In Search of the Animalcule

Steven L. Berk, M.D.

Publisher: iUniverse Pages: 228 Price: (paperback) $13.99 ISBN: 9781663248008 Reviewed: July, 2023 Author Website: Visit »

Without the contributions of medical pioneers such as Louis Pasteur, Antoine van Leeuwenhoek, and Joseph Lister, the treatment of infectious disease in the 21st century would be virtually impossible. Now, thanks to the expertise and creativity of Steven L. Berk, readers can peek over the shoulders of these giants.

Berk is executive vice president of the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center and dean of the School of Medicine. In his offering, In Search of the Animalcule, Berk has concocted a tale in which fictional protagonist Jacob Pfleger manages to not only meet these innovators, but also to be instrumental in their research.

The titular term “animalcule” was coined by van Leeuwenhoek to describe tiny microorganisms he observed under a microscope. Researchers who encountered mysterious deaths studied whether these microorganisms (which we now call bacteria) were responsible for those deaths. Jacob’s story begins when he seeks a reason for his mother’s death. Although Jacob is fictional, the scientists he meets are actual, and his education on infectious disease becomes the reader’s.

Berk manages to keep readers interested in a subject that could easily have been less intriguing in the hands of a different author. Rather than bog the book down in factual presentation, the author succeeds in incorporating history in a believable fashion. The terminology is not overwhelming, and the narrative is genuinely interesting. For example, readers sit with Jacob in a Glasgow lecture hall as Joseph Lister explains that patients die in surgery because of germs invading their open wounds during procedures. In another instance, Jacob is instrumental in the development of the renowned Johns Hopkins medical school.

Sticklers for accuracy may question Jacob’s uncanny ability to be in the right place at the right time, but the book is engaging, and the author’s expertise and interest in the topic are on full display. Readers will appreciate that the historical references are accurate as they witness important discoveries of the past in these pages.

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