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Good Germs, Bad Germs: Health and Survival in a Bacterial World Hardcover – October 16, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Science writer Sachs (Corpse) makes a strong case for a new paradigm for dealing with the microbial life that teems around and within us. Taking both evolutionary and ecological approaches, she explains why antibiotics work so well but are now losing their effectiveness. She notes that between agricultural antibiotic usage and needless prescriptions written for human use, antibiotic resistance has reached terrifying levels. A decade ago, resistant infections acquired in hospitals were killing an estimated eighty-eight thousand Americans each year... more than car accidents and homicides combined. Our attempts to destroy microorganisms regularly upset useful microbial communities, often leading to serious medical consequences. Sachs also presents evidence suggesting that an epidemiclike rise in autoimmune diseases and allergies may be attributable to our misguided frontal assault on the bacterial world. The solution proposed is to encourage the growth of healthy, displacement-resistant microbial ecological communities and promote research that disrupts microbial processes rather than simply attempting to kill the germs themselves. Despite the frightening death toll, Sachs's summary of promising new avenues of research offers hope. (Oct. 16)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


"Jessica Snyder Sachs successfully weaves story–telling, history, microbiology and evolution into an exciting account of the two aspects of microbes for humankind—the good and the bad. Through direct interviews and other primary sources, she provides the reader with up-to-date reporting in the areas of drug resistance, infection and new therapeutics. The book is a wonderful read." —Stuart B. Levy, M.D., author of The Antibiotic Paradox: How the Misuse of Antibiotics Destroys their Curative Powers

"Jessica Snyder Sachs has a vital message about our future health: we have to get to know our microbes better. They are not simple germs to be wiped out with a magic drug, but complicated creatures whose existence is intimately intertwined with our own. In Good Germs, Bad Germs, Sachs delivers one of the best accounts of the cutting edge of microbiology I've read in recent years." —Carl Zimmer, author of Parasite Rex and Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea

"If germs had hands you’d want to shake them—at least to thank them for the good work they do. That counterintuitive truth is just one of many in Jessica Snyder Sachs’s Good Germs, Bad Germs, an alternately illuminating, fascinating and even amusing look into the curious world of microbes and how our very struggle to keep ourselves safe from them has put us in danger we never imagined. Sachs displays a rare gift for shining light into places you thought you’d never want to explore and then making you glad you had the courage to peek. This is splendid writing." —Jeffrey Kluger, Science Editor, Time, and author of  SPLENDID SOLUTION: Jonas Salk and the Conquest of Polio

"Good Germs, Bad Germs is incredibly well researched and contains a wealth of fascinating information.  It is completely up to date, integrating science and health with the newest ideas on how microbes beneficially affect and even protect humans from disease."—Dale Umetsu, professor of immunology, Harvard Medical School

"Jessica Snyder Sachs’s Good Germs Bad Germs is an outstanding introduction to a complex scientific topic, presented in extremely clear and vivid language. Her approach outlines not only the deleterious effects of microbes, with which we are all too familiar, but also the beneficial side to this vast array of organisms, without which human life would be impossible. The book is a must read for anyone who wants to get 'the big picture' of the microbial world." —Garland E. Allen, professor of biology, Washington University

"The amazing thing about this book is that it unites in a remarkable way the particular—otherwise known as everyday life—with the sweepingly general—the historical perspective.  It is educational, amusing, thought–provoking, and quirky by turns. It brings to life not only the individual scientists who shaped the modern era of microbiology but also the equally important lives of modern parents with critically ill children. I wish I had written this book." —Abigail Salyers, professor of microbiology, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and co-author of Revenge Of The Microbes: How Bacterial Resistance Is Undermining The Antibiotic Miracle

"The paradigm shift of working with instead of against bacteria has the potential to revolutionize 21st –century medicine; Sachs’s book is a thoughtful lay reader’s guide to this emerging field. Recommended for most libraries." –Library Journal

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Hill and Wang; First Edition edition (October 16, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0809050633
  • ISBN-13: 978-0809050635
  • Product Dimensions: 6.7 x 1.1 x 8.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #440,159 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Author of Corpse: Nature, Forensics and the Struggle to Pinpoint Time of Death. For information on my current book project please visit my blog at .

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95 of 96 people found the following review helpful By A Lover of Good Books on November 4, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Good Germs, Bad Germs: Health and Survival in a Bacterial World by Jessica Snyder Sachs, is an up-to-date summary of what we know about how bacteria interact with humans.

