Biography of a Germ Paperback – May 15 2001
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The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein might say that if a microbe could talk, we couldn't understand it, but psychoanalyst and science writer Arno Karlen has done his best to listen and translate in Biography of a Germ. This lovely, funny, even endearing portrait of Borrelia burgdorferi (or Bb), the screwy bacterium that causes Lyme disease, would charm even a terminal mysophobe like Howard Hughes. Unfortunately, Karlen has to justify his topic at greater length than do most biographers, but his reasoning is nearly lyrical in its enthusiasm for the microscopic. Following the genealogy of the germ back to our common ancestor (gulp) and beyond, the author finds a freshness in what we too often see as dry taxonomy and genetics. From there, he watches Bb as it makes its way through the circulation superhighways of deer, ticks, and hikers, each a stop on its complex life cycle.
We elbowed our way into Bb's story comparatively recently, ironically hurting ourselves as we renewed our appreciation of and commitment to wilderness areas. As we destroyed, then created habitat for deer, we ended up inviting Bb to run amok in our bodies. Karlen captures the beauty and terror of this bizarre chain of events, providing new insights into our relationship with our environment. Much like its cousins that live harmlessly in our bloodstream, eyelashes, and guts, this tickborne germ will eventually evolve a truce with us to protect its reproduction. Unfortunately for current and future sufferers of Lyme disease, we're quite a few generations away from that happy time. While we're waiting, we can read Biography of a Germ to learn more about our new tenants and why we should care about them. --Rob Lightner --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From Publishers Weekly
The germ is Borrelia burgdorferi, Bb for short, and causes Lyme disease in the people it infects: before it hits a human, Bb has to reside in three other animalsAa mouse, a tick and a deer, in that order. This odd property, and the germ's wide distribution, means that Bb has been affected by changes in human land useAfactories, clear-cuts, the growth of the suburbs and the environmental movement all had to happen for Lyme to become something Americans think about. And think about it we do: Bb is now so interesting that in 1997 scientists mapped its genome. All these facets make Bb the ideal candidate for what Karlen (Man and Microbes, etc.) claims is the first history of a pathogen written from that pathogen's perspective. Fascinating in their own right, Bb and its relatives also demonstrate larger patterns and questions in the study and history of microbes and molecular biology, of zoology and ecology, of medicine, public health policy and disease. In 22 brief chapters, Karlen lays out and answers some of those questions. He tells of Bb's sibling spirochetes, which cause syphilis and tropical diseases. He explains how ticks' adaptations let them parasitize "a chipmunk or a human," "a wren or a raccoon," and how Bb's adaptations let it jump between ticks and their hosts. Karlen has created a vigorous, compact account of Bb's life and times. And beyond the zoology and disease control, Karlen even offers a message: "Pathogens... are just trying to survive, and sometimes they must do so at other creatures' expense." The same could be said of humans." (June)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
I always imagined that bacteria split about every twenty minutes. Here I learned that some bacteria do split every twenty minutes or so, but others take hours and some even longer. I was also fuzzy about just how it is that microbes cause disease. Do they "eat" human flesh or destroy our cells with toxins or hog our nutrients for themselves? Turns out that some do one thing and some do another. Karlen emphasizes that sometimes what they do is cause symptoms: fever, muscle aches, fatigue, inflamation, etc., which are actually the result of our immune system's aggressive response to the presence of something foreign. Sometimes this can get so out of hand that our immune system continues to attack our own cells even after the microbe is gone, as is suspected in rheumatoid arthritis and possibly fibromyalgia (p. 160).Read more ›
The reason I only gave three stars to this book is that I felt it is superficial. Arno Karlen does not explain intimate relations between Borrelia and Ioxodes, nor between Ioxodes and deer, he just mentions the relations between them, but do not explain intimacies.
Most recent customer reviews
I have read Mr. Karlens book and have heard him speak. I found the book a refreshing unbiased look at the life of a spirochete, Bb. Read morePublished on Jan. 10 2001 by Constance E. Dickey
I have Lyme disease, and have read tons of info on Bb. This is the first description I've found that I would not describe as dry. Read morePublished on Nov. 5 2000
This is a cute little book on science which is also very informative and easy to read at the same time. Read morePublished on Aug. 3 2000