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Allies and Enemies: How the World Depends on Bacteria [Hardcover]

Anne Maczulak

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Book Description

July 12 2010 FT Press Science

Bacteria are invisible, mysterious, deadly, self-sufficient…and absolutely essential for all life, including yours. No other living things combine their elegant simplicity with their incredibly complex role: Bacteria keep us alive, supply our food, and regulate our biosphere. We can’t live a day without them, and no chemical, antibiotic, or irradiation has ever successfully eradicated them. They’re our partners, like it or not--even though some of them will happily kill us.

Allies and Enemies tells the story of this amazing, intimate partnership. Authored by Anne Maczulak, a microbiologist who’s hunted and worked with an extraordinary array of bacteria, this book offers a powerful new perspective on Earth’s oldest creatures. You’ll discover how bacteria work, how they evolve, their surprising contributions and uses, the roles they’ve played in human history, and why you can't survive without them. No form of life is more important, and in Maczulak’s hands, none is more fascinating.

 

Outlasted, outnumbered, outsmarted

They’ve been here four billion years--and they even outnumber you in your own body

 

How bacteria keep you alive…

…and how to keep them from killing you

 

“Humans Defeat Germs!”

But not for long…

 

The Invisible Universe

The stunning hidden relationships between bacteria and the rest of nature

 


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Review

"Not surprisingly, people frequently view "germs" as enemies of humankind because media coverage usually involves an outbreak of disease. Writer and microbiologist Maczulak attempts to refute this perception by explaining how microbes such as bacteria are not only important for industry but also essential for human survival.The extensive bibliography encompasses Internet resources and classical readings as well as some professional references on the subject." Summing Up: Recommended. Lower- and upper-division undergraduates and general readers. -- R. Adler, University of Michigan, Dearborn. Reprinted with permission from CHOICE, copyright by the American Library Association.  

About the Author

Anne Maczulak grew up in Watchung, New Jersey, with a plan to become either a writer or a biologist. She completed undergraduate and master’s studies in animal nutrition at The Ohio State University, her doctorate nutrition and microbiology from the University of Kentucky, and conducted postdoctoral studies at the New York State Department of Health. She also holds an MBA from Golden Gate University in San Francisco.

 

Anne began her training as a microbiologist studying the bacteria and protozoa of human and animal digestive tracts. She is one of a relatively small group of microbiologists who were trained in the Hungate method of culturing anaerobic microbes, meaning microbes that cannot live if exposed to oxygen. In industry, Anne worked in microbiology laboratories at Fortune 500 companies, developing anti-dandruff shampoos, deodorants, water purifiers, drain openers, septic tank cleaners, and disinfectants--all products that relate to the world of microbes. She conducted research in the University of California-San Francisco’s dermatology group, testing wound-healing medications, antimicrobial soaps, and foot fungus treatments.

 

In graduate school, other students and a few professors had seemed nonplussed when Anne filled her elective schedule with literature courses. Anne was equally surprised to learn that so many of her peers in science found pursuit of the arts to be folly. In 1992, with more than a decade of “growing bugs” on her resume, she packed up and drove from the east coast to California to begin a new career as a writer while keeping microbiology her day job. And yes, it was possible to be both a writer and a scientist.

 

While toiling evenings on a mystery novel set in a microbiology lab, Anne continued working on various laboratory projects intended either to utilize good microbes or eliminate deadly ones. A decade later, Anne began her career as an independent consultant and has successfully blended writing with biology. Although the mystery novel never made it off the ground, Anne has since published ten books on microbes and environmental science. She focuses on making highly technical subjects easy to understand. From her unique perspective, Anne inspires her audiences into wanting to know more about microbes, and perhaps even like them.

 


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Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  50 reviews
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great addition to anyone's science library. Well done! Aug. 30 2010
By M. L Lamendola - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Ms. Maczulak did an excellent job with this book. It's factually correct and well-written, making it both pleasurable and educational to read. That's really saying something, considering that college texts on the subject of microbiology have a reputation for being rather challenging to read and understand. It's not that those books are badly done, it's that the topic is complex.

Ms. Maczulak removes the complexity to bring us a good overview of the role of bacteria in our lives and in the larger world around us. She exposes and corrects many myths, while also keeping her narrative in a framework that moves forward and helps the reader get "the big picture." Without crossing it, she walks the fine line between eye-glazing detail and enough detail to be a rich read. My eyes didn't glaze over once, during my reading of this book.

When I started reading this book, I thought it would be a good academic refresher. Before I finished reading it, that thought changed entirely. I think for most people, it is essential reading. A small example explains why.

