Not sure about the subtitle, but otherwise, good science-y stuff.
14 December 2009
Okay. Flu season may not be the best time to read a book titled The Invisible Kingdom: From the Tips of Our Fingers to the Tops of Our Trash, Inside the Curious World of Microbes.*
But I couldn't help it. I got it from the library because every now and then I like a good satisfying science read, and this was definitely that. In various chapters Idan Ben-Barak describes what microbes are ("any creature that is, individually, too small to be seen with the unaided eye"--including bacteria, archaea, fungi, protists, and viruses), how they've been studied and used in experiments, how they move, how they affect us, and lots of other good creepy topics. It's just rigorous enough to be interesting and kind of challenging, but it's definitely science lite; topics are explained simply** and with a great deal of humor and enjoyable footnotes. Consider this tidbit, from the chapter on surprising discoveries about microbes:
"How do gut bacteria first enter the gut, though? A fetus inside the womb is sterile, and the initial transfer of microorganisms occurs during or shortly after birth. Eventually, in the first year or two of a child's life, they gradually build up stable, thriving gut flora." (p. 176.)
And the footnote for that piece of information is: "Note that I have tastefully refrained from using the words contamination, mother, and feces in this description, so as not to cause too much unease."
So yeah, I liked this one. But perhaps my favorite thing about it is a little present that came with it: for a long time I worked in the public library, and periodically people I knew there must still notice my name on holds, because when I opened this book there was a tiny little post-it with a "hello!" note on it from my friend, which I really enjoyed. But even without the note it would have been a good book.
*I am not a fan of overly long nonfiction subtitles, particularly when they don't add much to my understanding of the book's subject. This subtitle is too long and not particularly helpful. I also hate it when subtitles change from the hardcover to the paperback edition. What is that? Confusing and stupid, tht's what.
**Not as simply as the textbook I had in my high school Physics for Dummies class, which used rhyming to provide pronunciation help ("joule rhymes with pool"), but still, pretty simply.