Book Review: Life’s Engines: How Microbes made the Earth Habitable by Paul G. Falkowski

This book caused ambivalent feelings for me. There were times when I liked it and I learned new things about microbes and our relationship with them but then there were times I found the book tedious, boring, and hard to read.

For example, what made the book hard to read, was its use of names. On page 165 in one paragraph, seven different names were mentioned along with colleges, dates, and ages. They surely had their place there, but I think an editor should have requested a change to make it lighter. Then there were the occasions where the use of jargon overshadowed clarity. I get jargon makes it easier for academics to communicate with each other, but it also has a tendency to make the point murkier and too difficult to understand. Another issue I had was with explaining longly overly simplistic points I think anyone who picks up a book about microbes will know. And that was about Galileo Galilei. Someone who doesn’t know about him and his accomplishments can go read about him instead of the book wasting space and readers time explaining the basics.

Now as all my complaints have been got out of the way, I can concentrate on telling you what I liked about the book. Shortly it inspired and informed me. Longly:

First things first, I learned that most probably no one in the world has similar gut bacteria as I do (rarer than DNA); I have concluded they should study my bacteria profile and make into a nice info-graphic and call it high art!

You could read the book as microbes journal story. Starting from their birth and arriving at the current state where our actions are having their impact on their evolution. We, humans, are only a minor evolutionary hitch in their lifespan. I liked that somewhat bleak out take on our importance in the grand scheme of things, but that might be self-evident to anyone who knows me.

Another thing that this book caused me was a longing to become a biologist to find out all the unknown aspects of microbes. And glimpse them through a microscope. I know there are real beauties out there and I’m sure some of them are willing to kill me. As I am too old to go back to school, the only thing I can do is dream up a world of microbes interacting with their tamers and write a book about it.

So, should you read this book or not? I would say if you can take your time with it, then yes. The book is under two hundred pages and it took me longer to read than I expected. It was rewarding and made me understand our world better and direct my thoughts beyond us humans and our planet.

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