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Because of my recent transition from life as an academic neurobiologist to developing diagnostic tests for antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections in the biotech industry, I thought it would be a good idea to read up on microbiology. Ploughing through a Medical Microbiology textbook was not an appealing option, and The Hidden Half of Nature popped up in my Audible recommendations. I'm glad I selected this book, which proved a fascinating and accessible introduction to one of the hottest topics in contemporary biology.
The authors, a husband and wife team, use two personal stories–revitalizing the garden at their Seattle home, and recovering from uterine cancer–as the narrative threads from which they weave a historical tapestry that combines industrial chemistry, public health, agriculture, and medical and ecological microbiology. The prose is lively and engaging, and while much of the ground has been covered elsewhere–Pasteur and Koch's bitter rivalry, Flemming's serendipitous discovery of antibiotics–I don't think the particular cast of characters has been brought together for an ensemble piece before. I certainly can't think of another book that coherently links Fritz Haber's synthetic nitrogen fixing methods, Karl Woese's phylogenetic revolution, Lynn Margulis' symbiogenic hypothesis, and Liping Zhao's work on obesity and the gut microbiome.
They make a compelling, evidence-based argument linking human health and soil health, and that both are dependent on maintaining balanced relationships between uniccellular microbes and their multicellular hosts, plant or animal. I did have some minor quibbles with some aspects of the book. For example, neither horizontal gene transfer NOR the symbiogenic origin of chloroplasts and mitochondria postulated by Margulis really "fly in the face of Darwinian evolution," as the authors assert. Both phenomena fit neatly within a standard framework of selective advantage, especially from a "gene-as-the-unit-of-selection" perspective.
The other issue I had was with the narrator, LJ Ganser, who is quite over-the-top in his performance–more than once, I found myself thinking "Easy there, Shatner." As is the case for most audio renditions of science-oriented books, he mispronounces many terms (the regulatory immune cells are "tee regs" not "tregs"; the extremophile bacterium is "radio-durans," not "radi-odurans"; etc.), which can take a listener out narrative.
That said, Montgomery and Biklé have created something extraordinary with this book: An accessible layperson's introduction to modern microbiology spanning from the personal to the planetary, that makes a compelling case for why–and how–we can become better stewards of ourselves and the environment.
16 of 16 people found this review helpful
So good. And the narrator LJ Ganser did a fantastic job. Some personal story, a lot of history and a lot of science. it was fantastic!
10 of 10 people found this review helpful
Loved it & re-listened to it with repeat enjoyment. A lot of detailed information but not taxing.
Any additional comments?
An excellent book that should be compulsary reading for our politicians,
My only slight gripe is that the audiobook was read by a man, and it was confusing who actually was writing the chapter. Perhaps would have been better if the chapters were introduced by 'David' or 'Anne'.