CA Mushrooms
CA Mushrooms

Book Review

A Journey into the Unseen World Around You

By Eugenia Bone
2018, Rodale Books
ISBN-10: 1623367352; ISBN-13: 978-1623367350
288 pages; 6.3 x 1 x 9.3 inches

All of a sudden, microbes are THE hot topic! Just about everywhere you look these days there is good news of probiotics, prebiotics, and biodynamics, as well as warnings of zoonotics, coliforms, and all manner of viruses like Zika, Nipah, Ebola, and bird flu. The next pandemic may be just over the horizon. Am I about to take my last breath, be served my Last Supper, or is it a Superfood? And should I have my microbiome analyzed? (Do I have a microbiome?) In her new book, Microbia, Eugenia Bone makes educated (and at times hilarious) sense of it all.  

Gena Bone had been a nationally famous writer of food-related topics for decades (books about cooking or preserving food, as well as magazine and newspaper-syndicated columns) when she burst onto the mycological scene with her wildly popular Mycophilia, about mycology and the wonderfully strange mycologists and mycophiles who are wild about wild mushrooms. Bone’s writing style is very engaging and erudite, at times funny and even snarky (though never mean), but also irresistibly personal. Just about everyone I know has read Mycophilia. Gena’s a past president of the NY Mycological Society and knows mushrooms and mushroom folk … but bacteria? Where did she come up with Microbia? What does she know about microbes? Turns out very little, initially. But she had a lot of curiosity.

While researching her book about mushrooms, Eugenia Bone became fascinated with microbes—those life forms that are too small to see without a microscope. Specifically, she wanted to understand the microbes that lived inside other organisms like you and me. But as she began reading books, scholarly articles, blogs—emailing certain colleagues “about a million times”—and even attending an online course in an attempt to grasp microbiology, she quickly realized she couldn’t do it alone. So … she went back to college. And this is what really brings Microbia to life. The science and facts are fascinating. But the personal stories about her attempting to learn all those facts—as well as to merely negotiate a bustling college campus, with all the technology and undergrads that go with it—made this a very funny, engaging page-turner. (Seriously funny!) Turns out that the Columbia University she’d attended as an English major several decades ago, is not the same school it is today. Nor is student life. Her stories about being a middle-aged mom embedded in undergrad college life are spot-on and hilarious. But more profoundly, when Bone went back to school, she learned that biology is a vast conspiracy of microbes. Microbes invented living and, as a result, they are part of every aspect of every living thing. This popular science book takes the layman on a broad survey of the role of microbes—including fungi—in nature and illustrates their importance to the existence of everything: atmosphere, soil, plants … and us.

— Review by Britt Bunyard
— Originally published in Fungi