Guest book review from Microbiology Maven: THE GERM CODE by Jason Tetro

One of my favorite blogs is The Microbiology Maven, a blog about “microbiology, teaching, writing textbooks, cool new developments in science, and the occasional Rumi poem.” The Maven is Kelly Cowan, a teacher, scientist, community activist, and the author of Microbiology: A Systems Approach (now in its 4th edition) and Microbiology Fundamentals. Many posts at The Microbiology Maven are written by Andrea Rediske, aka ‘The Lovely Assistant.’ Andrea has been an adjunct professor of microbiology for 11 years, is a contributing author to Microbiology Fundamentals, a freelance science writer and editor, and will soon begin a PhD program in Science Education at the University of Central Florida.

Anyway, a few weeks ago at The Microbiology Maven I read Andrea’s review of a new popular science book called The Germ Code. The book and the review were perfect ScienceThrillers.com material so I asked the Maven and her Lovely Assistant for permission to reprint the review in its entirety. (If you’re looking for something to read to the kids, also check out Andrea’s recent review of It’s Catching: The Infectious World of Germs and Microbes).

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Re-posted from Andrea Rediske at The Microbiology Maven: a book review of The Germ Code by Jason Tetro.

Germ CodeI’m a sucker for a good science book.  On my bookshelf you’ll find books with titles such as The Immortal Life of Henrietta LacksThe Woman with a Worm in Her HeadThe Secret Life of GermsPox:  An American History, and The Great Influenza:  The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in American History.  I read these books for fun.  I have a number of literary friends with MFAs who write books and teach creative writing; many who read great books and who even write blogs full of book reviews, all of whom could give you excellent recommendations for books.  But if you ever ask me for a recommendation, it will probably be one about science or germs.  I’ve been following Jason Tetro (aka “The Germ Guy”) on Twitter for a while now, and have enjoyed his articles in The Huffington Post Canada.  I was delighted when his book The Germ Code:  How to Stop Worrying and Love the Microbes came out in November 2013.  Another germy book to add to my collection!

Whenever I pick up a book like this, two questions come to my mind:  “Is this book scientifically accurate?” and “Is this book accessible?”  Quite often, I have friends ask me questions about germs or my students want a little more microbe fun after a semester of microbiology, and I like to have a book or six to recommend to them.  I was pleased to read “The Germ Code,” and find that it met both of my criteria.  Jason (may I call you Jason?), has an engaging prose style, and although he is a microbiologist with 25 years of experience and is a skilled researcher, it’s clear that he has a talent for storytelling.  I was amused by his references to Star Wars, the writings of Douglas Adams, and chapters entitled, “Every Crowd Has a Germy Lining,” “The Sneeze that Went Around the World,” and “The Germ Code Strikes Back.”  As he helps us decipher the germ code, Jason touches on current issues and outbreaks we have seen in the headlines:  SARS, HIV/AIDS, Naegleria, XDR-TB, E. coli O157:H7, antibiotic resistance, fecal transplants, and probiotics.  None of the information I read was new to me, but I’m a microbiologist who spends her days reading and writing about germs.  However, if I handed this book to a friend or a student, I would be confident that each of the topics I’ve listed (and several others) would be addressed thoroughly and accurately, with amusing anecdotes, including [SPOILER ALERT!] Jason’s explosive experience with Campylobacter in the Amazon.

While other of my favorite germy books like The Hot Zone and Level 4 Virus Hunters of the CDC grab you with scare headlines and gory details of bloody deaths, The Germ Code has a measured approach to our coexistence with microbes.  Yes, germs are in us and all around us, and yes, many cause disease, but instead of spending our time trying to eradicate them completely, let’s figure out how to come to a peaceful coexistence with them.  The end of his book touches on new approaches to dealing with pathogens, including phage therapy, probiotic treatment for C. difficile infections, and utilizing helminths to calm the inflammatory response when needed.  The last chapter of the book is aptly titled, “Don’t Panic,” and he leaves us with a few words of wisdom on how to stop worrying and love the microbes, including these:

“There is still a long road ahead before humans and germs live in total harmony.  The work of dedicated researchers will continue to foster the belief in a future in which outbreaks no longer happen and the word pandemic is relegated to history.  But they cannot succeed alone; each one of us has to realize that we also play a role.”

I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Germ Code.  Microbiology professionals and educators will find it to be an excellent overview and discussion of current events in microbiology.  Microbiology students and those seeking to learn more about what’s going on in the microbial world around them will find a wealth of knowledge delivered in a fun, easy-to-read prose style from your “friendly neighbourhood microbiologist.”  Thanks Jason!

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[Jason Tetro.  Photo Credit:  Chris Roussakis]

Jason Tetro is a microbiologist with over 25 years’ experience in research although he is better known in the public as The Germ Guy™.  Jason is a self-described germevangelist and strives to improve humanity relationship with germs.  He writes for The Huffington Post Canada, Popular Science and other national and international media outlets. You can learn more about Jason at his website: http://jasontetro.com 

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