More Microcosm News: "A Fascinating Tapestry" and a Paperback in the Works

Here’s a new review of Microcosm: E. coli and the New Science of Life in The Journal of Clinical Investigation. (Open access–most excellent.) The reviewer likes the book: “Mr. Zimmer 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.”

On the other hand, it’s a little queasy to read that I’m “an American science writer at the zenith of his profession.” Does that mean it’s downhill from here?

All authors get nervous a few months after a book comes out, wondering if it will make the leap to a continued life in paperback. Fortunately Vintage will be publishing Microcosm in paperback, and it already has a page on Amazon. You can order now, although it won’t be out till July. So if there’s someone in your life who deserves an E. coli Christmas (and, really, who doesn’t?), you should get a hardback.

0 thoughts on “More Microcosm News: "A Fascinating Tapestry" and a Paperback in the Works

  1. One question that keeps recurring while reading introductory texts in the life sciences is: How did they ever figure that out? It was with exactly that question in mind that I was browsing the science bookshelves last month, when an event rarer than a beneficent mutation occurred—I actually found what I was looking for, this book on E. coli research! The smelly microbe seems to have starred in every major discovery of the last century. It makes for great reading. You could have even included the “slow, tough, unglamorous work” on the metabolic pathways. But since you didn’t, here’s a link to a nice post on telling how Szent-Gyorgyi used pigeon hearts to work out which enzymes act when (OK, it’s not E. coli):

    I was surprised to read that Lamarck’s theory was still a contender in the 1950s, and the section on “Slot Machines and Velvet Stamps” led me to wonder what it would have been like if he had been right. Responsively adapting organisms would evolve so efficiently that they would quickly reach stasis with their environment, resulting in fewer life cycles, fewer repetitions. In contrast, organisms subject to natural selection must cycle endlessly through inherited states, in tension with their environment, and therefore participating in the general struggle more vigorously. Darwinian evolution makes for a richer experience.

    Other things I’m wondering about are how the siderophores “slide back into” E. coli (p. 23), whether biofilms are thought to be precursors of cellulose and/or pectin (pp. 55-56), and how anybody ever survives infection with Shigella (pp. 62-63).

    The early chapters were the most fun, especially the explanations of feed-forward loops and flagellar mechanics, but I also appreciated the account of the intelligent-design fiasco. It’s hard to find the actual arguments laid out elsewhere.

    Thanks, in advance of Christmas, for the book.

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