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Biography of a Germ

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Arno Karlen, author of Man and Microbes, focuses on a single bacterium in Biography of a Germ, giving us an intimate view of a life that has been shaped by and is in turn transforming our own. Borrelia burgdorferi is the germ that causes Lyme disease. In existence for some hundred million years, it was discovered only recently. Exploring its evolution, its daily existence, Arno Karlen, author of Man and Microbes, focuses on a single bacterium in Biography of a Germ, giving us an intimate view of a life that has been shaped by and is in turn transforming our own. Borrelia burgdorferi is the germ that causes Lyme disease. In existence for some hundred million years, it was discovered only recently. Exploring its evolution, its daily existence, and its journey from ticks to mice to deer to humans, Karlen lucidly examines the life and world of this recently prominent germ. He also describes how it attacks the human body, and how by changing the environment, people are now much more likely to come into contact with it. Charming and thorough and smart, this book is a wonderfully written biography of your not so typical biographical subject.


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Arno Karlen, author of Man and Microbes, focuses on a single bacterium in Biography of a Germ, giving us an intimate view of a life that has been shaped by and is in turn transforming our own. Borrelia burgdorferi is the germ that causes Lyme disease. In existence for some hundred million years, it was discovered only recently. Exploring its evolution, its daily existence, Arno Karlen, author of Man and Microbes, focuses on a single bacterium in Biography of a Germ, giving us an intimate view of a life that has been shaped by and is in turn transforming our own. Borrelia burgdorferi is the germ that causes Lyme disease. In existence for some hundred million years, it was discovered only recently. Exploring its evolution, its daily existence, and its journey from ticks to mice to deer to humans, Karlen lucidly examines the life and world of this recently prominent germ. He also describes how it attacks the human body, and how by changing the environment, people are now much more likely to come into contact with it. Charming and thorough and smart, this book is a wonderfully written biography of your not so typical biographical subject.

30 review for Biography of a Germ

  1. 4 out of 5

    Cheryl

    One of the most readable science-related books I have read -- not too much technical gobbledygook and a very clear and straightforward style. I learned things I never knew about ticks and germs and lizards, and they were actually quite interesting. The question of the source of a germ and whether it is new to science or somehow just overlooked despite its effects being well-known was fascinating to me. This discussion of the spirochetes germ that causes Lyme disease was definitely worth the read One of the most readable science-related books I have read -- not too much technical gobbledygook and a very clear and straightforward style. I learned things I never knew about ticks and germs and lizards, and they were actually quite interesting. The question of the source of a germ and whether it is new to science or somehow just overlooked despite its effects being well-known was fascinating to me. This discussion of the spirochetes germ that causes Lyme disease was definitely worth the read and is one I would recommend to anyone with an interest in science or medicine.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Christine Williams

    An enjoyable book, short and sweet. The medical aspects of Lyme disease were discussed, but the majority of the book was about the bacteria that cause the disease, a refreshing change from the majority of human-centered popular science books. I think the book would be accessible to anybody with a basic high school understanding of biology.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Karen

    Good read, definitely some fascinating info and food for thought. My only issue was the degree of meander present. I feel like this book could have been simply a collection of essays loosely held together by the presence of Bb.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Dennis Littrell

    Microbiology as literature The germ is the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, and it causes among other things Lyme disease. Karlen is a psychoanalyst by trade and a historian of microbiology by inclination. He fell in love with the world of the very small when as a boy he was given a microscope. Karlen is also a fine prose stylist with a sharp sense of the ecological. In fact this book is really a kind of treatise on ecology, with a concentration on the environment of a bacterium. Borrelia burgdorf Microbiology as literature The germ is the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, and it causes among other things Lyme disease. Karlen is a psychoanalyst by trade and a historian of microbiology by inclination. He fell in love with the world of the very small when as a boy he was given a microscope. Karlen is also a fine prose stylist with a sharp sense of the ecological. In fact this book is really a kind of treatise on ecology, with a concentration on the environment of a bacterium. Borrelia burgdorferi is spread by ticks that bite small animals such as mice and squirrels and larger animals such as deer and sometimes humans. What Karlen accomplishes in this modest little book is to make vivid just what a "germ" is for a general readership. If you are in a fog about microbes and would like a painless, lively introduction, then this book may serve you very well. I always imagined that bacteria split about every twenty minutes. Here I learned that some bacteria do split every twenty minutes or so, but others take hours and some even longer. I was also fuzzy about just how it is that microbes cause disease. Do they "eat" human flesh or destroy our cells with toxins or hog our nutrients for themselves? Turns out that some do one thing and some do another. Karlen emphasizes that sometimes what they do is cause symptoms: fever, muscle aches, fatigue, inflamation, etc., which are actually the result of our immune system's aggressive response to the presence of something foreign. Sometimes this can get so out of hand that our immune system continues to attack our own cells even after the microbe is gone, as is suspected in rheumatoid arthritis and possibly fibromyalgia (p. 160). And sometimes microbes commandeer some part of our system in order to better spread themselves around by making us sneeze or cough (cold viruses) or by giving us diarrhea (cholera). There is a lot of other information in this little book, including such diverse facts as tumble weeds being native to southern Russia and not the western United States as I had always thought, or that the people of Lyme, Connecticut didn't appreciate having a disease named after their town. It is also interesting to know that microbes can "hide" in our bodies for years and then break out during times of overload or stress. Karlen digresses nicely in spots, giving his opinion on the Gaia concept (he likes the "original, narrower version" p. 63), and how he feels about the deer population in the U.S. (he thinks there are too many). This last is directly relevant since it is on the deer that the ticks that are the vectors for Lyme disease mate and are able to reproduce. He recalls some history (the cholera epidemics in London in the nineteenth century, Spanish flu in America, etc.) and literature (Defoe's Journal of the Plague Year; the anonymous The Autobiography of a Flea), and in a footnote (p. 29) cites a story by Isaac Babel about syphilis (a bacterium related to Borrelia burgdorferi) entitled "Guy de Maupassant." A story by Isaac Babel about Guy de Maupassant is like a movie by Stephen Spielberg about Stanley Kubrick! In summation, this is microbiology as literature, ecology as belles lettres seen in part from the perspective of a germ. --Dennis Littrell, author of “The World Is Not as We Think It Is”