It's a fascinating story, because after a lifetime of "fighting germs" it seems that scientists are coming to learn that the interaction between bacteria and our bodies is far more complex than was ever realized and we have to work with germs and make alliances with "good germs" in order to survive.

The book starts out with several chapters that explore in greater detail than I've seen elsewhere, the research that has been establishing "The Hygiene Hypothesis." This is the idea that the huge rise in autoimmune disease we are currently experiencing is being caused by too much cleanliness.

It is starting to look like we are not being exposed to enough of the right bacteria very early in life or as we go through our daily lives, thanks to changes in water treatment, how we get our food, how we medicate illness, and how we clean our homes.

It turns out that our bodies are complex ecosystems in which maintaining populations of billions of bacteria of various kinds is essential for preserving our health, particularly in the digestive system, where, if our population of bacteria are killed off, the digestive system fails to function properly. Children absorb the good bacteria they need to have populating their own digestive tract from birth on. A caesarian birth, for example, results in a baby who is not exposed to the bacteria found in the mother's perineal area, which raises the risk of developing autoimmune problems like asthma and Type 1 diabetes.
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49 of 50 people found the following review helpful By Dennis Littrell HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 26, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I've read a number of books on microbes in recent years, including

Bakalar, Nicholas. Where the Germs Are: A Scientific Safari (2003)
Biddle, Wayne. A Field Guide to Germs, 2nd ed. (1995, 2002)
Ewald, Paul W. Plague Time: How Stealth Infections Cause Cancers, Heart Disease, and other Deadly Ailments (2000)
Heritage, J., and E. G. V. Evans, R. A. Killington Microbiology in Action (1999)
Karlen, Arno. Biography of a Germ (2000)
Murray, Patrick R., et al. Medical Microbiology (2002)
Oldstone, Michael B. Viruses, Plagues, and History (1998)
Shnayerson, Michael and Mark J. Plotkin. The Killers Within: The Deadly Rise of Drug-Resistant Bacteria (2002)
Tierno, Philip M. Jr. The Secret Life of Germs: Observations and Lessons from a Microbe Hunter (2001)

What sets science journalist Jessica Snyder Sachs' book apart from these fine books is the intense detail and focus that she brings to the work and the fact that her book is up to date with reports from the latest research. Written for a general educated readership, it gets a little dense at times and there's a lot to keep in mind and to understand. But I think the time and effort are worth it. I must warn you however, it does get a little scary. If you are prone to hypochondria or to paranoia, I would suggest you skip reading this since it appears that we are teetering on the edge of any number of possible microbial disasters.

At the same time there is also the promise of a level of understanding of how drugs, bacteria and our immune systems work together, or are at odds, that will lead to healthier lives for all of us.
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28 of 28 people found the following review helpful By mtns6666 on December 5, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This book is extraordinarily well-researched, well-balanced and well-written. I co-direct a graduate level course on biopharmaceutical innovation and will use this book for the class. However, it is fully accessible at the high school level, and should probably be read then, since the topic is so important, and misunderstandings so widespread.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME on February 10, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Starting at birth, the new, innocent body becomes home to a host of microscopic invaders. These days, at that same instant, forces are brought to bear to stop or repel that horde. As Jessica Sachs explains in this comprehensive account, we are only learning the first lessons in what microbes mean in our lives.

Perhaps the first thing readers should take from this book is that "antibiotics" don't contend with viruses. Those costly drugs only fight bacteria, a more complex and elusive critter. Another difference between bacteria and viruses is that we generally need the former, but not the latter. Which means we'd best be cautious about trying to ravage them with chemicals. The number and variations of bacteria in our bodies seems countless as you follow Sachs' account of who they are and what they do. Or fail to do. Most of us grew up with the "bad germs" litany drummed into us. "Wash your hands before dinner!" and "Don't play in the mud!" still echo in our minds after many years. The point was to "prevent" germs from entering our bodies. It turns out that Mum's cautions weren't always on the mark - Mummy didn't know best after all. We needed those bugs - they help us stay healthy.

Jessica Sachs guides us through the findings of scores of scientists' work that has revised the approach we were taught about "germs" in our childhood. Eating mud, something many of us were at least verbally chastised for, turns out to be a good thing, even a necessity. From birth, the introduction of certain microbes initiate processes the body needs to keep going. For most people today, it's well known that microbes in our tummies are part of the process of digestion. Escherichia coli is known to be a true friend - in controlled numbers and certain strains.
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