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A Planet of Viruses Paperback – April 30, 2012
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“I hope Carl Zimmer lives a long, long time so we can get more and more books from him. . . . [A Planet of Viruses is] a short read . . . but intense and well explained.”
About the Author
Top Customer Reviews
Carl Zimmer's new book, A Planet of Viruses borrows its delivery technique from its subjects: in less than 100 pages, A Planet of Viruses packs quite a punch of information. The eradication of smallpox, the rise of HIV, the immigration of West Nile virus to the western hemisphere, the viruses in our genomes and the recent discovery mysteriously huge mimivirus are all treated here in delightfully short essays describing the impact of viruses on mankind and on life in general. To some of these topics Zimmer brings refreshing perspectives. He proposes that the common cold virus, an unwelcome companion of man since ancient history, should be treated like a wise old tutor rather than an ancient enemy. Then he explains why we haven't truly eradicated smallpox, and probably never will. Viruses, hovering between life and non-life have an impact on life so large it is hard to fathom. Viruses kill about half of marine microbes every day. Their sheer biomass ("...equal to [that of] 75 million blue whales"), huge host range, mind-boggling number of particles in the biosphere and, above all, the genetic diversity which is unmatched by all other life combined.Read more ›
"A Planet of Viruses" is a whirlwind review of what viruses are, how they were first isolated as pathogens by 19th century scientists, how they've integrated with all life on earth and what hazards they pose. Why is any of this interesting? Mostly because viruses are simply _weird_. As shells of protein housing a few strands of DNA, they seem like little more than microscopic blocks of matter, unable to replicate on their own. Seems like the very definition of inert matter. And yet, by using the cells of living bodies, they "trick" those cells into doing the replication for them. Through sloppy, imperfect replication, they gain new genetic material and thus evolve. Is that "life"? Do they qualify as living organisms? See what I mean by "weird"?
This is merely an introduction to viruses and their fascinating oddities. Unlike the treatment you might expect from some popular science authors, this is not a terror-fest. Zimmer's intent is not to send you into a "Contagion"-style panic (with follow-up movie script). But after reading it, you'll understand how viruses work and have a greater appreciation for the crucial role that they have played (and continue to play) in our mutual co-evolution.
Cheers... - lc
My rating of 4 stars indicates a very good read for the viral novice but also reflects my rating for the more knowledgeable reader. I had hoped Zimmer, as a master storyteller, would go into more detail and tell stories about some unusual viruses not already widely discussed in other places. Unlike his 5 star Parasite Rex, where he more fully develops his storytelling and includes unusual organisms, I wanted more. For example, he piqued my curiosity with the story about finding viruses 1000 feet underground, where no other organisms exist within which viruses can replicate, but then fails to elaborate. I did learn many interesting tidbits, though, and highly recommend the book.
Zimmer looks at the history of discovery and the mechanism of the common cold and flu viruses to the cancer causing potential of papillomavirus. Going beyond these common infectious pathogens, Zimmer shows us how ubiquitous (and mostly harmless or beneficial) viruses are from oceans and the Mexican crystal caves, deep within the earth, to the inner sanctum of the human genome. He makes a good argument for how important the tiny virus is to the macrocosm of the globe.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This is a very interesting book, and I am glad that I read it. My only beef with this book is that it is too short. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Lilo Huhle-Poelzl
I needed broad strokes outlined with definitions and analogies to maintain my interest throughout the book, and this book delivered. Read morePublished 11 months ago by TheWriterJulie
Few things in this universe are more interesting, beautiful and terrifying than the virus. While I enjoyed the content, I was frankly expecting a much more in depth treatment of... Read morePublished 12 months ago by P
It's like a pamphlet you would get in a doctors office. This author has to go on my list to avoid.Published 14 months ago by Jae Hee
Very light on information for those of us who read Zimmer's books but a good book for kids interested in science and viruses.Published 14 months ago by Brattlegirl
This is a collection of articles on different viruses. It is very interesting and well-written, but some of the articles repeat each other. Read morePublished 16 months ago by BFurby