Planet of Microbes: The Perils and Potential of Earth’s Essential Life Forms

Ted Anton. Univ. of Chicago, $25 (288p) ISBN 978-0-226-35394-4
Anton (The Longevity Seekers), professor of English at DePaul University, analyzes the important role microbes play in this occasionally stimulating but deeply frustrating work. He makes two critical points at the outset. First, he notes that “microbes are the hidden underpinning of the global ecosystem” and that they may “offer a way out of some of the crises we have created for our world.” Second, building on this point, he argues that microbes “are now becoming allies in an all-out effort to seek better health, sustainability, and a deeper appreciation of the true diversity of life.” While Anton provides examples of how microbes are being used to improve the human condition—including by eating plastics, neutralizing nuclear waste, helping plants to boost photosynthetic output, and combating deadly MRSA infections—he does so without many specifics, leaving those interested in even rudimentary details unsatisfied. Of bigger concern, however, is the book’s lack of focus: Anton frequently and abruptly changes topics, flitting from point to point without apparent rhyme or reason. His attempts to personalize the scientists who have made crucial discoveries also fall flat because they are presented as asides rather than integral information. Despite fascinating material, this book’s presentation is bound to disappoint readers. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 08/28/2017
Release date: 10/01/2017
Genre: Nonfiction
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