Before I finished reading this book, I heard a radio commercial (I listen to the radio for a total of maybe 3 hours per month) for a product that should not be on the market. The commercial encourages parents to buy a chlorinated product for the kids to take to school and wipe everything with. Deliberately poisoning people is illegal, but for some reason if you poison kids with this product you won't go to jail for it. The hype is that this protects children from nasty bacteria. Parents who don't understand what is profoundly wrong with this product and why it's also unnecessary need to start educating themselves about the real world. This book provides a good start in that direction.

I happen to enjoy various little critters. When I'm tending my basil plants, a friendly honeybee or two will land on my arm. I have never been stung by a honeybee, in half a century of enjoying their company. The idea that we need to smear our bodies with DEET before going outside is absurd, and it has health and psychological costs.

The same is true for critters so little that we cannot see them. It's not possible to live without bacteria. The idea that all bacteria are bad is based on disinformation, ignorance, and fear. Ms. Maczulak adroitly explains the truth in this book, so the reader is informed. It's not that all bacteria are bad and there are only a few good varieties. The world of bacteria is diverse and enormous, and most bacteria do us no harm.

In fact, the bacteria-phobia that helps sell toxic products to people who don't take the time to learn the truth not only results in their being poisoned with carcinogenic chemicals, but it also helps throw their bacterial balance out of whack. The anti-bacterial soaps and related products do not prevent disease. The author does not say that in so many words, but everyone educated in this topic knows why that statement is true. If you read this book, you will also know why it's true (if you do not already know).

Bacteria are letting us live on their planet. They clean up our wastes (including oil spills), provide the foundations of the food chain (we'd have no food without bacteria to do what they do), and do many other things that we take for granted.

Ms. Maczulak points out that there's a good chance bacteria hold the solutions to many problems we face today. These include everything from oil production (right now, we don't actually produce oil--we merely remove it from where it is) to cleaning up mining waste (a problem that is destroying Appalachia).

This book consists of seven chapters, an epilogue (its content should actually be an appendix, not an epilogue), an appendix, extensive references, and an index.

Chapter 1 explains why the world needs bacteria. You can't help but draw this conclusion from the facts presented. Chapter 2 talks about bacteria in history, and Chapter 4 discusses their role in popular culture. Chapter 3 is between those two discussions and it explains how bacteria mutate, reproduce, and do other things with DNA.

At this point, the book takes off in a different direction. Chapter 5 looks at the many uses for bacteria. Chapter 6 looks at ecosystems, macrobiology, and the diversity of bacteria. Chapter 7 discusses such things as how bacteria provide food, can provide energy, and do clean up waste; it explores also how these benefits may be expanded in the future.

The Epilogue is titled, "How microbiologists grow bacteria." It's interesting material, but it isn't a epilogue to the book. It's the kind of information that goes into an appendix. Not a big error on the part of the publisher, but an error nonetheless. The Appendix the book does have is a resource for further reading and research if you are so inclined.

On the references, I had no doubt while reading that this book had been properly researched. It just rang true all throughout. When I saw the actual references, however, it was a bit of a jawdropper. If you've ever read the texts required for a college-level microbiology class, you know that it's no small feat to get through them.

In contrast to most alleged works of non-fiction today, Ms. Maczulak:

*Uses Standard Written English.
*Gets her facts right.
*Respects the reader.
*Doesn't use the book to push a political agenda (though she does take human caused global warming as fact even though this does not explain why the icecaps on Mars are melting).

Don't just add this to your collection. Get a copy for your health practitioner, a copy for your medical doctor, and a copy for your best friend. If you're a parent with kids in school, get a copy for the principal and then work on getting those fume-spewing, carcinogenic, pointless surface wipes banned.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Perfect for a High School Library Sept. 4 2010
By Veil_Lord - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Don't take the title of my review as a slur, it's actually a complement. A sharp high school student wouldn't have a problem reading this book and an adult won't feel either talked down to or bored. Every student should read a book like this in school.

I think a lot of people in general need to read books like this for a little perspective. When you're at the gym, at the mall, or at work, you'll see people putting on hand sanitizer after they touch anything and freaking out about germs. Watch some TV for a short time and you're bound to see some product that will protect your kids because it's antibiotic implying you're obviously a bad parent if you don't run out and buy it right now! Woo...the germs are gonna get ya! Well, no they're probably not. You have this thing called an immune system that tends to handle most of that kind of thing and it pre-dates these products by quite a while. That's not to say the stuff is useless, just that soap and water and avoiding touching your face are still your best bet. People would probably be a lot less afraid of "germs", if they better understood bacteria.

