Book review – Microbia: A Journey into the Unseen World Around You

I wanted to like this book. I really did. I have become very much interested on microorganisms and I am trying to learn as much as I can about them. I have never taken a microbiology course and if I would start again, I would study either microbiology or developmental biology. I studied biochemistry and pharmacology/neurobiology, and that is part of the reason why I wanted to know more about microbes.
Microbia is flawlessly written; it is pretty evident that the author is truly good at it.Also, her contagious enthusiasm, sense of wonder, and desire to learn about the microbial world are other of the books’s high points. Then there is of course, that this is ostensibly a popular science book ostensibly about microbiology. Alas, not quite. You see, this is essentially two books: a popsci microbiology book and an account of the author’s experiences learning biology. The two books are organized in interpolating sections and I have issues with both of them.
The science is quite light, even accounting for the fact that this is a popsci book. What really disappointed me is the instances of factual errors on topics that I do know about, like molecular biology for example. I won’t list them, but they are there. No book is perfect, but when I find factual errors on topics that I am familiar with, it is very difficult for me to trust factual material on topics that I do not know well. Does this make sense?
I have much more serious issues with the second book; a story about how the author went back to school to learn biology as part of the research to write the book and all the difficulties that she had with it. I found this part very pessimistic. It was essentially a continuous low-level rant/lament on how “hard” biology is; at least that’s how I saw it. This worries me a lot because the tone of this “second” book could potentially discourage non-traditional students who are thinking of going back to school, either to change careers, or even to start from scratch in middle age. I know for a fact that such students can be successful. One of my best students ever began her college career from scratch after a few of her children were out of the house when she was in her mid-40s. She succeeded not only in obtaining her undergraduate degree in biology (with honors), but topped it off with a master’s. It can be done. Microbia‘s author’s story ends well, but the pessimistic tone is still a major problem.
I have to confess that I bought this book on an impulse. I love going to bookstores, and when I saw Microbia I got giddy with anticipation (in my mind of course; a bald, middle-aged man doing an eager dance in public would have looked weird and disturbing at the same time, especially if my kids saw it…). I “just went ahead bought it”. I will think things through the next time a book catches my eye.


Microbia: A Journey into the Unseen World Around You

Eugenia Boone

Rodale Books (April 3, 2018)

Picture credit: Rodale Books


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