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Though nothing in the natural world would be quite the same without them, microbes go mostly unnoticed. They are the tiny, mighty force behind the pop in Champagne and the holes in Swiss cheese, the granite walls of Yosemite and the white cliffs of Dover, the workings of snowmaking machines, Botox, and gunpowder; and yet we tend to regard them as peripheral, disease-causing, food-spoiling troublemakers. In this book renowned microbiologist John Ingraham rescues these supremely important and ubiquitous microorganisms from their unwonted obscurity by showing us how we can, in fact, see them—and appreciate their vast and varied role in nature and our lives.
Though we might not be able to see microbes firsthand, the consequences of their activities are readily apparent to our unaided senses. March of the Microbes shows us how to examine, study, and appreciate microbes in the manner of a birdwatcher, by making sightings of microbial activities and thereby identifying particular microbes as well as understanding what they do and how they do it. The sightings are as different as a smelly rock cod, a bottle of Chateau d’Yquem, a moment in the Salem witch trials, and white clouds over the ocean. Together they summarize the impact of microbes on our planet, its atmosphere, geology, weather, and other organisms including ourselves, to whom they dole out fatal illnesses and vital nutrients alike.
In the end, Ingraham leaves us marveling at the power and persistence of microbes on our planet and gives credence to Louis Pasteur’s famous assertion that “microbes will have the last word.”
From the mundane (a smelly fish, a child with earache) to the exotic (hydrothermal vents), Ingraham presents the microbes behind so much of the world around us. He drives home the point that without these overlooked life forms we wouldn't be here at all...Ingraham's fresh perspective makes it an engaging read.
— Jo Marchant
In this engaging treatment, the microbiologist shows readers the invisible world through observations about its macroscopic manifestations in a range of environments, from the kitchen to the abyss of the sea...Ingraham describes some of their malicious cousins who blight crops, kill trees, and sicken humans. Ingraham's clarity, plus touches of humor, augments the appeal of this fine contribution to popularizing science.
— Gilbert Taylor
John Ingraham has written the definitive field guide for microbe watching, a branch of natural history that, to the uninitiated, might seem oxymoronic. Microorganisms being, by definition, creatures too small to be seen by the unaided eye, one might wonder...why anyone would need a guide to seeing the unseeable. Read just a few pages, however, and the puzzle is solved. Sure, microbes are tiny, but they are so prolific that their effects on the world are both profound and highly visible—from the black mold on bathroom walls to the red tide that sporadically discolors and poisons long expanses of shoreline...He blends the deep knowledge of an academic with the passion of a microbe watcher extraordinaire—which makes this guide as entertaining as it is informative.
— Laurence A. Marschall
Though most people are only familiar with microbes that cause disease (germs, etc.), those "felonious" microbes actually constitute a tiny percent of all microbes, and just a single chapter in this fascinating survey of single-celled organisms and their role in shaping life on Earth, from University of California Professor Emeritus of Microbiology Ingraham. Among other processes, Ingraham explains how vaccines have been developed, frequently with the aid of other microbes; the carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur cycles which make life possible; and how microbes give us cheese, wine, and other foodstuffs (though some, like xanthan gum, readers not to know about). Ingraham also discusses recently-discovered microbes inhabiting extreme environments (hot, cold, salty, etc.) that promise to tell us much about the evolution of life on Earth and what life on other planets might look like. Ingraham's entertaining, breezy style makes even difficult topics accessible, and every chapter contains intriguing anecdotes about microbes in history (did the CIA try to poison Castro's cigars with botulinum toxin?). Highly readable, engrossing, and endlessly informative, this is a standout example of science writing for general audiences.
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