Allies and Enemies: How the World Depends on Bacteria Hardcover – Jul 12 2010
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"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.
From the Back Cover
“InAllies and Enemies, Anne Maczulak takes the mystery out of bacteria. Practical, useful, and very readable, Maczulak demystifies the world of bacteria and viruses. A fascinating book on an important subject. Highly recommended.”
--Sheldon Siegel, author of The New York Times best-sellingJudgment Day
“No nucleus? No problem! As a microbiologist, Anne Maczulak deeply appreciates the astonishing abilities of the ultra-simple organisms that rule our world and help operate our bodies. As a writer, she inspires her readers to want to know more about their secret realm. Allies and Enemies is both fun and practical as it interweaves science with history and popular culture.”
--Jessica Snyder Sachs, author ofGood Germs, Bad Germs: Health and Survival in a Bacterial World
“Anne Maczulak engagingly achieves the often difficult task to present the scope of modern microbiology in a nontechnical manner for general reading.Allies and Enemiescovers the scope of the microbial world, from the continuing battle against microbe enemies who never give up the fight to the frontiers of how microbes create a livable environment for us. For those whose interest is perked for more about microbes, an excellent list of references and websites is provided.”
--Charles P. Gerba(also known as “Dr. Germ”), University of Arizona, Tucson
“Anne Maczulak has done a masterful job of explaining the complex nuances of microbes in simple, easy-to-understand language. She explains the ‘yin and yang' of the diverse microbial world with text that is rich with numerous historical vignettes. She takes the reader on a whirlwind tour of the benefits of microbes to human existence, describing their finely articulated chemical mechanisms, their intricate dances of cooperation, their lightning speed adaptations, and their genetic plasticity, offering a glimpse of the underlying principles of the miracle of life.”
--Philip M. Tierno Jr., Ph.D., Director, Clinical Microbiology and Immunology, New York University Langone Medical Center and New York University School of Medicine
Bacteria: How they keep you alive. How they can kill you. How we can all live together happily.
Bacteria are invisible, mysterious, deadly, self-sufficient…and absolutely essential for all life, includingyours. 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 Enemiestells 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 youin 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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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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.
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.
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.
In this book you will short depictions of notable historical events, such as about Typhoid Mary, a woman who was immune to the effects of the bacteria that cause typhoid, yet through whom many people were infected, some dying. You will also learn more about anthrax and other bacterial pathogens. In addition, you will learn about how scientists use other bacteria, like E. coli, to make discoveries that benefit mankind. The squeemish reader may not want to learn about the communities of bacteria that live on and in our bodies, but, well, they are there, and we would be in sad shape without most of them. There is also a nice introduction to how some kinds of bacteria can be used to carry out bioremediation (that is, clean up environmentally hazardous waste, including oil spills).
All in all an interesting read, yet I found myself wanting more as I read each episode. There is, however, a nice explanation of what DNA is, and how scientsts are now able to manipulate it to produce GMOs - genetically modified organisms, a process often involving bacteria.
A solid 4-star read, though, again, I wish there was more detail inlcuded about some of the stories. There is not quite enough info here to keep a professional biologist happy, but it will serve quite well for the non-scientist who wants to learn something about bacteria and their roles in the world.