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Good Reads  Organismal to Molecular Biology  Microbiology

The Good Virus The Untold Story of Phages: The Most Abundant Life Forms on Earth and What They Can Do For Us

Popular Science New
By: Tom Ireland(Author)
389 pages, no illustrations
The Good Virus
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  • The Good Virus ISBN: 9781529365283 Paperback Jun 2024 Not in stock: Usually dispatched within 5 days
  • The Good Virus ISBN: 9781529365245 Hardback Jun 2023 Not in stock: Usually dispatched within 5 days
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About this book Customer reviews Biography Related titles

About this book

Not all viruses are out to get us – in fact, the viruses that do us harm are vastly outnumbered by viruses that can actually save lives.

At every moment, within your body and all around you, trillions of microscopic combatants are fighting an invisible war. Countless times per second, 'good' viruses known as phages are infecting and destroying bacteria. These phages are the most abundant life form on the planet and have an incredible power to heal rather than harm. So why have most of us never even heard of them?

The Good Virus reveals how personalities, power and politics have repeatedly crashed together to hinder our understanding of these weird and wonderful life forms. We explore why Stalin's Soviet Union embraced using phages to fight disease but the rest of the world shunned the idea. We find out why scientists only recently realised phages are central to all ecosystems on Earth. And we meet the often eccentric phage heroes who have shaped the strange history of this field and are unlocking its exciting future.

Faced with the terrifying threat of antibiotic-resistant superbugs, we need phages now more than ever. The Good Virus celebrates what phages could do for us and our planet if they are at last given the attention they deserve.

Customer Reviews


Tom Ireland is a freelance science journalist and award-winning magazine editor. Tom's passion for all things microscopic began with him hiding jars of mouldy food around the house as a young child. From microbes to mental health, biohacking to bioethics, Tom specialises in making difficult scientific topics accessible and fun to read. As a freelance journalist he has written science stories for outlets including BBC News, New Scientist and the Observer. He is the editor of The Biologist, the magazine of the Royal Society of Biology. In 2021 he won the Giles St Aubyn Award for Non-Fiction for The Good Virus.

Popular Science New
By: Tom Ireland(Author)
389 pages, no illustrations
Media reviews

"Most viruses do no harm to humans – and, as this fascinating book explains, a large class of them might even prove our saviours [...] [Phages] regulate our gut microbiome, are crucial to marine ecosystems, and inspired the modern CRISPR technique of gene-editing [...] All this and more is thrillingly recounted in Tom Ireland's superb book. This is real luxury-class science writing, exploring how a "Stalin-tainted" idea from long ago can be rehabilitated, alternating scientist interviews and vivid case studies of miraculous-seeming cures with historical narrative and limpid biotechnological explanations [...] He also demonstrates excellent comic timing."
– Steven Poole, Telegraph

"One of the best books of any genre that I've read in 2023, this superbly-written book relies on exquisite story-telling to interweave science and history and politics into an engaging and readable account that will fascinate absolutely everyone. Whether you are looking for something unique to enthrall your book club friends, something educational to enlighten or inspire [...] or insights into the complex and subtle ways that politics, history, medicine, science and individual personalities all feedback on and influence each other, you will find it in this remarkable and extraordinarily readable book. Even scientists and medical doctors will find much in this book to intrigue and delight them, and non-specialists will find this eye-opening book is unlike anything they've ever read before."
– Forbes

"This engaging book highlights the brighter side of the viral world [...] a delight. To learn more about phages is to discover fascinating details about a hidden world [...] Ireland offers riveting accounts [...] The Good Virus is timely [...] It's an exciting time for a field that has, for too long, been unfairly overlooked."

"Outstanding. The Good Virus is a fascinating, original and timely work."
– Clive Myrie

"Tom Ireland's compelling and original book makes a strong case for revisiting phage therapy [...] richly detailed and absorbing, and well balanced between the biological details and the personalities and scientific politics involved [...] The Good Virus is original, eye-opening and grippingly told."
New Scientist

"A new scientific frontier that couldn't be more fascinating or vital. Phages are critical to our health, and the health of the whole planet. Brilliantly written and profound, this book is ahead of the curve and deserves to become a classic."
– Daniel M. Davis, author of The Beautiful Cure and The Secret Body

"Absolutely smashing. It's really beautifully written, it's a really, really fascinating account."
– BBC 5 Live Science podcast

"This thrilling book will amaze you. Viruses have been attacking bacteria since the dawn of time, but in the last century some scientists have been able to enlist them in the fight against bacterial infections. Tom Ireland's limpid writing tells the exciting story of the past and future of "phage therapy", balanced by a sober exploration of the problems involved in turning the good viruses into treatments. Highly recommended."
– Professor Matthew Cobb

Today programme, BBC Radio 4

"The book that might change the world [...] Ireland's superb book introduces us to COVID's friendly little cousin, the phage. It feasts on bacteria, was used to treat soldiers at Stalingrad, and might just be the future of medicine."

"It is rare to find such a rich seam of science that is so pertinent to modern health concerns yet feels so under recognised. Everybody knows about good bacteria but I doubt they have heard of good viruses (I hadn't). Environmental pollution and antibiotic resistance are two of the world's biggest problems and to think the solution to those may have been with us all along is both fascinating and exciting to learn. This book is full of gems of information and hope for the future. I thoroughly enjoyed it."
– Suzanne O'Sullivan

"Incredible and thought provoking. Phages are the superheroes of the human biome. A truly enlightening read that makes you realise what we really don't yet know."
– Professor Dame Sue Black

"A masterful blend of jaw-dropping science and absorbing storytelling shows that we live on a planet run by super-abundant, sub-microscopic biological entities. Besides revealing a fundamental aspect of how life on Earth really works, this book reminds us of the missed opportunities we simply cannot afford to miss again. It is both incredibly well researched and very timely."
– George McGavin

"A fascinating and absorbing guide to this abundant but rarely studied life form, the book takes us through the discovery of bacteriophages, their use in laboratory research and highlights their increasingly likely future as a weapon against antibiotic-resistant bacteria."
– Professor Dame Sarah Gilbert

"Not all viruses are out to get us [...] This read reveals the good guys – phages. These ultra-helpful but microscopic viruses infect and fight bacteria – this book tells the story of their discovery and use in our health, plus what the future might hold for them."
Woman's Weekly

"In the wake of the COVID pandemic, the idea of a virus being beneficial may seem strange, even implausible. But science journalist Tom Ireland is admirably determined to show us just how potent this disease-fighting approach can be and to persuade us of its importance. As engaging as it is expansive, The Good Virus describes the distinctive biology and murky history of bacteriophage (generally shortened to "phage"), a form of life that is remarkably abundant yet obscure enough to have been termed the "dark matter of biology.""
Wall Street Journal

"The Good Virus is a colorful redemption story for the oft-neglected yet incredibly abundant phage, and its potential for quelling the existential threat of antibiotic resistance [...] Ireland, an award-winning science journalist, approaches the subject of his first book with curiosity and passion, delivering a deft narrative that is rich and approachable [...] Ireland tells the fascinating story of how phages harvested from German corpses helped the Soviets defeat the Nazis when cholera broke out during the siege of Stalingrad."
New York Times

"[An] intriguing history [...] incredibly timely"
Science magazine

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