Animalcules: The Activities, Impacts, and Investigators of Microbes

Author: Bernard Dixon
Content Type: Trade
Format: Hardcover
Publication Year: 2009

Category: General Interest; History of Science

MyBook is a cheap paperback edition of the original book and will be sold at uniform, low price.

An entertaining and informative overview on microbiology and its heroes, dissenters, and discoveries

Begun three centuries ago by pioneers who constructed rudimentary microscopes to observe otherwise invisible life, the field of microbiology has often evolved in unexpected ways. Through the techniques introduced by these first luminaries, our knowledge of what Leeuwenhoek called animalcules has deepened considerably. So too has our awareness of our paradoxical relationship with the microbial world. Microorganisms continually assail our tissues, yet they also provide the means of promoting human health and environmental well-being. This entertaining and informative volume provides a broad picture of the most compelling areas of the field, its early history, and its recent discoveries.

presents a collection of the columns of the same name that have been published over the course of the past 12 years in Microbe (formerly ASM News). This volume is an erudite, yet approachable overview of microbiology. It introduces the field’s earliest “microbe hunters” in their human context. By chronicling the history, pioneers, and discoveries of microbiology, provides an important window into the incredible diversity of the microbial world. It covers the pioneering work of early scientists like Antony van Leeuwenhoek, Robert Hooke, and Hideyo Noguchi while also providing thoughtful explanations on timely topics such as Botox, Lyme disease, and bioremediation.

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Quarterly Review of Biology

20 February 2013

When microbes were first discovered in the 17th century, they were called "animalcules." This is also the title of Bernard Dixon's book on the manifold aspects of microbiology. The volume consists of 69 short articles that he published over the course of 12 years in Microbe (formerly the American Society for Microbiology News). The author was trained as an experimental scientist (biochemical microbiology) and he speaks with authority on microbiology, particularly its rich history and roles in contemporary science and public affairs. His contributions as a science writer, editor, and consultant have been recognized by a number of prestigious awards.

Animalcules presents a wide variety of topics in which microbes (including viruses) are agents of infectious diseases, or of ecological changes in the biosphere, or are used as model systems for basic research in cell biochemistry and molecular biology.The book is organized into five sections: Touching Life at Many Points; The Ecological Context; The Human Context; Personalia; and Doing Microbiology. Each article (typically five pages in length) cites significant references to the original literature. Animalcules has an extensive index (16 pages) that includes the names of more than 300 scientists who are cited in scientific contexts or in reference to their political or literary connections. Dixon's attention to leading investigators and historical aspects of microbiological research is noteworthy and commendable. The final paragraph of Animalcules states: "In the media and popular books and articles, microbiology tends to be scarcely mentioned, alongside climatology, ecology, meteorology, and computer modeling, as a source of key questions, and answers, about global warming and its practical repercussions. Given the multifarious roles of microorganisms as drivers of some of the largest-scale phenomena on the planet, from photosynthesis and the cycling of nitrogen and other elements to pandemics of infectious disease . . . it could soon prove to be one of the most important. There is much microbiology yet to do. (p. 325). I strongly recommend Animalcules to graduate and postdoctoral students, as well as to their professors.


Reviwer: Howard Gest, Biology, Indiana University, Bloomington,Indiana

Review Date: March 2010

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