Here are books that cry out to be read. I start out with a list that appeared in a website called Five Books under The best books on Microbes. In an interview by Jo Marchant, reknown microbial ecologist Paul Falkowski recommends these five books, some unanticipated:
- The 1665 Micrographia by Robert Hooke, which Falkowski describes as the first scientific bestseller. He points out that "It was the first book that really showed the public what the world they could not see with their naked eye looked like."
- Next is a Life on a Young Planet by Andrew Knoll, which tells the story of the first three billion years of life on Earth, all microbial. "He talks not just about how the evolution of life has been affected by the environment of the planet, but by how it, in turn, has changed the environment."
- This is followed by a surprising choice, the 2007 Genesis of Germs by Alan Gillen, a creationist text that argues that microbes were created by God. A blurb by the publisher says: "germs are symptomatic of the literal Fall and Curse of creation as a result of man's sin, and the hope we have in the coming of Jesus Christ." This book is included here because of Falkowski‘s grave concern for the issue. As he says: "Once a religious worldview is embedded to displace scientific thought, it’s very difficult, even in children, to present data that changes that worldview."
The next selection is Plankton: Wonders of the Drifting World by Christian Sardet. As Falkowski says: "It’s an incredibly beautiful book, almost a coffee table book, but it’s also a serious science book. The beautiful photographs and colors are of organisms from the plankton that are photosynthetic — the phytoplankton — to zooplankton, to larvae of various animals in their planktonic phase."
- His last choice is Microcosmos by Lynn Margulis and Dorion Sagan, engrossed proponents of mitochondria and chloroplasts being nanomachines derived from microbes some 3 billion years ago. Further, these authors champion the idea that evolution is not always about competition and winners and losers, but also about cooperation.
I could not resist adding a few choices of my own.
- Highest on my list is Jared Diamond’s venerable and revered Guns, Germs, and Steel, which explains, among many key aspects of the development of humans societies, how a handful of germ-carrying Europeans could conquest huge empires in the Americas.
Next are some of my favorites, culled from a wide list of fine books written for the general public that point to the excitement of the microbial world. My choices, I hasten to add, are totally idiosyncratic.
- March of the Microbes by John Ingraham leads us on an elegant tour through the microbial world, especially its aspects that that most readily concern humans (which is most of it). His subtitle "Sighting the Unseen" accurately portrays the scope of the book. It works.
- Eugenia Bone’s Microbia starts out by sharing her experience about how a successful middle age writer on foods and mushrooms wanted to learn about microbes, especially those that dwell within larger organisms. She found out that she needed to go back and take a microbiology college course, which led to her writing this lovely book on how to see the world from the microbial point of view.
My last two choices are by friends and longstanding collaborators, especially in this blog. But I will maintain my composure.
- Merry Youle’s Thinking Like A Phage is a most lively account of the vicissitudes of being the viruses that infect bacteria. But succeed they do, and they have become the most abundant biological entity on the planet. The text is illustrated with some phenomenal drawings. If you wish to become phage savvy (and everyone should!), this is the book for you.
- Life at the Edge of Sight by Scott Chimileski and Roberto Kolter is, by their account, "A Photographic Exploration of the Microbial World," and enormously successful it is. They blazed new trails, both in the content and in the illustrations, most of which are lusciously original. A tasty outlier, among books on microbes.