A Planet of Viruses Book Summary - A Planet of Viruses Book explained in key points
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A Planet of Viruses summary

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

4.4 (82 ratings)
13 mins

Brief summary

'A Planet of Viruses' by Carl Zimmer is an intriguing exploration of the hidden world of viruses. It explains in simple terms how viruses work, their impact on our lives, and how they constantly evolve and adapt alongside humanity.

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    A Planet of Viruses
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    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.

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    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.

    A Planet of Viruses Review

    A Planet of Viruses (2011) by Carl Zimmer explores the fascinating world of viruses and why they matter to humans. Here are three reasons why this book is a must-read:

    • With its accessible language and engaging storytelling, it brings the complex topic of viruses to life, making it understandable and relatable.
    • By discussing the impact of viruses on our health, history, and even behavior, it highlights the intricate relationships between viruses and humans.
    • The book combines scientific facts with real-life examples and case studies, offering insights into the incredible resilience of viruses and the ongoing battle between humans and these microscopic invaders.

    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
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    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.

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    A Planet of Viruses FAQs 

    What is the main message of A Planet of Viruses?

    Viruses are fascinating and influential organisms that are crucial to understanding the world we live in.

    How long does it take to read A Planet of Viruses?

    The estimated reading time for A Planet of Viruses is a few hours, while the Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is A Planet of Viruses a good book? Is it worth reading?

    A Planet of Viruses is worth reading as it provides a captivating exploration of the impact viruses have on our planet.

    Who is the author of A Planet of Viruses?

    The author of A Planet of Viruses is Carl Zimmer.

    What to read after A Planet of Viruses?

    If you're wondering what to read next after A Planet of Viruses, here are some recommendations we suggest:
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    • Missing Microbes by Martin Blaser
    • Get Well Soon by Jennifer Wright
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