Microcosm (Hardcover)

E. coli and the New Science of Life

By Carl Zimmer

Pantheon, 9780375424304, 256pp.

Publication Date: May 6, 2008



Within days of being born, we are infected with billions of E. coli. They will inhabit each and every one of us until we die. E. coli is notorious for making people gravely ill, but engineered strains of the bacteria save millions of lives each year.

Despite its microscopic size, E.coli contains more than four thousand genes that operate a staggeringly sophisticated network of millions of molecules.

Scientists are rebuilding E. coli from the ground up, redefining our understanding of life on Earth.

In the tradition of classics like Lewis Thomas's Lives of a Cell, Carl Zimmer has written a fascinating and utterly accessible investigation of what it means to be alive. Zimmer traces E. coli's remarkable history, showing how scientists used it to discover how genes work and then to launch the entire biotechnology industry. While some strains of E. coli grab headlines by causing deadly diseases, scientists are retooling the bacteria to produce everything from human insulin to jet fuel.

Microcosm is the story of the one species on Earth that science knows best of all. It's also a story of life itself--of its rules, its mysteries, and its future.

Praise For Microcosm: E. coli and the New Science of Life

“A powerful account of the dynamic, complicated and social world we share with this ordinary yet remarkable bug. . . . Exciting, original, and wholly persuasive.” —New Scientist

“Superb. . . . A quietly revolutionary book.” —Boston Globe

“Creepy, mind-twisting, and delightful all at the same time” —Steven Johnson, author of The Invention of Air

“This award-winning science writer has turned out an illuminating biography of one of biology’s most influential–and underappreciated–players.” —Discover

“For readers who enjoy a seat at the revolution and a chance to ponder the ‘supple little bugs’ at the dawn of life, Microcosm is a bracing read. This timely book deserves shelf space near Lewis Thomas’ classic Lives of a Cell.” —Cleveland Plain-Dealer

“Engrossing. . . . Zimmer adroitly links the common heritage we share with E. coli and the emerging horizons of science.” —The New York Times Book Review

“All in all, Microcosm is a phantasmagoric read that explains how our understanding of the nature of E. coli has helped to unravel the mysteries of our own nature and evolution. The book is impressive for the information it imparts and even more impressive for the ideas it provokes.” —New England Journal of Medicine

“E. coli has provided answers that have reshaped our very definitions of life. Zimmer succeeds in engendering a healthy respect for the bug that lives inside us all.” —Seed Magazine

“Engagingly written. . . . [Zimmer’s] prose is vivid without being misleading–surely one of the hallmarks of good science writing. . . . We should be sure to heed the lessons of E. coli. Those little stinkers have been around a lot longer than we have, and they have some story to tell.” —The New York Sun

“It’s this simple. Carl Zimmer is one our very best science writers. If not the absolute best, bar none.” —Scienceblogs.com

“[Microcosm] delivers what a science book should; it reveals the new and re-enchants the old.” —Prospect Magazine

“[Zimmer is] an American science writer at the zenith of his profession. . . . [He] 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.” —The Journal of Clinical Investigation

“An educational tour-de-force. . . . [Zimmer] brings remarkable talents to popular science writing: ability to write succinct, lively prose; genius at applying familiar words to replace the jargon of scientific terms; intelligence to grasp complex ideas . . . and instincts of an investigative reporter. These talents are amply exhibited in Microcosm.” —Microbe magazine