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Microcosm: E. coli and the New Science of Life Hardcover – Deckle Edge, May 6, 2008


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This Book Is Bound with "Deckle Edge" Paper
You may have noticed that some of our books are identified as "deckle edge" in the title. Deckle edge books are bound with pages that are made to resemble handmade paper by applying a frayed texture to the edges. Deckle edge is an ornamental feature designed to set certain titles apart from books with machine-cut pages. See a larger image.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon; 1 edition (May 6, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 037542430X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375424304
  • Product Dimensions: 1.1 x 6.4 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #534,838 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

When most readers hear the words E. coli, they think tainted hamburger or toxic spinach. Noted science writer Zimmer says there are in fact many different strains of E. coli, some coexisting quite happily with us in our digestive tracts. These rod-shaped bacteria were among the first organisms to have their genome mapped, and today they are the toolbox of the genetic engineering industry and even of high school scientists. Zimmer (Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea) explains that by scrutinizing the bacteria's genome, scientists have discovered that genes can jump from one species to another and how virus DNA has become tightly intertwined with the genes of living creatures all the way up the tree of life to humans. Studying starving E. coli has taught us about how our own cells age. Advocates of intelligent design often produce the E. coli flagellum as Exhibit A, but the author shows how new research has shed light on the possible evolutionary arc of the flagellum. Zimmer devotes a chapter to the ethical debates surrounding genetic engineering. Written in elegant, even poetic prose, Zimmer's well-crafted exploration should be required reading for all well-educated readers. (May 6)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

“A powerful account of the dynamic, complicated and social world we share with this ordinary yet remarkable bug. . . . Exciting, original, and wholly persuasive.” —New Scientist

“Superb. . . . A quietly revolutionary book.” —Boston Globe

“Creepy, mind-twisting, and delightful all at the same time” —Steven Johnson, author of The Invention of Air

“This award-winning science writer has turned out an illuminating biography of one of biology’s most influential–and underappreciated–players.” —Discover

“For readers who enjoy a seat at the revolution and a chance to ponder the ‘supple little bugs’ at the dawn of life, Microcosm is a bracing read. This timely book deserves shelf space near Lewis Thomas’ classic Lives of a Cell.” —Cleveland Plain-Dealer

“Engrossing. . . . Zimmer adroitly links the common heritage we share with E. coli and the emerging horizons of science.” —The New York Times Book Review

“All in all, Microcosm is a phantasmagoric read that explains how our understanding of the nature of E. coli has helped to unravel the mysteries of our own nature and evolution. The book is impressive for the information it imparts and even more impressive for the ideas it provokes.” —New England Journal of Medicine

“E. coli has provided answers that have reshaped our very definitions of life. Zimmer succeeds in engendering a healthy respect for the bug that lives inside us all.” —Seed Magazine

“Engagingly written. . . . [Zimmer’s] prose is vivid without being misleading–surely one of the hallmarks of good science writing. . . . We should be sure to heed the lessons of E. coli. Those little stinkers have been around a lot longer than we have, and they have some story to tell.” —The New York Sun

“It’s this simple. Carl Zimmer is one our very best science writers. If not the absolute best, bar none.” —Scienceblogs.com

“[Microcosm] delivers what a science book should; it reveals the new and re-enchants the old.” —Prospect Magazine

“[Zimmer is] an American science writer at the zenith of his profession. . . . [He] has woven a fascinating tapestry, intercalating the energy of world-changing scientific discovery with the fascinating complexity of a well-understood living organism. His work will be welcomed by the scientist and the science enthusiast.” —The Journal of Clinical Investigation

“An educational tour-de-force. . . . [Zimmer] brings remarkable talents to popular science writing: ability to write succinct, lively prose; genius at applying familiar words to replace the jargon of scientific terms; intelligence to grasp complex ideas . . . and instincts of an investigative reporter. These talents are amply exhibited in Microcosm.” —Microbe magazine

More About the Author

I write books about science. Nature fascinates me, as does its history.

So far, I've written twelve books, including Parasite Rex and The Tangled Bank: An Introduction to Evolution. In addition to my books, I also write regularly about science for The New York Times, as well as for magazines including National Geographic and Wired. I've won awards for my work from the National Academies of Science and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. My blog, The Loom, is published by National Geographic Magazine (http://phenomena.nationalgeographic.com/blog/the-loom).

Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
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"I look at life through a lens made of _E. coli_," writes Zimmer, and writes convincingly about how biologists are doing the same.
R. Hardy
I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading about science and is curious about how all the microorganisms that are contained in our bodies work.
Andrew Wyllie
It would have been easy to make this book very dry, and the author did an excellent job of balancing scientific detail with a good narrative.
Masriki

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

63 of 66 people found the following review helpful By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME on May 11, 2008
Format: Hardcover
You didn't possess a single one when you were born. Now, there are trillions of them, mostly enjoying the warm hospitality of your gut. If you are recently born, they may have been put into you on purpose. They are the famous/infamous Escherichia coli microbes of our inner selves - billions of them residing peacefully in each of our intestinal tracts. Carl Zimmer has added yet another gem in his crown as North America's premier science writer with this comprehensive and insightful account. Zimmer's talent lies in taking up serious science that deals with complex issues, and then putting it down in a way that seizes and holds your interest. More importantly, he informs you on topics relevant to your daily life - and prompts you to think about future decisions. While the subject may seem off-beat or esoteric, rest assured that "Microcosm" is aptly titled, with a host of life's secrets tucked away in how this microbe lives.

The microbe was first identified in 1885 by Theodore Escherich, who was struck by the "massive, luxurious growth" it could achieve. He dubbed it "a common bacteria of the colon", having no idea of its prowess or future role. Renamed Escherichia coli in the following century, the microbe entered an unexpected role in research - from medicine to evolutionary biology. Zimmer stresses this role and its importance in science, technology, business and even government through this account. Understanding those roles is fundamental to understanding the importance of this fine book - and why it's important for you to read it.

E. coli long played an enigmatic role in science - it was "discovered" more than once. Microbiology, not unlike palaeoanthropology, was once divided between the "splitters" and the "lumpers".
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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful By John Kwok HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on July 2, 2008
Format: Hardcover
With the trained eyes of a scientist and the soul of poet, eminent science writer Carl Zimmer takes us on an all too brief, yet fascinating, trek into contemporary biology, as seen from the perspective of the bacterium Escherichia coli, in his latest book, "Microcosm: E. coli and the New Science of Life". More than a mere recounting of decades of elegant scientific research from the likes of Joshua Lederberg and Salvador Luria, among others, "Microcosm" is truly a book about contemporary biology itself, tying in almost every facet of it, from systematics to population genetics and ecology, and even, paleobiology. But it is a book that takes such an in-depth exploration of biology from the unique perspective of a rather most unassuming organism - or at least what readers might think - the bacterium E. coli, whose ubiquitous habitats include the intestinal tracts of humans and other mammals. Indeed, E. coli is truly a wonderful organismal metaphor for describing all of biology in its totality, as evidenced, for example, in one of Zimmer's terse chapters devoted to the evolution of cooperation amongst organisms via mechanisms such as natural selection and kin selection; an elegant experimental analogue to the types of selective pressures operating on other, more complex, organisms, including us. Indeed, "Microcosm" ought to be regarded as "Macrocosm", since Zimmer has offered an elegant, often poetic, exploration of all of biology, by demonstrating E. coli's scientific relevance to humanity.

If there is indeed one important underlying theme to "Microcosm", then perhaps it is the prevalence of sex in this single-celled organism, and its importance as a key ingredient in understanding evolution, which was recognized decades ago by a young Joshua Lederberg. Zimmer describes how E.
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Masriki on May 26, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It would have been easy to make this book very dry, and the author did an excellent job of balancing scientific detail with a good narrative. It includes just enough components of history and science to be complete without over-doing either area.

The author takes us from the isolation of E. coli in 1885 to, for example, current debates over how some mutations help bacteria survive environmental stress. Between these two benchmarks the author weaves a well-written story that covers what is known about E. coli and other bacteria. More importantly, he also explains why we know what we know. Of perhaps the greatest worth is the book's coverage of why natural selection is such an important scientific concept, using drug resistance as one of many examples.

A nice read for either the interested layperson or the professional.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By R. Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on June 10, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Inside your gut are maybe a hundred trillion cells. The number is an interesting one, because these cells sitting in your digestive tract outnumber the neurons, muscle cells, and other cells that make "you" by ten to one. In other words, by the numbers, your own cells are a machine that exists to keep a huger number of cells alive in your intestines. Among those trillions of cells is a small population of _Escherichia coli_, one of the world's most important and most studied bacteria. They may be tiny, but they are numerous and they are not simple, and the lessons within _Microcosm: E. coli and the New Science of Life_ (Pantheon) by science writer Carl Zimmer are that there is a complex cosmos of activity within _E. coli_, and there are relationships between one _E. coli_ and its fellow _E. coli_ and the other microbes churning in our guts, and there are relationships between _E. coli_ and the bigger animals that carry it. It is all as complicated as can be; we have come a long way in understanding some of these mysteries, but mysteries still abound. Zimmer's wonderful book keeps us from taking these humble bacteria for granted; as products of the same evolutionary processes that produced us, they have much in common with us.

Scientists make _E. coli_ a particular subject of investigation; it was one of the first microbes whose genome was fully mapped (1997). A few strains have toxins, but usually our own _E. coli_ are quietly going about their business and are a help to us. The intricacies of just one cell are astounding. An _E. coli_ has sixty million molecules which have to act just so to keep the bacterium living, and Zimmer examines a few of the intricate feedback systems involved.
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