Allies And Enemies, by
Anne Maczulak (Hardcover, 2010)|
(You can print this review in landscape mode, if you
want a hardcopy)
Reviewer: Mark Lamendola, author of over 6,000 articles.
Ms. Maczulak did an excellent job with this book. It's factually
correct and well-written, making it both pleasurable and educational to
read. That's really saying something, considering that college texts on
the subject of microbiology have a reputation for being rather
challenging to read and understand. It's not that those books are badly
done, it's that the topic is complex.
Ms. Maczulak removes the complexity to bring us a good overview of the
role of bacteria in our lives and in the larger world around us. She
exposes and corrects many myths, while also keeping her narrative in a
framework that moves forward and helps the reader get "the big picture."
Without crossing it, she walks the fine line between eye-glazing detail
and enough detail to be a rich read. My eyes didn't glaze over once,
during my reading of this book.
When I started reading this book, I thought it would be a good academic
refresher. Before I finished reading it, that thought changed entirely.
I think for most people, it is essential reading. A small example
Before I finished reading this book, I heard a radio commercial (I
listen to the radio for a total of maybe 3 hours per month) for a
product that should not be on the market. The commercial encourages
parents to buy a chlorinated product for the kids to take to school and
wipe everything with. Deliberately poisoning people is illegal, but for
some reason if you poison kids with this product you won't go to jail
for it. The hype is that this protects children from nasty bacteria.
Parents who don't understand what is profoundly wrong with this product
and why it's also unnecessary need to start educating themselves about
the real world. This book provides a good start in that direction.
I happen to enjoy various little critters. When I'm tending my basil
plants, a friendly honeybee or two will land on my arm. I have never
been stung by a honeybee, in half a century of enjoying their company.
The idea that we need to smear our bodies with DEET before going outside
is absurd, and it has health and psychological costs.
The same is true for critters so little that we cannot see them. It's
not possible to live without bacteria. The idea that all bacteria are
bad is based on disinformation, ignorance, and fear. Ms. Maczulak adroitly explains the truth in this book, so the reader is
informed. It's not that all bacteria are bad and there are only a few
good varieties. The world of bacteria is diverse and enormous, and most
bacteria do us no harm.
In fact, the bacteria-phobia that helps sell toxic products to people
who don't take the time to learn the truth not only results in their
being poisoned with carcinogenic chemicals, but it also helps throw
their bacterial balance out of whack. The anti-bacterial soaps and
related products do not prevent disease. The author does not say that in
so many words, but everyone educated in this topic knows why that
statement is true. If you read this book, you will also know why it's
true (if you do not already know).
Bacteria are letting us live on their planet. They clean up our
wastes (including oil spills), provide the foundations of the food chain
(we'd have no food without bacteria to do what they do), and do many
other things that we take for granted.
Ms. Maczulak points out that there's a good chance bacteria hold the
solutions to many problems we face today. These include everything from
oil production (right now, we don't actually produce oil--we merely
remove it from where it is) to cleaning up mining waste (a problem that
is destroying Appalachia).
This book consists of seven chapters, an epilogue (its content should
actually be an appendix, not an epilogue), an appendix, extensive
references, and an index.
Chapter 1 explains why the world needs bacteria. You can't help but
draw this conclusion from the facts presented. Chapter 2 talks about
bacteria in history, and Chapter 4 discusses their role in popular
culture. Chapter 3 is between those two discussions and it explains how
bacteria mutate, reproduce, and do other things with DNA.
At this point, the book takes off in a different direction. Chapter 5
looks at the many uses for bacteria. Chapter 6 looks at ecosystems,
macrobiology, and the diversity of bacteria. Chapter 7 discusses such
things as how bacteria provide food, can provide energy, and do clean up
waste; it explores also how these benefits may be expanded in the
The Epilogue is titled, "How microbiologists grow bacteria." It's
interesting material, but it isn't a epilogue to the book. It's the kind
of information that goes into an appendix. Not a big error on the part
of the publisher, but an error nonetheless. The Appendix the book does
have is a resource for further reading and research if you are so
On the references, I had no doubt while reading that this book had
been properly researched. It just rang true all throughout. When I saw
the actual references, however, it was a bit of a jawdropper. If you've
ever read the texts required for a college-level microbiology class, you
know that it's no small feat to get through them.
In contrast to most alleged works of non-fiction today, Ms. Maczulak:
- Uses Standard Written English.
- Gets her facts right.
- Respects the reader.
- Doesn't use the book to push a political agenda (though she does
take human caused global warming as fact even though this does not
explain why the icecaps on Mars are melting).
Don't just add this to your collection. Get a copy for your health
practitioner, a copy for your medical doctor, and a copy for your best
friend. If you're a parent with kids in school, get a copy for the
principal and then try to get those fume-spewing carcinogenic surface