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Academic & Professional Books  Organismal to Molecular Biology  Microbiology

A Planet of Viruses

Popular Science New Edition
By: Carl Zimmer(Author), Ian Schoenherr(Illustrator), Judy Diamond(Foreword By), Charles Wood(Foreword By)
147 pages, 24 b/w photos and b/w illustrations
NHBS
Updated throughout, A Planet of Viruses is a collection of essays on virology that are miniature masterclasses of science communication.
A Planet of Viruses
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  • A Planet of Viruses ISBN: 9780226782591 Edition: 3 Paperback Mar 2021 Usually dispatched within 5 days
    £11.99
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Price: £11.99
About this book Contents Customer reviews Biography Related titles

About this book

In 2020, an invisible germ – a virus – wholly upended our lives. We're most familiar with the viruses that give us colds or COVID-19. 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 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.

Fully revised and updated, with new illustrations and a new chapter about coronaviruses and the spread of COVID-19, this third edition of Carl Zimmer's A Planet of Viruses pulls back the veil on this hidden world. It 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 as long as life endures.

Contents

Foreword by Judy Diamond and Charles Wood

INTRODUCTION
- “A Contagious Living Fluid”: Tobacco Mosaic Virus and the Discovery of the Virosphere

OLD COMPANIONS
- The Uncommon Cold: How Rhinoviruses Gently Conquered the World
- Looking Down from the Stars: Influenza’s Never-Ending Reinvention
- Rabbits with Horns: Human Papillomavirus and Infectious Cancer

EVERYWHERE, IN ALL THINGS
- The Enemy of Our Enemy: Bacteriophages as Viral Medicine
- The Infected Ocean: How Marine Phages Rule the Sea
- Our Inner Parasites: Endogenous Retroviruses and Our Virus-Riddled Genomes

THE VIRAL FUTURE
- The Young Scourge: Human Immunodeficiency Virus and the Animal Origins of Diseases
- Becoming an American: The Globalization of West Nile Virus
- The Pandemic Age: Why COVID-19 Should Have Come as No Surprise
- The Long Goodbye: The Delayed Oblivion of Smallpox

EPILOGUE
- The Alien in the Water Cooler: Giant Viruses and What It Means to Be a Virus

Acknowledgments
Selected References
Credits
Index

Customer Reviews (1)

  • Miniature masterclasses of science communication
    By Leon (NHBS Catalogue Editor) 31 Mar 2021 Written for Paperback


    In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, many publishers have seen an opportunity to reissue previously published books on viruses and pandemics. As a reader, it is always difficult to know whether you are actually getting any updated content beyond the obligatory new preface or afterword, or whether this is just a quick cash-grab. Fortunately, the third edition of Carl Zimmer's famous virology primer A Planet of Viruses is here to prove those suspicions wrong.

    A Planet of Viruses was first published in 2011, followed by the second edition in 2015, and now the third edition in 2021. The book is a collection of short essays, many of which were originally written for World of Viruses, a National Institutes of Health-sponsored pop-science project to communicate virology to a wider audience.

    In Zimmer's trademark crisp prose, each of the twelve essays focuses on a particular virus or class of viruses while simultaneously explaining certain virology concepts. Thus the chapter on tobacco mosaic virus discusses how viruses were discovered and led to breakthroughs in microbiology, while the essays on rhinoviruses and influenza explain how our immune system combats viruses and how rapid evolution means viruses and their hosts are locked in a perpetual arms race. But there is hope. The short history of smallpox introduces the important concepts of variolation and vaccination, and how some viruses can, in principle, be eradicated.

    Although each essay is short, Zimmer has the enviable quality to highlight interesting facets in each story. The essay on HIV explains the crossing of species boundaries by infectious diseases, zoonosis, the origins of HIV, and how this virus, to quote David Quammen, has since diversified "like an infectious starburst". A piece on the West Nile Virus shows how viruses can go global, and how insect vectors such as mosquitoes can assist. And then there are the viruses that infect bacteria, bacteriophages, that outnumber us to a mind-boggling degree. As two of the essays here show, our world is a virosphere rather than a biosphere.

    Other essays delve into virus evolution. Studies of ancient DNA have not only revealed that our ancestors interbred with Neanderthals, but also that we may have acquired some of their viruses, such as the cancer-causing human papillomavirus. Retroviruses, meanwhile, go far beyond taking over a host's cellular machinery: they nestle themselves into its DNA and remain there. Our genetic material is riddled with such endogenous retroviruses, one of which produces the protein syncytin that is vital for the formation of the placenta during pregnancy. This infection has ancient roots, as the virus's genetic code is found throughout the mammalian family tree. Although the placenta is one of the features that made us mammals, this is ultimately thanks to a viral stowaway.

    Viruses even force you to ponder philosophical questions such as the definition of life. Viruses are typically considered to be non-living. Yet, the essay on giant mimiviruses and their large genomes containing thousands of genes shows that these lines are blurred. Consider this essay a taste of things to come in Zimmer's new book Life's Edge. And as he did in She Has Her Mother's Laugh when discussing genetic mosaics, he can implode your sense of identity with a single sentence. When discussing retroviruses he concludes that "There is no us and them – just a gradual blending and shifting mix of DNA” (p. 71).

    By now you might be chomping at the bit. What about COVID-19? New to this edition is the essay "The Pandemic Age”, which has replaced "Predicting the Next Plague” on Ebola from the second edition. This introduces coronaviruses more generally, briefly chronicles how the SARS and MERS outbreaks proceeded and how COVID-19 differs, and discusses some of the molecular details, such as how it enters the host cell. This essay felt a bit thin on the ground and did not provide all that much new information, especially given that Zimmer has written interesting pieces on vaccines and the virus's structure for the New York Times. I guess book publication and news cycles will forever be out of step with each other.

    Now, before you conclude that this is a somewhat disappointing update on the previous edition, let me stop you there. It was not until I looked at the references that I realised each essay has been updated with new research published in the last six years. It would have been easy to just slap in the COVID-19 essay, send it off to the printers, and call it a third edition. This is not the case, however, which reflects very well on both the author and the publisher. Furthermore, this edition features stylish woodcut-like illustrations from Ian Schoenherr that open each chapter (though, unfortunately, there are no illustrations included to explain biological concepts).

    A Planet of Viruses is a captivating primer to the world of viruses that requires zero background in biology. The brevity of the essays and the small size of this book make it a suitable first introduction to this fascinating part of our world. Even for a biologist such as myself, there is much to admire in Zimmer's writing: these essays are miniature masterclasses in science communication. If, for some reason, you have so far missed out on this book then what are you waiting for? At this price and this size, you have no excuse not to indulge.
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Biography

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.

Popular Science New Edition
By: Carl Zimmer(Author), Ian Schoenherr(Illustrator), Judy Diamond(Foreword By), Charles Wood(Foreword By)
147 pages, 24 b/w photos and b/w illustrations
NHBS
Updated throughout, A Planet of Viruses is a collection of essays on virology that are miniature masterclasses of science communication.
Media reviews

"A Planet of Viruses, Zimmer's slim collection of essays, offers an edifying tour of the improbable world of viruses, which is also our world. The strategies our bodies have devised for survival are endlessly matched by viruses, with their uncanny intelligence for evolution. Over the past year, their ability to reinvent themselves has heightened the suspense around the development of new vaccines against COVID-19."
Guardian
 



Reviews of the second edition:

"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."
Forbes
 
"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."
ScienceNews

"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."
Choice

"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

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