Microbe Hunters

Microbe Hunters
by Paul de Kruif

Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich
0-15-659413-7 (paper)


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First written in 1926 and republished in 1953, Microbe Hunters tells the stories of the heroes of microbiology. In this well-researched and eminently readable historical narrative, Paul De Kruif describes the personalities, eccentricities, and life stories of Leeuwenhoek, Pasteur, Koch, Metchnikoff, Bruce, Reed, and Erlich, among others. The reader becomes acquainted with the Dutchman, Antony Leeuwenhoek, whose fanatical persistence in grinding even better lenses and in turning them on everyday subjects led him to the first visualization of microbes, with the Frenchman, Louis Pasteur, whose unceasing showmanship and publicity led him to demonstrate to the world the potential of vaccination, and with the German, Robert Koch, whose persistent experimenting and logical reasoning led to the theory that one microbe causes one disease and to the isolation of anthrax and tuberculosis bacilli.

Writing in the genre of historical novels, De Kruif takes some license in suggesting dialogue between the principal characters and their colleagues, assistants, spouses, and each other. But this technique diminishes neither the credibility of his story nor the effectiveness of his account. By dramatizing these scientists' lives and discoveries, De Kruif succeeds in reminding us that all current medical knowledge is the fruit of individual researchers' lifelong labors, imagination, and investigation. Microbe Hunters is remarkable for conveying the palpable excitement in scientific advances that existed when the book was first published in 1926. Such excitement is not surprising, considering that at that time Pasteur's rabies vaccine was not yet 50 years old and Paul Erlich's compound 606, the magic bullet for syphilis, had been discovered only 17 years earlier.

...Microbe Hunters provides an inspiring window to the wonderment and reverence of an earlier age, when discoveries were still rare, cures still miraculous, and hope for the future eradication of disease brimming. Immensely entertaining, this book provides a welcome antidote for any student over-whelmed by the mass of information, the myriad microbes, and the diverse array of lab tests, stains, and differential culture media that are expected to be learned and mastered. Though it may be hard to find in the corner bookstore, Microbe Hunters is worth tracking down in your medical school library, for a quick, refreshing, and inspiring read.

--Reviewed by Gregory R. Schwartz in The Journal of the American Medical Association, 271/5 (February 2 1994), p. 403-1. Copyright 1994, American Medical Association.