  5. 5 out of 5

    Timothy Riley

    This biography is on the bacteria that causes Lyme Disease. It is important because we lose sight of how many other living things share this planet with us, so I liked the concept. They go through adaptations, lows and highs just like any other living creature. The bacteria gets passed back and forth between ticks and other animals usually in mice at a younger age of the tick and then later the deer. Both are great reservoirs for the bacteria. The tick them sometimes latches onto a human, drinks This biography is on the bacteria that causes Lyme Disease. It is important because we lose sight of how many other living things share this planet with us, so I liked the concept. They go through adaptations, lows and highs just like any other living creature. The bacteria gets passed back and forth between ticks and other animals usually in mice at a younger age of the tick and then later the deer. Both are great reservoirs for the bacteria. The tick them sometimes latches onto a human, drinks the blood but has to discharge the water in the blood in order to collect the nutrients. It repeatedly drinks and, filters and then discharges the water from the blood back into the wound. If done for long enough it will discharge enough of the bacteria with it. The ecological consequences of humans' environmental destruction can be seen in lymes disease. An increase in rodents and deer due to either mass deforestation and then elimination of natural predators has made things incredibly easy for this bacteria to flourish. It is all our fault. And don't move to Lyme, Connecticut.

  6. 5 out of 5

    tom

    very interesting book about the microbe most famous for causing Lyme disease in humans. early on in the book, Karlen talks about being a "respectful biographer" of Borrelia burgdorferi . by taking this sort of germ's-eye view of the bacteria he manages to weave an interesting story while avoiding anthropocentrism. a nice easy read and quite informative, i just wish the author hadn't been so quick to dismiss slightly more complicated topics as beyond the scope of the book. very interesting book about the microbe most famous for causing Lyme disease in humans. early on in the book, Karlen talks about being a "respectful biographer" of Borrelia burgdorferi . by taking this sort of germ's-eye view of the bacteria he manages to weave an interesting story while avoiding anthropocentrism. a nice easy read and quite informative, i just wish the author hadn't been so quick to dismiss slightly more complicated topics as beyond the scope of the book.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Margo

    Fascinating look at the germ nicknames Bb that causes lyme disease. Everything you never realized you wanted to know until you picked up this book. Written for the most part in layman's terms, this is a fairly fast read with some interesting premises. Fascinating look at the germ nicknames Bb that causes lyme disease. Everything you never realized you wanted to know until you picked up this book. Written for the most part in layman's terms, this is a fairly fast read with some interesting premises.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Colleen

    Enjoyed it. Wasn’t sure how he would get an entire book out of the biography of a germ, but he managed. Spends a greT deal of time explaining life on earth, evolution and germs in general before finally narrowing the focus to the Lyme disease germ. Interesting

  9. 5 out of 5

    Gregs3071

    A fascinating book: easy to read; informative; it takes the reader on a journey through the life of a bacterium (well, bacteria - the tiny lifeforms are very gregarious).

