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A Planet of Viruses
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on April 21, 2012
Yes it's simple. Yes it's short. But here is an introduction to viruses.

Consider this: YOU may be the end result of millions of viral infections over millions of years!

Mitochondrial DNA is almost certainly the fortunate remains of an infection of some ancient animal that STILL exists! If you are female you have it within you and will pass it to your daughter!

Of particular interest to me is the molecular shell a virus has that insulates it from it's environment. This was the "break-through" that enabled ALL life!

View this book as a simple road map for getting to the treasure trove of EVO-DEVO that is accumulating! If you are new to this start here.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on October 16, 2011
This book, as noted by other reviewers, is too short. But it was a fascinating, non-technical introduction to the world of viruses. (And it convinced me to spend the following two hours reading the Wikipedia pages on viruses.) He's a very good writer, and his essays don't merely describe each chosen virus in turn, but use them to describe the science of viruses and the huge effect they have on our world. Several fascinating little gems popped up in each chapter.

I do hope he writes a longer version that dives deeper into the microbiology of viruses. I now can see what a wild world it is at that tiny scale.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on February 14, 2014
Its a fast and interesting read, with some technical descriptions but very accessible to non-scientists.
Here is one thing I learned that I though facinating -
When they infect a cell, some viruses don't create many copies and burst the cell and kill it. Instead they insert their DNA into the cell's DNA and remain dormant for a while. If the cell divides, the virus DNA is also copied, and becomes part of the cell. When conditions change, the Virus DNA can then make Viruses that burst out of the cell. Viruses mutate so sometimes this ability to cause the cell to produce viruses is lost, resulting in "useless bagage DNA".
This has caused animals to pick up all sorts of excess DNA that we carry around and is passed down, allowing scientists to analyze when a virus came into being. Some virus DNA is so old it's shared between species.

Scientists studied some of this DNA and found 4 mutations. They then resequenced it so the 4 variations were corrected and they were able to create cells that contained the original virus. The virus was raised form the dead so to speak.

What the book did for me was make me interested in reading more about viruses.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
I'm a computer engineer and I'm doing a PhD on Computer Architecture. This means that I'm fluent on scientific reading, but not an expert on biology at all. With this in mind, I utterly recommend this book to anyone who is not actively working on the field. It's a brief review on the nature of viruses and some late findings on their nature that will make the delights of any science-interested minds -- or at least it made my mind delight.

The author makes a presentation of the (few) facts that we know about viruses, and the path that led to that knowledge (incidentally, I really like to read about Science through this historical-progressive point of view). He uses the viruses of the common cold, flu, HIV, smallpox and a few others to illustrate. However, it also presents a series of facts that led me breathless. If you're in doubt, just take a look at the "common highlights" section to get a feeling of what you will read: viruses as big as bacteria (mimiviruses), viruses that infect other viruses, how they might have affected Earth's weather... The part that most striked me was the one about "endogenous retroviruses". It also helped to build my understanding of life as a continuous web of interconnected entities that exchange genetic material continuously and are thus interdependent.

Although the book is rather brief (another commenter wrote about it as "Science Lite"), it also includes a selection of references to the scientific papers that back it so any interested readers can explore deeper. I found this feature particularly useful: I did not even know about the mimivirus before reading this book, much less about the viruses that "infect" this own virus, but now I can go to the final sources. So, you may consider it as a survey on the subject with references for deeper reading. After reading it, I'm tempted of heading into the references of almost every section for more information.

My final thought is that this book has been a kind of "eye opener" with a lot of references (to scientific papers) for further exploration.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on March 20, 2012
I like Carl's style of writing. He gets right to the point, adds just the right amount of detail, and doesn't bog the reader down with a lot of extraneous detail.

I don't agree with those who criticized the book. From what they said, I suspect they would have been better off reading a detailed textbook. For a general audience, this book is great! I learned a lot from it. Yes, I knew about some of the viruses like HIV, but there were details in that I hadn't read before. I also liked the length of this book. It was perfect to learn the nature of viruses, how they have affected humanity throughout history, inserted themselves into our genetics, some of the benefits and dangers, and no more. That's all I needed to know in a few sittings. If I decide I want more nitty-gritty details, I'll get a heftier tome. But this was perfect for what I was after!
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
I'd hoped for a book with much more information on viruses. This was a wee book which was very uninformative. I would not purchase it again. It covers colds, mosaic viruses, HIV and very little else. There is an emphasis on the impact viruses have had on evolution, which is very good. But it's not a book I would suggest for anyone who wants more than a cursory look at viruses.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on May 4, 2012
My primary problem with this book is simply the fact that I got arrived at the last page of the narrative, but was only 72% of the way through the book. More than a full quarter was notes, references, etc... For this much "unreadable" content, the book should have been cheaper.

Regarding the actual scientific content, it's easy and enjoyable to read. The world of viruses is much more complex and fascinating than I understood before reading this book. The Darwinism dogma, however, shines through and sullies some of the essays. As he mentions several times, viruses experience extremely (relatively) frequent mutations, which should mean they would be glowing examples of Darwinism. And yet, we see that natural selection on random mutation does nothing more for viruses than rearrange existing structures or remove functionality. After presumably billions of billions of mutations, there is no sign of viruses moving up the complexity of life ladder. With viruses, we see adaptation and evolution, but not Darwinism; and yet the author frequently waves the Darwinism flag.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on May 20, 2011
This is a good and interesting read. Maybe that's why it somehow felt as if it ended quite abruptly and far too early.

I would have loved to see more biological details as well; possibly in a separate chapter.

Bought the Kindle version which was formatted nicely.

Andreas
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon September 12, 2012
You know what a virus is, right? The thing that makes you sick. Well, in point of fact, viruses are a lot more complex than you might think, and their relationship to complex life on Earth is much more complex that you would think.

In this interesting book, author and science writer Carl Zimmer shows you things about the humble virus that you probably never knew. He starts out by looking at several viruses, but then moves out in other directions, looking at bacteriophages, marine phages, and retroviruses. Then, he looks at the future of the virus, finishing up with a fascinating look at the mimivirus.

Overall, I found this to be a very interesting book. It is short and to the point, and written in a manner that is accessible to readers with very little knowledge about viruses. Nonetheless, I would definitely not dismiss this as a children's book - far from it. In fact, it is a very interesting and very informative book. If you want a quick and yet fascinating look at viruses, then start with this book!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on December 11, 2014
Like a child's book. If you have more than a 6th grade concept of biology go ahead and skip this one.
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