them, but which is the better book?

The Shining by Stephen King

Book cover for The Shining by Stephen King.

First published in 1977, The Shining was one of Stephen King’s first books. Even with his numbers continuing to stack, The Shining remains a quintessential work.

Do I really need to give you the plot of The Shining? Probably not, but here we go. The Shining features Jack Torrance, a recently displaced English teacher, who takes a pity job from a friend with connections as a hotel’s winter caretaker. Bringing along his wife, Wendy, and son, Danny, the family is to spend the winter in the Overlook hotel, primarily ensuring the boiler remains in operation to prevent freezing pipes. But the Overlook has a history, and when it realizes Danny posseses special abilities, it comes after them with force. Can the family survive the winter? You should find out yourself.

  • Goodreads Score: 4.2
  • Length: 5 -The Shining is neither too long or too short. Everything is perfectly placed with care, and nothing is a bore.
  • Readability: 3 -While I enjoy horror to keep me awake on the road, I could definitely see setting The Shining down to take a break from it’s gritty details. Emotionally toiling, this could be hard book to get through.
  • Language: 3- Stephen King is phenomenal in knowing how to make characters talk like real people and for pulling a turn of phrase. That said, he doesn’t often give me quotes to chew on days later. Points for world building but not for poetry.
  • Characters/Plot: 3 -Jack, Danny, Wendy, Halloran -all well developed and featured. But, as is the detriment of King, “Oh look, another horror ghost story.” Not a lot of twists and turns other than the thrill, so I rank a 3 on the over/under.

Overall Score: 18.2

The Hot Zone by Richard Preston

A book cover for The Hot Zone by Richard Preston

Did you ever think you’d be intrigued and engrossed by a book dealing with filoviruses and microbiological pathogens? Welcome The Hot Zone. Published in 1994, The Hot Zone reads like the best mystery novel. Men are dying. Monkeys are dying. Monkeys destined to go to laboratory testing facilities with poor safety protocols are dying. Are the monkey and man’s disease the same? Is America about to be destroyed by the virus? This book sure had me thinking it would be. I know I didn’t read The Hot Zone in one sitting, but damned if it wasn’t close.

  • Goodreads Score: 4.1
  • Length: 5 -The Hot Zone is also a perfect book length. Not large enough to be daunting, it gives exactly the amount of story you need to be terrified.
  • Readability: 4 -I’m a biochemistry major. Reading about DNA and scientific jargon is my life. While The Hot Zone does a good job of toning down the too-sciency details, there’s still some content that the average reader might disengage from.
  • Language: 2- This is a science book about science things by an author with a good flair for drama. Overall, there’s nothing to leave you salivating, but there are a few exceptional phrases to leave you smiling.
  • Characters/Plot: 3.5 -While the characters are real, their strength is that they are normal people doing normal things. Endearing for mankind but not for the “Best Book Ever.” That said, the sequence of events leaves you gripping your seat.

Overall Score: 18.6

The Verdict

The bad thing about all these books being good books is that the margin of errors are going to be small. I’m still feeling out the rankings, and maybe I’ll have to morph to pick out of 10 instead of out of 5 later, but in this case, the ranking rings true.

If you asked, point blank, “Should I read The Shining or The Hot Zone?”, my answer would unequivocally be The Hot Zone. This stuff is real. It actually happened. If I had to deal with Stephen King’s ghosts or ebola, I’m picking the ghosts every time. Say it with me, “We do not mess with ebola.”

For all the allure of the ghost story, the real world ramifications of The Hot Zone leave no contest. It’s fascinating, and Preston does a fantastic job of making what could be a boring science book into a suspenseful thriller. The Hot Zone is absolutely deserving to win this round

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