A scattered presentation of the expansive topic of microbes and early life on Earth with limited discussion of how humans...

PLANET OF MICROBES

THE PERILS AND POTENTIAL OF EARTH'S ESSENTIAL LIFE FORMS

A survey of our emerging knowledge of microorganisms, the environments they thrive in, and their implications for human health and sustainability.

How did the first life on Earth come to being? How will we solve the crisis of antibiotic resistance? How can we break down the pollution that cripples our planet? According to Anton (English/DePaul Univ.; The Longevity Seekers: Science, Business, and the Fountain of Youth, 2013, etc.), the answer is microbes. Single-celled organisms were the first living things on the planet, and, as the author details, we now know they go far beyond. Certain archaea, a bacterialike set of microorganisms with some metabolic similarities to higher animals, have been found in meteorites, comets, and at the bottom of the ocean floor. These life forms use alternative chemistries to most modern life because extreme temperatures, lack of water, and the constant bombardment of asteroids made life as we understand it impossible. Anton shines in his detailing of research that has unveiled the reach and weight of microbes and the chemistry and geology of the ancient Earth. But the organizational structure of the book is confusing. The author focuses too much on researchers, at the expense of the science, asking readers to remember far too many names instead of scientific ideas. On a single page, he moves readers from a microorganism on the surface of a comet to the human gut and then back again without clearly outlining how they are scientifically related. Anton continually hints at a comprehensive health discussion that never manifests, and the health-related claims he does make are not as well-researched as his presentation of microbial life outside of the body.

A scattered presentation of the expansive topic of microbes and early life on Earth with limited discussion of how humans might effectively leverage that knowledge to solve health and environmental crises.

Pub Date: Oct. 24, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-226-35394-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Univ. of Chicago

Review Posted Online: Aug. 22, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2017

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science...

A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING

Bryson (I'm a Stranger Here Myself, 1999, etc.), a man who knows how to track down an explanation and make it confess, asks the hard questions of science—e.g., how did things get to be the way they are?—and, when possible, provides answers.

As he once went about making English intelligible, Bryson now attempts the same with the great moments of science, both the ideas themselves and their genesis, to resounding success. Piqued by his own ignorance on these matters, he’s egged on even more so by the people who’ve figured out—or think they’ve figured out—such things as what is in the center of the Earth. So he goes exploring, in the library and in company with scientists at work today, to get a grip on a range of topics from subatomic particles to cosmology. The aim is to deliver reports on these subjects in terms anyone can understand, and for the most part, it works. The most difficult is the nonintuitive material—time as part of space, say, or proteins inventing themselves spontaneously, without direction—and the quantum leaps unusual minds have made: as J.B.S. Haldane once put it, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose.” Mostly, though, Bryson renders clear the evolution of continental drift, atomic structure, singularity, the extinction of the dinosaur, and a mighty host of other subjects in self-contained chapters that can be taken at a bite, rather than read wholesale. He delivers the human-interest angle on the scientists, and he keeps the reader laughing and willing to forge ahead, even over their heads: the human body, for instance, harboring enough energy “to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point.”

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science into perspective.

Pub Date: May 6, 2003

ISBN: 0-7679-0817-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

Did you like this book?

A quirky wonder of a book.

WHY FISH DON'T EXIST

A STORY OF LOSS, LOVE, AND THE HIDDEN ORDER OF LIFE

A Peabody Award–winning NPR science reporter chronicles the life of a turn-of-the-century scientist and how her quest led to significant revelations about the meaning of order, chaos, and her own existence.

Miller began doing research on David Starr Jordan (1851-1931) to understand how he had managed to carry on after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake destroyed his work. A taxonomist who is credited with discovering “a full fifth of fish known to man in his day,” Jordan had amassed an unparalleled collection of ichthyological specimens. Gathering up all the fish he could save, Jordan sewed the nameplates that had been on the destroyed jars directly onto the fish. His perseverance intrigued the author, who also discusses the struggles she underwent after her affair with a woman ended a heterosexual relationship. Born into an upstate New York farm family, Jordan attended Cornell and then became an itinerant scholar and field researcher until he landed at Indiana University, where his first ichthyological collection was destroyed by lightning. In between this catastrophe and others involving family members’ deaths, he reconstructed his collection. Later, he was appointed as the founding president of Stanford, where he evolved into a Machiavellian figure who trampled on colleagues and sang the praises of eugenics. Miller concludes that Jordan displayed the characteristics of someone who relied on “positive illusions” to rebound from disaster and that his stand on eugenics came from a belief in “a divine hierarchy from bacteria to humans that point[ed]…toward better.” Considering recent research that negates biological hierarchies, the author then suggests that Jordan’s beloved taxonomic category—fish—does not exist. Part biography, part science report, and part meditation on how the chaos that caused Miller’s existential misery could also bring self-acceptance and a loving wife, this unique book is an ingenious celebration of diversity and the mysterious order that underlies all existence.

A quirky wonder of a book.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6027-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

Did you like this book?

more