The best books about microorganisms

4 authors have picked their favorite books about microorganisms and why they recommend each book.

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Book cover of Virus: An Illustrated Guide to 101 Incredible Microbes

Virus: An Illustrated Guide to 101 Incredible Microbes

By Marilyn J. Roossinck,

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.              

From the list:

The best books on microbes and their amazing world

Book cover of Invincible Microbe: Tuberculosis and the Never-Ending Search for a Cure

Invincible Microbe: Tuberculosis and the Never-Ending Search for a Cure

By Jim Murphy, Alison Blank,

Why this book?

This nonfiction book on tuberculosis, published the same year as my book, begins with the discovery of a skull marked by the scars of tuberculosis. Turns out it belonged to a young man who died over 500,000 years ago from the disease. The authors trace the devastating effects of tuberculosis to modern day when our drugs can no longer fully guarantee treatment. This book tells a fascinating, yet worrisome, story about a most dreaded disease.

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

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

By Tony Hart,

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. 

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The best books about surviving and thriving in a microbial world

Book cover of I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life

I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life

By Ed Yong,

Why this book?

With both humor and scientific precision, Ed Yong takes us through the microscope lens into the world of microbes and microbiology that share our world and, in some cases, our bodies. Yong's book connects those worlds to show our interdependence. His book provides ample evidence that while disease-causing microbes grab most of the headlines, many others in the microbiome are essential allies for a healthy life and are critical to advancements in biotechnology.

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Book cover of Microbe Hunters

Microbe Hunters

By Paul de Kruif,

Why this book?

We live in the most medically protected time in human history. Before about two hundred years ago, we were utterly helpless against infectious diseases – we could neither see nor conceive of what caused them. This book, written in the 1920s, tells in vivid prose, the story of the discovery of microbes, beginning with the Dutch businessman who ground the first lenses enabling the human eye to see the “animalcules” that Louis Pasteur and others eventually matched with their deadly effects, enabling humanity to begin to fight back.

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Book cover of Do Not Lick This Book

Do Not Lick This Book

By Idan Ben-Barak, Julian Frost (illustrator),

Why this book?

I love simple graphical picture books. I love books with a sense of humor. I love books that are interactive, talk directly to the audience, and get kids to physically act out things as they’re being read to. This story has so many elements that I love…I wish I wrote it! The story explains that microbes are everywhere and invites the reader to touch the book and pick up a tiny microbe that is lounging in the paper. Then it invites the reader to touch one of their teeth. This transfers the microbe into their mouth. The book goes on…

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Book cover of Microcosmos: Four Billion Years of Microbial Evolution

Microcosmos: Four Billion Years of Microbial Evolution

By Lynn Margulis, Dorion Sagan,

Why this book?

In this book, Margulis offers a thrilling radical history of the earth and our role in it. She is famous as the protagonist of the theory of the origin of complex life that involved one bacterium engulfing another: one which, heretical in its day, has now been proven to the satisfaction of all biologists. It is a human bias to care only about what we can see with the naked eye, but Margulis’s passionate vision reveals how throughout earth history bacteria have been the vital organisms that hold the web of life together. Microcosm is a rich guide to the…

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Book cover of March of the Microbes: Sighting the Unseen

March of the Microbes: Sighting the Unseen

By John L. Ingraham,

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.

From the list:

The best books on microbes and their amazing world

Book cover of Mushrooms and Toadstools, A Study of the Activities of Fungi

Mushrooms and Toadstools, A Study of the Activities of Fungi

By John Ramsbottom,

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.

From the list:

The best books on microbes and their amazing world

Book cover of Tiny Creatures: The World of Microbes

Tiny Creatures: The World of Microbes

By Nicola Davies, Emily Sutton (illustrator),

Why this book?

I met Nicola Davies in 2015 when we accepted our Green Earth Book Awards in Washington, D.C. She writes about nature in a way that helps even young readers understand and think a little harder about their connections to it. In Tiny Creatures, Nicola tackles microbes—where they live, and how they help or hurt us. This focus on the unseen world will then help kids understand the importance of the unseen fungi internet in Can You Hear the Trees Talking and the importance of tiny phytoplankton in Planet Ocean.

Perfect for kids ages 5-8.

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