The best books about surviving and thriving in a microbial world

Jessica Snyder Sachs Author Of Good Germs, Bad Germs: Health and Survival in a Bacterial World
By Jessica Snyder Sachs

Who am I?

I'm enchanted by ecology – how life on Earth is both a web and a seamless continuum. In my first book, Corpse, I explored the organisms that colonize the human body after death. In Good Germs, Bad Germs, I immersed myself in our symbiotic relationship with the ever-present bacteria that live in us and on us. I’m passionate about understanding how we evolved to survive in a bacterial world and how we must take the long-term view of surviving – and thriving – in their ever-present embrace. My joy has been in exploring the world of science and translating this joy into lay-accessible stories that entertain as well as educate. 


I wrote...

Good Germs, Bad Germs: Health and Survival in a Bacterial World

By Jessica Snyder Sachs,

Book cover of Good Germs, Bad Germs: Health and Survival in a Bacterial World

What is my book about?

Public sanitation and antibiotics have delivered historic increases in the human life span. Unintendedly, they have also produced new health crises by disrupting the intimate, age-old balance between humans and the microorganisms that inhabit our bodies and our environment. As a result, antibiotic resistance now ranks among our deadliest medical problems. Good Germs, Bad Germs tells the story of what went terribly wrong in our war on germs. It also offers a hopeful look into a future when antibiotics will be designed and used more wisely, and beyond that, to a day when we may replace antibacterial drugs and cleansers with bacterial ones. 

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is reader supported. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through links on our website. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

Life On Man

By Theodor Rosebury,

Book cover of Life On Man

Why this book?

In Life on Man, the brilliant bacteriologist and renowned professor Theodor Rosebury became the first to introduce the public to the world of bacteria within and around them. He did so with irreverence and humor that shocked and delighted without sacrificing scientific accuracy and prudence. Though our understanding of the bacterial world has progressed light years since Life on Man was first published in 1969, it remains a classic. A must-read for everyone seriously interested in our personal microbiomes.  


A Planet of Viruses

By Carl Zimmer,

Book cover of A Planet of Viruses

Why this book?

While I disagree with Carl’s take on viruses being “alive” (an age-old and still unresolved scientific debate), I agree that they are pivotal to shaping life, evolution, and health on our planet. I find A Planet of Viruses a great pairing with my own book, which delves primarily into the bacterial world. Carl is wonderful at evoking how we live embedded in an ocean of viruses – and how they have always played a crucial role in our evolution. 


Microterrors: The Complete Guide to Bacterial, Viral and Fungal Infections that Threaten Our Health

By Tony Hart,

Book cover of Microterrors: The Complete Guide to Bacterial, Viral and Fungal Infections that Threaten Our Health

Why this book?

If you can get past the sensational (fear-mongering?) title, Tony Harts' slender volume is a delight of colorful micrographs of the bacterial, viral and fungal microbes that cause human infections. His phenomenal microscopy brings the world of “germs” alive – often against the eerie landscape of our own cells and tissues. Not just a picture book, Hart provides succinct, accurate, and lay-accessible information on the spectrum of important, disease-causing microbes and the hazards they pose when they show up in the wrong place at the wrong time. 


Microbial Inhabitants of Humans: Their Ecology and Role in Health and Disease

By Michael Wilson,

Book cover of Microbial Inhabitants of Humans: Their Ecology and Role in Health and Disease

Why this book?

Ready for a truly deep dive? Here’s the authoritative textbook on the human microbiome, by the head of the Department of Microbiology at the University College London’s Eastman Dental Institute. Medical microbiologist Michael Wilson goes beyond the microbiome of the mouth and gut, to describe the indigenous microbiota of the skin, eyes, as well as our respiratory, urinary, and reproductive systems. The serious student of microbiology will appreciate each chapter’s extensive study citations and further reading.   


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?

I know I’m double dipping here with another of Carl’s books. I love how he takes one, ubiquitous micro-inhabitant of the human body and uses it to explore what it means to be alive and interconnected with the life in and around us. I love how Carl flips away our human perspective to “view” the word through the chemical-sensing molecules of a single-celled organism – E. coli. Superb, fun science writing.  


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in microorganisms, viruses, and fungus?

5,809 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about microorganisms, viruses, and fungus.

Microorganisms Explore 16 books about microorganisms
Viruses Explore 32 books about viruses
Fungus Explore 13 books about fungus

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Cuckoo, The Way of the Cell, and Monarchs and Milkweed if you like this list.