Noting that a normal human body of 10 trillion cells also has 100 trillion bacteria, fungi, viruses, and protozoa on and in...

Germs Are Us


Benarde covers everything you wanted to know—and some of what you didn’t—about the interactions of humans and the microbes that live with us in this engrossing exploration of the human biome.

Noting that a normal human body of 10 trillion cells also has 100 trillion bacteria, fungi, viruses, and protozoa on and in it, microbiologist Benarde (You’ve Been Had! How the Media and Environmentalists Turned America into a Nation of Hypochondriacs, 2002) treats the human-microbial symbiosis as a (usually) harmonious “supra-organism.” The benefits we derive, he contends, are manifold: microbes in our gut help digest food and produce vitamin K; normal skin bacteria crowd out harmful pathogenic bacteria and secrete substances that kill them; gut microbes can reduce our risk of gastric and bowel cancers and enhance the effectiveness of anti-tumor agents; the species Mycobacterium vaccae appears to cure depression; exposure to a wide variety of microbes in childhood reduces the risk of allergies and autoimmune disorders. Microbes, he continues, are essential to manufacturing our major foodstuffs, from bread to beer and cheese (Limburger cheese uses bacteria normally found on our—urp!—toes); bacteria add nitrogen to soils, digest oil spills and organic pollutants, and enable raindrops to condense from clouds. Benarde also devotes much space to those few delinquent microbes that cause human illness. He traces the histories of the germ theory of disease and antibiotics, describes the deadliest pathogens, from tuberculosis to HIV, and tours frontiers of antimicrobial hygiene, from improved hospital hand-washing to the use of radiation to kill food pathogens. The book sometimes meanders too much, but the author brings together a wealth of scientific lore in prose that’s interesting, accessible, and studded with entertaining historical anecdotes. His enthusiasm for the subject is, er, infectious—“Is that a hellofa jarring thought?” he muses about statistics indicating that we are “more microbial than human”—and he mounts impassioned arguments on policy issues, including stinging attacks on opponents of genetically modified foods and childhood vaccinations. The result is a thought-provoking reconsideration of our relationship with nature at the most intimate level.

Pub Date: Jan. 30, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-5005-7488-8

Page Count: 458

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: July 26, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2015

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and...


A dense, absorbing investigation into the medical community's exploitation of a dying woman and her family's struggle to salvage truth and dignity decades later.

In a well-paced, vibrant narrative, Popular Science contributor and Culture Dish blogger Skloot (Creative Writing/Univ. of Memphis) demonstrates that for every human cell put under a microscope, a complex life story is inexorably attached, to which doctors, researchers and laboratories have often been woefully insensitive and unaccountable. In 1951, Henrietta Lacks, an African-American mother of five, was diagnosed with what proved to be a fatal form of cervical cancer. At Johns Hopkins, the doctors harvested cells from her cervix without her permission and distributed them to labs around the globe, where they were multiplied and used for a diverse array of treatments. Known as HeLa cells, they became one of the world's most ubiquitous sources for medical research of everything from hormones, steroids and vitamins to gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, even the polio vaccine—all without the knowledge, must less consent, of the Lacks family. Skloot spent a decade interviewing every relative of Lacks she could find, excavating difficult memories and long-simmering outrage that had lay dormant since their loved one's sorrowful demise. Equal parts intimate biography and brutal clinical reportage, Skloot's graceful narrative adeptly navigates the wrenching Lack family recollections and the sobering, overarching realities of poverty and pre–civil-rights racism. The author's style is matched by a methodical scientific rigor and manifest expertise in the field.

Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and Petri dish politics.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4000-5217-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2010

Did you like this book?

Useful but disappointingly commonplace tips.


In a follow-up to The End of Illness (2012), which explored how technological advances will transform medicine, Agus (Medicine and Engineering/Univ. of Southern California) restates time-tested but too often overlooked principles for healthy living.

The author outlines simple measures that average citizens can take to live healthier lives and extend their life spans by taking advantage of modern technology to develop personalized records. These would include a list of medical tests and recommended treatments. Agus also suggests keeping track of indicators that can be observed at home on a regular basis—e.g., changes in energy, weight, appetite and blood pressure, blood sugar and general appearance. He advises that all of this information be made available online, and it is also helpful to investigate family history and consider DNA testing where indicated. Along with maintaining a healthy weight, Agus emphasizes the importance of eating a balanced diet, with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables and a minimum of red meat. Avoid packaged vitamins and food supplements, and if possible, grow your own vegetables or buy frozen vegetables, which will generally be fresher than those on supermarket shelves. The author also warns against processed foods that make health claims but contain additives or excessive amounts of sugar or fat. Regular mealtimes and plenty of sleep, frequent hand-washing and oral hygiene are a must; smoking and excessive time in the sun should also be avoided. Agus recommends that adults should consider taking statins and baby aspirin as preventative measures. He concludes with a decade-by-decade checklist of annual medical examinations that should be routine—e.g. blood pressure, diabetes and cholesterol screenings, from one’s 20s on; colonoscopies, prostate exams and mammograms later—and a variety of top-10 lists (for example, “Top 10 Reasons to Take a Walk”).

Useful but disappointingly commonplace tips.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-3095-0

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 1, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2013

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet