The best books on microbes

Nicholas P. Money Author Of The Rise of Yeast: How the Sugar Fungus Shaped Civilization
By Nicholas P. Money

The Books I Picked & Why

Virus: An Illustrated Guide to 101 Incredible Microbes

By Marilyn J. Roossinck

Virus: An Illustrated Guide to 101 Incredible Microbes

Why this book?

Viruses are infectious particles containing small sets of genes. They reproduce by penetrating and destroying cells. Marilyn Roossinck’s book introduces the subject of virology with succinct descriptions and superb illustrations. The tininess and beauty of viruses belie their power to ruin our lives, which is something that everyone can appreciate at this time.              


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Microcosm: E. Coli and the New Science of Life

By Carl Zimmer

Microcosm: E. Coli and the New Science of Life

Why this book?

A bacterium called Escherichia coli lives in the human gut. This snippet of life has been used in genetic experiments since the 1940s, allowing biologists to pick apart the way that information is encoded in DNA and expressed in every living thing. In this bacterial biography, Carl Zimmer takes the reader from the early investigations, including “the most beautiful experiment in biology” on DNA replication, to the ethical dilemmas posed by the manipulation of the bacterium by the biotechnology industry today.


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March of the Microbes: Sighting the Unseen

By John L. Ingraham

March of the Microbes: Sighting the Unseen

Why this book?

Ingraham offers a broad view of microbiology in March of the Microbes, introducing the different kinds of microorganisms and where they live, their roles in human health and disease, and the way that they shape the chemistry of Earth. I like this book because it strengthens my conviction that we live on a microbial planet and that most biology is microbiology.


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The Way of the Cell: Molecules, Organisms, and the Order of Life

By Franklin M. Harold

The Way of the Cell: Molecules, Organisms, and the Order of Life

Why this book?

Frank Harold spent his research career using bacteria and fungi to understand how the chemical electrification of membranes is linked to the growth, development, and sensitivity of cells. The Way of the Cell is a thought-provoking read that spotlights unsolved questions as it illuminates the fundamental workings of life. Frank was my scientific research mentor and he inspired me to think deeper, challenge dogma, and read widely.


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Mushrooms and Toadstools, A Study of the Activities of Fungi

By John Ramsbottom

Mushrooms and Toadstools, A Study of the Activities of Fungi

Why this book?

Viruses and bacteria attract all the attention from microbiologists and fungi are given short shrift in most textbooks. This needs to change because fungi are bona fide microbes that grow as budding yeast cells and colonies of slender threads and spin the planet’s carbon cycle. There are plenty of popular books on fungal biology, but John Ramsbottom’s Mushrooms and Toadstools, first published in 1953, has not been bettered. It captivates the reader with a succession of marvelous stories without losing grip on the science. This book is a great place to begin a lifetime of learning about fungi.


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