The book touches on a number of ideas, like children possibly having more allergies now because the environments we grow up in are more sterile than a generation ago, thus less exposure early to bacteria. It also discusses the "bio-film" on every human's body. The layer of bacteria already on your skin helps to prevent your getting sick, because new bacteria you pick up from doorknobs, pencils, whatever have to contend with those already present. A wide variety of ways in which bacteria support us and other life are also mentioned.

I also learned about different properties of bacteria, where they dwell and how they benefit many higher forms of life as well as some interesting information about early pioneers in the field of microbiology and how some of the key discoveries were made. It's fascinating how things progressed and how antibiotics provided such key military benefits and how we do use and may enhance our little friends in the future to clean up various hazards more cheaply and effectively than we do now. Though, I do worry about some kind of mutant becoming a problem for us, regardless of how sure the author is in the "kill switches" they genetically breed into the enhanced bacteria.

This is a really good book for anybody who wants to learn more about the microbes that share this world with us. It's not the deepest look into things, but then again it's not meant to be a textbook. It's not to bad at the current price. If it were over $20 I'd say wait for the paperback.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Probably accurate, this book seems not to know its audience March 1 2011
By P. Mann - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
I was not sure what to expect from this book. The subtitle, "How the World Depends on Bacteria," made me think this might be for the layperson. After all, it's rather basic knowledge, I thought, the popularity of antibacterial soaps aside, that we depend on bacteria. So I had hoped for a book written for laypeople but substantial enough to keep the interest of an intelligent audience.

What I found was a surfeit of technical terms that made the reading rather slow and dull. If I were a biology student, I would expect to have to know the terms. As a well-educated general reader, I would prefer a book that proceeds more smoothly, that neither condescends nor preaches, and that conveys a sense of enthusiasm. In typing this list, I think of books like Richard Rhodes Deadly Feasts, which I read as a complete layperson and from which I learned a great deal, or Richard Coniff's Spineless Wonders, which so patently conveys the author's enthusiasm that it's nearly impossible not to share it.

This book, however, is dry, just this side of a textbook. There are, from time to time, portions that are fascinating, but for the most part, I felt as if I were in a biology class. That's not a bad thing, of course, if one wants to take biology. I was hoping for more about bacteria in action (as, for example, in the production of cheeses, pasteurization of them, and the diseases that arise from them) in relevant, real-world settings and less about the fundamentals and terminology. Others, of course, may want to read this for just the opposite reason, and to them, I commend the book.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A broad overview of microbiology today... Oct. 26 2010
By Darwin's Bulldog - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
One of my concerns about science books for the general public has been that they tend to over simplify their subject. Science in these books seems to be little more than a set of facts presented in a shallow way. But this is not one of those books. This is a book for someone who knows some biology. This is not a simplified version of microbiology, but a very good and comprehensive overview of the field; perfect for someone with a good high school or college freshman bio course under their belt. It expects the reader to understand something of genetics, chemistry and cell biology, and is comfortable with the vocabulary.

In places there seems to be a bit too much effort to state a series of facts, and the writing feels strained. I had the impression that the author had a specific page count limit to meet, and was trying to get as much material in as possible. Overall, I found the the coverage of microbiology exceptionally broad; the more of the book I read, the better it got. In addition, the author provides a substantial list of references for each chapter that the reader can use to develop a deeper understanding of the various areas covered. Frankly.

If you search Amazon for the author's other books, you will quickly realize that she speaks with great authority on this subject. This book is perfect for younger persons contemplating a college degree in some aspect of the biological sciences, or someone who wants to be brought up-to-date after having some biology in college, perhaps years ago. If you are in the target audience for this book, you are sure to love it.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hello Microbe! Nov. 15 2010
By Tyler Forge - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Executive Summary - fun and fascinating book for nerds (except microbiologists - they already drank the flavor-aid).

When I started reading this book I knew a little bit about cells and microbes, mostly from high school level classes and watching the science channel. The book wasn't particularly taxing for someone at my level, but it taught me A LOT.

The book begins with a nice discussion of what bacteria are and are not. It then proceeds through the deep history (Cambrian) and human history of bacteria. That part was pretty fun. OK - plague, cholera, and tuberculosis are not "fun" subjects, but they can be very interesting.

The final areas addressed are the very recent developments going from cloning to PCR (and how it works!!!) and eventually to how all of this stuff is being applied to solve current and foreseen problems.

Another chunk that I liked was the interrelationship of bacteria and "inorganics". Like rocks deep in the earth and such. That those little microbes are actually effecting geology is amazing. Yeah, the cyanobacteria oxygenated the air but the little suckers miles down messing with rocks are amazing too. It's easy to think that a molten planetary core and plate tectonics do all the work, but that's not quite true.

This is one of those keep-after-reading books. Lots of reasons to return to those pages.

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