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Deadly Companions: How Microbes Shaped Our History Reprint Edition

20 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0199561445
ISBN-10: 0199561443
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Editorial Reviews


`Review from previous edition Lucid and authoritative... crisply written narrative.' Wendy Moore, Sunday Telegraph

`Fascinating... Deadly Companions is authoritative, detailed and - despite its gruesome subject - never sensational.' PD Smith, The Guardian

About the Author

Dorothy Crawford is Professor of Medical Microbiology at the University of Edinburgh, where she is also Assistant Principal for the Public Understanding of Medicine. She was awarded an OBE in 2005 for services to medicine and higher education.

Books by the same author:
The Invisible Enemy: A Natural History of Viruses


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; Reprint edition (February 15, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199561443
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199561445
  • Product Dimensions: 7.6 x 0.8 x 5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #149,747 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

35 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Rob Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on January 23, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Bacteria have a bad reputation. We think of them as causing illness, and that's correct, of course, but overwhelmingly they do not cause us harm. Without them, indeed, we could not digest our food, and elements could not be recycled into the environment. They have been performing this sort of vital service for around 600 million years. There are a million or so microbes we know about, and of them, only 1,415 are known to cause disease in humans, with the rest steadily chugging away to keep the world in balance. Those pathogenic ones are the main subject in _Deadly Companions: How Microbes Shaped Our History_ (Oxford University Press) by Dorothy H. Crawford. A microbiologist, Crawford has written plenty of scientific papers, but here (as in a previous book about viruses) she writes for a popular audience to show how microbes, especially the ones that bother and kill us, have affected the humans that are interlopers in their world. We must never forget that most microbes are our companions and are not deadly, and that we live in a mutually beneficial partnership with millions of them. But it is their world: "We relative newcomers to the planet," ominously writes Crawford, "emerge from the safe environment of our mother's womb pristine, untouched by the infectious microbes, but within hours our bodies are colonised by swarms of them, all intent on living off this new food source."

Microbes don't mean to hurt us, of course, and despite the upsurge of religious feeling that accompanies any plague, there is no reason to think that they are doing anything but their natural cycles without any supernatural tinkering to deliver lessons to afflicted humans. The great problem with infective microbes is that they can change faster than we can.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By P. Alther on June 7, 2009
Format: Paperback
First, I would like to issue forth that I am giving this book 5 stars as it was a very good read (if one can tolerate an academic book), delving into both the historical and scientific side of our deadly friends. I do have problems with the book, the main point being that it was too short. Judging by the cover, I thought it would delve more into the plague doctors of the 17th century and into some of the medieval lore surrounding plagues. This was not so, as it took a very broad look at it, spanning over several millennium, only lightly touch the plague doctors, as well as other topics. It should be mentioned that, for the most part, it was a look at how these disease infected and affected Europeans and N. Americans, however she did get into the very depressing downfall of the great civilizations of South America, with some detail.

I cannot hold shortness against the book as it is not meant to delve too deeply into any one topic and is designed to cover a wide range of issues, which it did very well, and giving the reader a tantalizing taste into this strange history. I found it a quick read (but not exactly light), and it did make me sad when I learned just how severe many of these diseases were, that I only knew by name.

All in all, this is a fine book and worthy of anyone reading it that holds an interest in medicine, history, or both (as I do). Enjoy!
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Anonymous on December 13, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In Deadly Companions: How Microbes Shaped Our History, Dr. Dorothy Crawford tells the tale of how microbes have impacted human society throughout the ages. She begins with a basic description of the life cycle of bacteria and viruses and then proceeds to discuss the methods of transmission to the early hunter-gatherer societies. From there, she traces the evolution of microbes in conjunction with the growth of human civilization. Dr. Crawford's main purpose in this investigation is to evaluate mankind's future in relation to the microbes that have plagued us for centuries. While history has shown man fighting desperately to survive, modern technology has given us the tools to alter this war. However, even tools such as antibiotics, antiviral drugs, and vaccines have, on occasion, been rendered ineffective as microbes evolve and mutate far faster than we do. With that in mind, Dr. Crawford proposes that we find a solution in which we live in harmony with, rather than at odds to, the multitude of microbes.
Structurally, Dr. Crawford progresses chronologically starting with the infection of hunter-gatherers by malaria and ending with the recent epidemics of SARS and H5N1 Avian Flu. During each era of history, certain microbes were more prevalent and Dr. Crawford highlights these microbes in their historical context.
I would highly recommend Deadly Companions to all readers. While the subject matter may seem to be quite "academic," Dr. Crawford does an excellent job of formatting the material for the general audience while still remaining objective and factual and captivating the mind through the last page.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Erin C. Howland on April 21, 2010
Format: Paperback
Dorothy H. Crawford's "Dealy Companions" is a facinating read for anyone interested in microbiology or history. The book could easily be used as a supplement for a introductory microbiology course, however the non-student may find Crawford's style somewhat dry and sober, as she tends to downplay some of the most facinating subject matter and dissapointingly barrows many ideas and tables from Jared Diamond's work. Specifically the beginning of chapter 5, which seems almost verbatum from "Guns, Germs and Steel." While the first three chapters are full of imagery by the time you get through chapters four, five and six it feels as though Crawford has abandoned the storytelling. In spite of being somewhat boring in the middle, Crawford's work has several redeeming qualities. Crawford is not afraid to challenge the reader to comptenplate big ideas, such as our intimate and complex relationship with microbes that both help us and hurt us.
Refreshingly Crawford does not attempt to incite the reader in a war against microbes as many authors on the subject do, but presents an elegant argument for accepting our shared past and future. Crawford guides the reader through our co evolution with "deadly companions" from the beginning of time to the present leaving the reader with both a sense of dread and serenity, and certinly a great deal of respect for microbes. The opening chapter "How It All Began" is espcially inspired. Crawford paints a vivid picture of the emergence of microorganisms and somehow manages to pack 4.6 billion years of evolution into an enjoyable and readable narrative. Crawford's book is a fairly easy read and well worth slogging through a few boring parts in the middle for the sense of worder you will be left with after reading this eye-opening work.
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