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4.5 out of 5 stars
A Field Guide to Germs: Revised and Updated
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This is an excellent work which diarizes practically every
major germ imaginable. The author depicts how physicians
dressed in special garb to guard against the bubonic plague
throughout the centuries following the 1300s. The work describes
various acute respiratory diseases impacting the tonsils and
adenoids. Today, there is a lowered risk of Anthrax
infestation due to considerable advances in the medicinal arts.
Lyme disease is still a concern in the Northeastern, USA.
Approximately 15-30% of ticks are infected and 1-3% of
people bitten by ticks become infected with Lyme disease.
Cholera is a disease which manifests itself in a dirty
environment of water or food contamination. The hantavirus
is carried by mice and rats which contaminate the air by
breathing common air and spreading disease through droppings,
urine and saliva. This book could be very helpful in identifying
a complicated disease process early enough so that effective
strategies could be formulated and implemented.
This work would be beneficial to a wide constituency of readers
including medical personnel, parents, teachers, public
administrators, rangers and any public service employee.
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on August 29, 2002
For witty and informative science writing on a scary topic, you can't beat this little book. This entertaining as well as very informative little guide is about all the nasty little bugs that feed on us humans, written in a darkly humorous and even satirical style. You wouldn't think that a writer could make so many nasty diseases entertaining and even fun to read about, but Biddle has managed it in this great little book.
Besides the usual tropical diseases such as malaria and sleeping sickness, there are essays on things you've never heard of, and after reading about them, probably won't want to hear about ever again, such as Kala Azar, o-nyong-nyong, shigella (also known as dysentery), schistosomiasis, and many others.
Biddle also is adept at turning a phrase. For example, here is how he describes malaria: "The life cycle of the malaria trypanosome is one of nature's darksome wonders." A reviewer here mentioned another good one. Writing about the microbial fungus, candida albicans, he says "Even the most squeeky clean athlete has a lot in common with a rotten tree trunk."
The book consists of short essays, usually a page or two in length, on the natural history and pathology of bacteria, viruses and microbial disease-causing and other parasitic organisms. Although I was a biology major in college and took courses in microbiology and even virology, I still found this to be an interesting and informative book despite it's being aimed at the general reader. In fact, this is one of the most enjoyable pieces of science writing I've ever come across by chance.
This book is well worth your time and money, although it's certain to turn you into a hypochondriac. At the very least, you'll never want to set foot in the tropics or outside the borders of the U.S., with its 5-star sewage and plumbing, ever again.
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on February 25, 2001
"A Field Guide to Germs" is a mordantly funny series of one or two-page essays on the microscopic life forms that can make our lives nasty, brutish, and short. This book is organized like a field guide to birds, but instead of browsing through a description of the shy and spritely wren and its habitat, you will read about the not-so-shy and spritely 'Candida albicans', its description and habitat (the human mouth, baby bottoms, etc.). In fact it is in the 'Candida albicans' section where Wayne Biddle maintains that, "even the most squeaky-clean aesthete has a lot in common with rotten tree trunks."
The essays are in alphabetical order, so yeasts are jumbled together with other fungi, viruses, and bacteria. You may be able to read some of essays with a superior smirk on your face ("I don't think I have to worry about catching chikungunya or o'nyong-nyong."). This inevitably sets you up for a bruising in a following essay, in this case the "Chinese Restaurant Syndrome."
Did you ever wonder where monosodium glutamate, aka MSG comes from? According to Biddle, this Chinese restaurant stalwart is a byproduct of 'corynebacterium glutamicum', a kissing cousin of the diptheria germ.
Let's hope you don't find a mutated version in your egg foo yung!
"A Field Guide to Germs" is very funny and easy to read - the very antithesis of a textbook - but it is not recommended for the weak-of-stomach or the hypochondriac.
