The Secret Life of Germs

Tierno, Philip M. The Secret Life of Germs: What They Are, Why We Need Them, and How We Can Protect Ourselves Against Them. New York: Atria Books, 2001. Germs live among us! Some threaten our very existence, but others we literally couldn't live without. Noted biologist, Philip Tierno helped discover the cause of Toxic Shock Syndrome and went on to some notoriety as he showed TV's 20/20 how germ-infested even the (supposedly) cleanest surface is. Throughout Germs, Tierno walks the line between paranoia and rational prevention. While offering scary predictions of germs run amok, he balances these with reasonable, rational "response strategies," the most important ones being those that your mother (should have) taught you: wash your hands, cover your mouth when you cough, and take all of your medicine. Apparently, about 80% of germ-related disease in America could be prevented if people simply washed their hands.

Tierno not only explores the various types of germs, where they come from, how they spread, and how they affect us, he also provides an evolutionary history of germs. The most successful organism on the planet, the more we learn of germs, the more we come to understand how they have played a part in our evolution and how they will continue to play a part in our future.

Fascinating, enlightening, and a bit creepy, The Secret Life of Germs will change how you think about that next doorknob.

Related: Guns, Germs, and Steel: A (Comic) Review