  10. 4 out of 5

    Paris Heard

    Arno Karlen has created an amazing and delighful story of life told from a germs perspective. Biography of a Germ follows the story of Borrelia Burgdorferi, a germ carried by ticks. Through this story, the reader is able to view germs as something amazingly beautiful and intricate, rather than something to continuously avoid. Borrelia Burgdorferi is a bacteria orginally contracted by animals. These animals are then fed on by ticks which then contract the bacteria as well. Over the life span of B Arno Karlen has created an amazing and delighful story of life told from a germs perspective. Biography of a Germ follows the story of Borrelia Burgdorferi, a germ carried by ticks. Through this story, the reader is able to view germs as something amazingly beautiful and intricate, rather than something to continuously avoid. Borrelia Burgdorferi is a bacteria orginally contracted by animals. These animals are then fed on by ticks which then contract the bacteria as well. Over the life span of Borrelia Burgdorferi, it is told as an amzing intricate spirochete, that adapts to it's surroundings expertly. This book does not have much of a plot, more so different descriptions of stages in Borrelia Burgdorferi's journey as a germ and how it goes on to cause lyme disease. This book is packed with an abundance of information that would consume this whole review, but the main ideas of the book are what I have previously stated. I would recommend this book to others who are interested in the study of life. I personally would recommend that everyone read a book similar to this one, as it gives an opportunity for others to see life from a point of view they would have never considered. I loved all the small details in this book on the measures Borrelia took to adapt and survive in the envrionment that has been consistently changing. I didn't dislike a single part of this book. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and would love to read it again.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Joshua Vm

    The Biography of a Germ by Arno Karlen is a good book. It is based on the germ Borrelia burgdorferi (Bb for short). Bb is very commonly spread through ticks as mentioned in the book. It also describes how Bb spreads, mutates, and the everyday life of the germ. The book also describes how hard it really is for bacteria to travel from one organism to another without being killed in the process. Last, Bb is the cause of the disease called Lyme disease. It causes rashes or even vomiting. I would hi The Biography of a Germ by Arno Karlen is a good book. It is based on the germ Borrelia burgdorferi (Bb for short). Bb is very commonly spread through ticks as mentioned in the book. It also describes how Bb spreads, mutates, and the everyday life of the germ. The book also describes how hard it really is for bacteria to travel from one organism to another without being killed in the process. Last, Bb is the cause of the disease called Lyme disease. It causes rashes or even vomiting. I would highly recommend this book to anyone slightly interested in bacterial or cells. It is a very easy book to read and understand, as well as teaching the reader all about the germ. This was a very good and interesting book to read, and I think a lot of people will enjoy it as much as I have.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Kristi

    as the title says, this is a biography of a germ. not just any germ, it is the life history of the spirochete Borrelia burgdorferi, the cause of lyme disease. it provides a detailed look into the evolutionary history and current life cycles of Bb, as well as how and why it causes disease in people. while the book focuses exclusively on Bb, it also provides the big picture of how human impact on ecosystems has in the past and will continue in the future to provide new avenues for old germs.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Anna Banana

    You won't find a more alluring book about Lyme disease. Following this tick-borne illness from its origins to modern times, Karlen is able to show how humans' impact on their environments (in this case the destruction of and subsequent restoration of deer habitats) can have far-reaching effects in the world of microbic disease. It will also have you checking your hairline after a walk in the woods. You won't find a more alluring book about Lyme disease. Following this tick-borne illness from its origins to modern times, Karlen is able to show how humans' impact on their environments (in this case the destruction of and subsequent restoration of deer habitats) can have far-reaching effects in the world of microbic disease. It will also have you checking your hairline after a walk in the woods.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Yycdaisy

    The information about the Lyme disease bacteria, life cycle of ticks, and the manifestations of Lyme disease are excellent. The author rambles a bit, especially in the beginning, but the book is short. The good stuff starts in chapter 8. If you just want to learn about the disease and not read about all the sad stories and politics, this would be a good place to start.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Paul Thillen

    Damn interesting and informative, and even humorous at times. His writing allows a truly non scientist like myself to understand what he's saying, no small feat. Truly, it makes me want to read more science books. Damn interesting and informative, and even humorous at times. His writing allows a truly non scientist like myself to understand what he's saying, no small feat. Truly, it makes me want to read more science books.

  16. 5 out of 5

    John

    I learned a lot about bacteria in general, and Borrelia burgdorferi in particular. The book is also well written and very enjoyable to read.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Leslie

    It was more dry than I was expecting, and some of it was over my head, but I still enjoyed it. Microbiologist, I am not.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Josh Phenicie

    very interesting. I particularly liked the authors exhalation of other biographies and why he chose to write one about a germ, near the beginning of the book. very well written and engaging.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Shelly

    Some nice, fluid science writing but it was a little bit more elementary than I would have liked. A pleasant read, though.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Amber

    Loves this book, great way to convey science, epidemiology and many other dos iPods in a wonderful story.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Tim

    The book meanders, especially at the beginning, but all in all, it is a well-written, non-technical account of the life of the bacterium that causes Lyme disease.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    I am not a big science person but this book was wonderful! The author is funny and puts science in terms that I understand.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Doug Page

    If a microbe could talk, is this what it would say?

  24. 5 out of 5

    Lynn M.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Miss Construed

  26. 4 out of 5

    pm

  27. 4 out of 5

    Sean McCartney

  28. 5 out of 5

    Dianne

  29. 5 out of 5

    Ryan Abshire

  30. 4 out of 5

    Margarita

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