Microbiology: A Very Short Introduction – Book Review

Screen Shot 2015-02-20 at 11.44.35 AMBiology is a fascinating discipline and one of the oldest scientific subjects. Fascination with the living world is deeply ingrained in the human psyche – we do depend on the knowledge and understanding of other organisms for our survival. However, for most of the human history the systematic study of biology focused almost exclusively on macroscopic organism. Only with the invention of the microscope were we able to study the tiniest organism – the unicellular organism that predominate the Biosphere.

This short book covers all of the known microorganism in a more or systematic way – bacteria, archaea, unicellular eukaryotes, and it even briefly goes over the viruses. (There are a few very good Very Short Introduction books that cover some of those biological entities in their own right.) The book gives you a remarkable amount of information about microbiology for its size. It covers the evolution of microorganisms, and their biochemistry. Unsurprisingly, it gives a lot of space to microorganisms that cause various diseases, especially in humans. Historically this was the primary motivation for studying the microorganisms, and it’s still a very relevant medical issues. Unfortunately, however, it has biased us to think of all microorganisms as harmful. The vast majority of them are either neutral or beneficial. Human body in terms of the sheer number of cells is more microbial than multicellular. Our guts alone are an incredible microbiological ecosystems, and we are only now starting to understand how many of them affect our well being.

One of the issues that I have with this book is that it is pretty dense in terms of jargon and concepts that it covers. The writing style and the presentation are very fluid and well organized, but you still have a lot of very high-level scientific concepts that might be unfamiliar to most readers of this book. If you are willing to be challenged, though, this could be an ideal small book to get you acquainted with the up-to-date science and biology lingo.

The book seems very fresh and up to date with the latest insights and developments in the field of microbiology. One of the more interesting insights for me was the recent prevailing theory of the tree of life which postulates that the eukaryotes evolved from archaea. Thus, it seems to upend the three-pronged tree of life picture (bacteria, archaea and eukaryotes) that has been around for just a few decades. Another interesting thing that I’ve learned from this book is that the vast majority of microorganisms cannot be cultured in the lab, and are thus not very well studied or understood. This puts in perspective the amount of knowledge that we have about the natural world.

Unfortunately, this book will not bring you any closer to the understanding of the ultimate origins of life. This topics remains an enduring mystery, and for its resolution will likely require much more powerful analytical, experimental and computational resources than we have today.

This is a very interesting and well written little book that I would strongly recommend to anyone interested in biology or science in general.


Bojan Tunguz

Bojan Tunguz was born in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which he and his family fled during the civil war for the neighboring Croatia. Over the past two decades he has studied, lived and worked in the United States. He is a theoretical physicist with degrees from Stanford and University of Illinois. Tunguz has taught physics at several prominent liberal arts colleges and has been writing about physics, science and technology for more than a decade. He also has a wide spectrum of interests, and reads and writes about current events, society, culture, religion and politics. Over the years he has reviewed many of the books that he has read, and posted his reviews on various online outlets. In 2011 he had become a top 10 reviewer on Amazon.com, where he continues to be very active. Aside from reading and writing, Tunguz enjoys traveling, digital photography, hiking, and fitness. He resides with his wife in Indiana. You can follow my review updates on the following pages as well: Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/tunguzreview Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/tunguzreviews Google+: https://plus.google.com/u/0/104312842297641697463/posts

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