Book Review

Jan Grabowski

Michael Madigan, John Martinko, David Stahl & David Clark:
Brock Biology of Microorganisms.

Hardcover: 1152 pages
Publisher: Benjamin Cummings; 13 edition (December 27, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 032164963X
ISBN-13: 978-0321649638
Price: 57.00 EUR

Don’t Judge by Appearances!

Photo: RealKaos

The smaller the leading actors, the heavier their appearance. The 13th edition of the “bible” of microbiology is devoted once again to the first, smallest and most widespread creatures on earth.

Over the past four decades, the Brock Biology of Microorganisms has evolved to become the bible of microbiology. 41 years after its initial release under the title Biology of Microorganisms in 1970, the 13th edition of the “Brock” has just hit the book shops. Did the authors, Michael Madigan, John Martinko, David Stahl and David Clark, do their job well? At first sight, the Brock seems as hefty as ever. At 1,152 pages, this new edition is just 16 pages shorter than its predecessor. According to the publisher, every chapter has undergone minor or major improvements, although the book’s fragile appearance is disappointing. As a paperback, it doesn’t give a particularly sturdy impression, with its soft cover and thin pages.

What, then, about the inner qualities of the new Brock? Do they cut the mustard?

Without and with you

Like in previous editions, the textbook’s concept is straightforward. Two to four chapters are bundled to form a unit for a certain topic. Twelve units introduce the reader to “Basic Principles of Microbio­logy”, “Microbial Evolution and Diversity”, “Immunology” and other microbiological topics. While the first six units mainly focus on microorganisms alone, the second half of the book also takes animals and humans into consideration, dealing with the pathogenicity of microbes, the diseases that they can cause and their epidemiology. These two main parts of the book are nicely connected by the “Microbial Eco­logy” unit.

One strong quality of the Brock has always been its readability. Each chapter is divided into short sections of a few pages, further subdivided into paragraphs with headlines. Together with the fluent and accessible style of writing and the detailed and visually appealing figures, reading the Brock is easy and fun. The ultimate goal of every textbook, to convey complicated facts and ideas in an understandable way, is definitely achieved by this 13th edition. Often, the Brock goes beyond textbook knowledge. Synthetic cells, yeast fermentation, home brewing and swine-flu, among other interesting topics, are explained in the book’s “Microbial Sidebars”.

Big ideas summarise the essentials

One novelty of the current edition are the “Big Ideas” at the end of a chapter, in which the key messages of each section are briefly summarised. Key terms of the particular chapter are also reviewed, almost making the comprehensive glossary at the end of the book obsolete, as the wording is practically the same (on the other hand, the alphabetical order of the glossary makes sense, of course, for those seeking the definition of a term without knowing the chapter where it first appeared).

It is worth mentioning that the Brock also covers scientific areas which are related to or overlap with microbiology, such as immunology and virology. You obviously cannot expect the same depth and detail to be found in specialist books like Janeway’s Immunobiology or Fields Virology, but what the Brock has to offer is far more than just a quick look over the fence. The completely revised chapter on immunology is especially good at giving insights into host defence mechanisms for non-immunologists.

Extensive online resources

The 13th edition has also received a visual facelift and boasts a modern, up-to-date appearance. Furthermore, the publisher, Pearson, provides access to extensive online resources including 3D animations and videos via a registration code inside the book, making it a powerful tool for the 21st century. This is not only useful for students, but also for lecturers. Each chapter also provides a set of review questions, and in case those are not enough, there is also an instructor resource DVD and an instructor manual.

All together, despite its shabby cover, the Brock remains the first choice for current and future microbiologists.

Letzte Änderungen: 29.07.2013