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on July 7, 1998
From adenovirus to zika fever, the pantheon of germs is discussed here in an informative and fun manner. Biddle focuses especially on historical aspects and classic anecdotes (like the one about the Plague-infested corpses being catapulted over city walls as an early form of biological warfare). We get a lot on where the germs were first discovered, and what part of the world they are ravaging today. The book is illustrated with classic pictures from days of old, such as the cartoon which makes fun of Jenner's cowpox/smallpox vaccine by showing people with cows coming out of every part of the body. We also get lots of horrid descriptions of the tortures that passed for medical treatment in the premodern age, i.e. bleeding, purgatives.
All your favorite diseases are here from the familiar to the obscure: AIDS, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Anthrax, various cold viruses, Chinese Restaurant Syndrome, Q Fever, Malaria, Tuberculosis, Polio, Staph, Strep and all your other disease friends jostle for your attention in this nice little book that will make a wonderful addition to the library of any pathology enthusiast.
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on June 4, 2001
I wrote a previous review on this great little book earlier, and had a correction to make. I referred to the "malaria trypanosome" in my review, and actually, it is a plasmodium, rather than a trypanosome, since that is the organism for sleeping sickness.
Unless you're a real microbiologist, it's impossible to track all these little things. I do recall, however, that there are five different phyla of protozoans or unicellular organisms, which consist of the rhizopoda (or amoebas), ciliates, flagellates, sporozoans, and the mastigophorans, if I remember correctly, as I'm not a microbiologist myself.
But getting back to my previous point. So if from the name you conclude that the scientific name for sleeping sickness is trypanosomiasis, pat yourself on the back.
Unfortunately, I've never heard that malaria is known as plasmodiumiasis.
Anyway, this is a fun little book on lots of scary little bugs. Definitely worth your time and money.
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I am always on the look out for books which explain scientific phenomenon in ways that junior high school, high school, and undergraduate students will enjoy. Books that tweak their interest so they will go on and read the boring textbooks that so many professors and educators feel are necessary as drudgework. Biddle's book is a nice change of pace from the usual textbooks on viruses, germs, etc. and is enough to get the kids interested. It is also very readable, cynical, and caustic which is right up my creek. He deftly explains our own responsibilities in the cycle of viral infections world-wide and brings up the fact that we are ignoring the problems in Third World countries, which will eventually hurt us. Only suggestion I have is next time include prions and mad cow disease/Jakob-Crutzfeld/kuru! Too bad he can't write about politicians this way... Karen Sadler, Science Education, University of Pittsburgh
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on September 1, 1998
It is a heartwarming book about the many viruses, bacteria, and pests that have made life for homo sapiens interesting for thousands of years. Herein you can read all about mumps, measles, and malaria (if you want to read about the pleasant diseases) or plague, anthrax, and rabies (if you want to read about the unpleasant ones). Each has a fascinating story to tell.

What can you do with this book? Well, you can read aloud the descriptions of gastrointestinal diseases at the dinner table. You can describe the diseases that cause hives with someone who is itchy. Or you can cheer up an old friend suffering from a disease by describing several diseases that are worse. This book is a barrel of laughs, I tell you. Get yours today.
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on January 18, 2004
Usually, I approach texts such as this with some trepidation, because they have a tendancy of being the author's perception as well as some half-baked theory of a conspiracy.
This book is objective, clear-cut, and explains in simple terminology, the story behind our most common "bugs" and the diseases they cause.
If you are intrigued by the field of diseases, I suggest you check this one out.
Also check out "Killer Germs" (Barry & David Zimmerman) for something more in depth and historical.
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on October 22, 2001
This book is very good in describing that most common basic germs and virus that our country has seen over the years. The author explains the history and origins of these germs in a very descriptive easy to understand form. The only regret I have is that is doesn't go very "in-depth" to the nature of some of these germs and I thought it would have more of the recent germs. It focuses on small pox, anthrax, etc. older ones. For a person who wants the basic facts-this book is good.
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on December 29, 1999
This was an informative, interesting & often hilarious book. I have used it for several years as a resource while teaching about microbes at a science museum in Chicago. But don't get me wrong, this book is written to be enjoyed by non-science folk, as well as, the science teacher. It is easy to navigate through when used as a resource and fun to read cover to cover, like a book of well written essays.
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