A Planet of Viruses Book Summary - A Planet of Viruses Book explained in key points
Listen to the Intro

A Planet of Viruses summary

Carl Zimmer

Why one of the best science thinkers alive says viruses are essential for life

4.4 (76 ratings)
13 mins
Table of Contents

    A Planet of Viruses
    Summary of 5 key ideas

    Audio & text in the Blinkist app
    Key idea 1 of 5

    The common cold has been a nuisance for thousands of years.

    The common cold is a relatively harmless, but rather annoying sickness we’re all forced to deal with now and again. Our parents had it, our great-grandparents had it, and even our most ancient ancestors had to deal with fevers, coughs and runny noses.

    The common cold is typically caused by the rhinovirus, a virus that was a nuisance to the Ancient Egyptians too. In the 3,500-year-old medical text Ebers Papyrus, an Egyptian scholar documents the symptoms of “resh,” including a persistent cough and excess mucus in the nose. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

    While the symptoms of the common cold in ancient times match what we see today, methods of treatment have changed considerably. Egyptians were given a rather sensible prescription of herbs, incense and honey to apply around the nose, whereas the Romans were convinced that rubbing a mouse around their nose was the best way to defeat the sniffles!

    History also provides us with a range of wildly different explanations for the common cold. Ancient Greeks chalked it up to an imbalance of the four bodily fluids, i.e., blood, yellow bile, black bile and phlegm. Seems rather unbelievable now, but the common cold’s cause eluded physicians even up to 1900, when physiologist Leonard Hill posited that colds were caused by moving from hot air to cold air, the way you might do when taking a morning walk.

    Fortunately, scientific research from the early to mid-twentieth century helped uncover the true cause of the common cold. We now know that the rhinovirus is responsible. So do we know how to defeat it?

    Despite centuries of experimenting with different remedies for the common cold, we still lack a fool-proof cure. The answer may lie in attacking the genetic code of the virus. But it’s worth asking whether we should bother finding a cure in the first place. After all, the rhinovirus and other harmless viruses teach our immune systems to react appropriately to benign infections, making it better able to deal with viruses that are serious threats to our health.

    What are these deadly viruses? That’s what we’ll find out in the next blink.

    Want to see all full key ideas from A Planet of Viruses?

    Key ideas in A Planet of Viruses

    More knowledge in less time
    Read or listen
    Read or listen
    Get the key ideas from nonfiction bestsellers in minutes, not hours.
    Find your next read
    Find your next read
    Get book lists curated by experts and personalized recommendations.
    Shortcasts New
    We’ve teamed up with podcast creators to bring you key insights from podcasts.

    What is A Planet of Viruses about?

    A Planet of Viruses (2011) takes you on a whirlwind tour into the hidden world of viruses. You’ll discover how our understanding of these tiny, abundant organisms has evolved over time and how our lives are influenced by them, from their power to kill to their protective properties.

    Best quote from A Planet of Viruses

    In our most intimate moment, as new human life emerges from old, viruses are essential to our survival. There is no us and they – just a gradually blending and shifting mix of DNA.

    —Carl Zimmer
    example alt text

    Who should read A Planet of Viruses?

    • Anyone curious about where diseases come from
    • Anyone interested in biology
    • Anyone interested in the science behind medical treatments of viruses

    About the Author

    Carl Zimmer is a columnist for the New York Times and a lecturer at Yale University, where he teaches how to write about science and the environment. He writes for National Geographic and is the author of thirteen books, including Parasite Rex and Microcosm.

    Categories with A Planet of Viruses

    Books like A Planet of Viruses

    People ❤️ Blinkist
    Sven O.

    It's highly addictive to get core insights on personally relevant topics without repetition or triviality. Added to that the apps ability to suggest kindred interests opens up a foundation of knowledge.

    Thi Viet Quynh N.

    Great app. Good selection of book summaries you can read or listen to while commuting. Instead of scrolling through your social media news feed, this is a much better way to spend your spare time in my opinion.

    Jonathan A.

    Life changing. The concept of being able to grasp a book's main point in such a short time truly opens multiple opportunities to grow every area of your life at a faster rate.

    Renee D.

    Great app. Addicting. Perfect for wait times, morning coffee, evening before bed. Extremely well written, thorough, easy to use.

    People also liked

    Start growing with Blinkist now
    28 Million
    Downloads on all platforms
    4.7 Stars
    Average ratings on iOS and Google Play
    Of Blinkist members create a better reading habit*
    *Based on survey data from Blinkist customers
    Powerful ideas from top nonfiction

    Try Blinkist to get the key ideas from 7,000+ bestselling nonfiction titles and podcasts. Listen or read in just 15 minutes.

    Start your free trial