Viruses are the smallest living things known to science, and yet they hold the entire planet in their sway. We're most familiar with the viruses that give us colds or the flu, but viruses also cause a vast range of other diseases, including one disorder that makes people sprout branch-like growths as if they were trees. Viruses have been a part of our lives for so long, in fact, that we are actually part virus: the human genome contains more DNA from viruses than our own genes. Meanwhile, scientists are discovering viruses everywhere they look: in the soil, in the ocean, even in deep caves miles underground. This fascinating book explores the hidden world of viruses – a world that each of us inhabit.
Here Carl Zimmer, popular science writer and author of Discover magazine's award-winning blog The Loom, presents the latest research on how viruses hold sway over our lives and our biosphere, how viruses helped give rise to the first life-forms, how viruses are producing new diseases, how we can harness viruses for our own ends, and how viruses will continue to control our fate for years to come. In this eye-opening tour through the frontiers of biology, where scientists are expanding our understanding of life as we know it, we learn that some treatments for the common cold do more harm to us than good; that the world's oceans are home to an astonishing 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 viruses; and that the evolution of HIV is now in overdrive, spawning more mutated strains than we care to imagine.
"Part of a series sponsored by the Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) to help support educational outreach to students, [A Planet of Viruses] packs into 109 pages just about everything you've always wanted to know – and a lot you'll probably wish you didn't know – about the viruses that have caused humanity so much grief throughout history."
"For those with long memories, not much seems to have happened in fundamental physics and cosmology since Carl Sagan's Cosmos, 30 years ago [...] The real action is in biology, where amazing new facts just keep coming. The techniques of genome analysis make it remarkably easy at the moment to make unexpected observations. [A Planet of Viruses] is packed with them, carefully assembled by another talented populariser, the science writer and Yale University lecturer Carl Zimmer."
– Times Higher Education
"Science writer Carl Zimmer has a penchant for writing about things most humans like to avoid; his previous works include Microcosm: E. coli and the New Science of Life, and Parasite Rex. Each chapter of his latest work is dedicated to a different type of virus, providing a brief synopsis on what makes a certain species unique, and using the example to launch into fascinating information about what it teaches about the nature of viruses and life in general."
– A.V. Club
"Absolutely top-drawer popular science writing [...] Zimmer's information-packed, superbly readable look at virological knowledge awakens readers to the fact that not only are viruses everywhere but we couldn't live without them."
– Booklist (starred review)
"A smart, beautiful, and somewhat demented picture book that's likely to give you a case of the willies. In the best way possible."
– Maggie Koerth-Baker, Boing Boing
"Carl Zimmer is one of the best science writers we have today. A Planet of Viruses is an important primer on the viruses living within and around all of us – sometimes funny, other times shocking, and always accessible. Whether discussing the common cold and flu, little-known viruses that attack bacteria or protect oceans, or the world's viral future as seen through our encounters with HIV or SARS, Zimmer's writing is lively, knowledgeable, and graced with poetic touches."
– Rebecca Skloot, author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
"I'm a serious fan of Carl Zimmer, and A Planet of Viruses provided a new treat. It's thoughtful, precise, and engrossing, page by page. Zimmer has an uncanny ability to tell cool tales about nature that leave you with new thoughts and understanding, always keeping precisely to the science."
– Richard Preston, author of The Hot Zone
"This little book will interest anyone on this planet who has ever played host to a virus. It is beautifully clear, eminently sensible, and fascinating from beginning to end – like everything Carl Zimmer writes. I don't know how Zimmer does it! Neither does anyone else who follows and enjoys his work."
– Jonathan Weiner, author of Long for This World
"An accessible and gripping narrative on a serious topic that manages to explain, in plain English, how viruses are changing the world. Carl Zimmer has found great stories and woven them into an honest, optimistic book. It is a wonderfully vivid and compelling read."
– Nathan Wolfe, founder and CEO of Global Viral Forecasting
"As with any great journey, this virtual tour opens your eyes and expands your horizons. You'll learn amazing facts. But this is no textbook. Zimmer does not do boring or stuffy; reading his work is like hanging out with the smartest, most interesting guy you have ever met as he regales you with tales of his travels and fascinating finds along the way."
"I hope Carl Zimmer lives a long, long time so we can get more and more books from him [...] [A Planet of Viruses is] a short read [...] but intense and well explained."
– Julia Sweeney
"A contagious fear pervades the public perception of viruses, and rightly so, because they cause many serious diseases; but they are not all bad. In A Planet of Viruses Carl Zimmer seeks to convey this message, elegantly communicating the history of viruses, their symbiotic relation with life, and their influence on mankind's development."
– Lancet Infectious Diseases
"In A Planet of Viruses, science writer Carl Zimmer accomplishes in a mere 100 pages what other authors struggle to do in 500: He reshapes our understanding of the hidden realities at the core of everyday existence [...] Whether he's exploring how viruses come to America or picking apart the surprisingly complicated common cold, Zimmer's train of thought is concise and illuminating."
– Washington Post
"Although most everyone is familiar with the word "viruses," few people are aware of the major role they play as powerful agents of change on Earth. Zimmer presents an intriguing journey into the world of viruses, providing a fascinating historical perspective [...] This is an insightful book that serves as an excellent resource for understanding viruses and their relationship to humans [...] Highly recommended."
"This book is pure reading pleasure. It is amazing how seamlessly Carl Zimmer tells the stories of viruses in short chapters, describing the history, microbiology, and impacts of viruses in interesting, informative, readable chapters."
– Microbe Magazine
"Talk about doing more with less. Viruses do it, and this book does it. So complex a field as the fast-moving frontier of knowledge about viruses needs a superb introduction. Here it is."
– Stewart Brand
Introduction. "A Contagious Living Fluid": Tobacco Mosaic Virus
- The Uncommon Cold
- Looking Down from the Stars
- Influenza Virus
- Rabbits with Horns
Everywhere, In All Things
- The Enemy of Our Enemy
- Oceans of Viruses
- Marine Phages
- The Infected Genome
- Endogenous Retroviruses
The Viral Future
- The Young Scourge
- Human Immunodeficiency Virus
- Becoming An American
- West Nile Virus
- Predicting the Next Plague
- Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome
- The Long Goodbye
Epilogue. The Alien in the Watercooler: Mimivirus
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Carl Zimmer is a lecturer at Yale University, where he teaches writing about science and the environment. He is the author of numerous books, including Microcosm; Parasite Rex; Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea; At the Water's Edge; and Soul Made Flesh. His numerous essays and articles on the life sciences have appeared in the pages of the New York Times, Scientific American, Discover, Time, Science, Popular Science, and National Geographic. His work has been anthologized in both The Best American Science Writing and The Best American Science and Nature Writing series. He is also a two-time winner of the American Association for the Advancement of Science's Science Journalism Award and winner of the National Academies Communication Award.