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Planet Earth

A Planet of Viruses: "Absolutely top drawer" says Booklist

The LoomBy Carl ZimmerApril 20, 2011 8:42 AM

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The reviews are just starting to come out for A Planet of Viruses--here's a starred one slated to appear soon in Booklist:

The effects of viruses have been known since time immemorial, thanks to the common cold, the flu, and smallpox. But when viruses were physically discovered in the late nineteenth century, it was by elimination; that is, something was discovered that caused disease but wasn’t animal, plant, fungus, or bacterium. The electron microscope finally made that something visible, and its basic mechanisms were ascertained by 1950. What has been discovered about viruses since, however, dwarfs all that previous virological knowledge. For viruses are everywhere, and a recurring motif of Zimmer’s information- packed, superbly readable, brief essays is the assay of a substance—seawater, human sputum, subterranean warm water segregated for hundreds of thousands of years from the biology of the rest of the world—thought to be relatively or positively pure finds it crawling with viruses. Obviously, not all viruses kill or even sicken. In fact, it’s not so much a matter of perforce having to live with viruses as not being able to live without them, and not just because they’re so tiny, ubiquitous, and numerous but also because they help produce the oxygen we breathe and because some of them disable bacteria toxic to us—among other vital things. Absolutely top-drawer popular science writing.

I'll have much more to say about the book in the weeks to come!

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