The best books on microbes and their amazing world

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

Who am I?

Microorganisms have bewitched me since childhood when I remember seeing floating dust particles glinting in sunbeams and wondering what they were and if they were alive. Decades later, my research has included experiments on the amazing mechanisms that shoot fungal spores into the air to form part of that dust, which is one of several odd coincidences in my life. As an educator (Miami University in Ohio) and science writer my interests in biology go beyond the fungi, but I never stray too far from my obsession with the smallest organisms. Microbes are everywhere and will outlive us by an eternity.


I wrote...

The Rise of Yeast: How the Sugar Fungus Shaped Civilization

By Nicholas P. Money,

Book cover of The Rise of Yeast: How the Sugar Fungus Shaped Civilization

What is my book about?

Yeast is the microscopic thing that we cannot live without. Ten thousand years ago, our ancestors abandoned bush meat and wild fruit in favor of farming animals and growing the raw materials fermented by yeast: cereals for brewing beer and raising bread, and grapes for winemaking. We domesticated wild yeast and yeast domesticated us. 

Over the millennia, our reliance on yeast has deepened. Yeast is used to produce bioethanol in industrial refineries and insulin and other life-saving medicines are manufactured by genetically modified strains of the fungus. As a model organism for research, yeast is helping us to understand how the trillions of cells in our bodies function and malfunction. This is the story of our favorite microbe.  

The Books I Picked & Why

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Virus: An Illustrated Guide to 101 Incredible Microbes

By Marilyn J. Roossinck,

Book cover of 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.              


Microcosm: E. Coli and the New Science of Life

By Carl Zimmer,

Book cover of 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.


March of the Microbes: Sighting the Unseen

By John L. Ingraham,

Book cover of 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.


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

By Franklin M. Harold,

Book cover of 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.


Mushrooms and Toadstools, A Study of the Activities of Fungi

By John Ramsbottom,

Book cover of 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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