The Loom

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At least for me, getting to see the cover of a new book for the first time is a great morale boost. The designer usually finishes it up right around the time when I’m starting to wonder if the book will ever become real. Recently I got the new cover of Microcosm: E. coli and the New Science of Life. I wrapped it around another book and stuck it on my mantelpiece, to remind myself that soon (May, actually), the book will be in bookstores. But I can show it to you now, because it’s been posted at Amazon and at the Random House web site.

There’s still plenty of work for me before it becomes more than a cover. This week I have to bear down and finish working my way through the copy-edited manuscript. Now’s the time when the window begins to close, when I begin to hope against hope that nobody does any important research on E. coli until well after the book comes out.

One reason I like this cover is that it’s not the typical computer visualization of a microbe. There’s something about Petri dishes that can convey more. You feel that something is emerging–something that fascinates us, but something a bit ominous as well. I’m also starting to get the feeling that designers really love Petri dishes. Two of my recent articles were cover stories, and in both cases, a Petri dish became the cover. Here’s a dish for piece on the work of evolutionary biologist Paul Turner I wrote for the Yale Alumni magazine, and here’s a video of the making of the dish that went on the cover of Seed magazine for my story about the meaning of life. So the book cover makes three.

I’ll have more to say about Microcosm in the spring. But if you can’t wait to pre-order, be my guest.


  1. #1 Darmok
    October 23, 2007

    Congratulations on the cover!

    I liked reading Mr. Bly’s Editor’s Letter in Seed about agar–I miss the smell of agar, actually.

  2. #2 Joseph Urban
    October 23, 2007

    The cover immediately arrested my attention. Momentous, the world in time there … . Very fond of it. Indeed.

  3. #3 Paula R.
    October 23, 2007

    Stumbled upon your Flickr site with the pics of “science” tattoos which led me to your blog. As a graphic designer, I love the fact that you – a scientist – appreciate graphic design. Many times our work gets taken for granted, and is therefore undervalued. Typography, color theory and the divine proportion are my sciences, studied with every bit of seriousness as e. coli and the science of life.

    Best of luck with your publication! The cover looks fantastic.

  4. #4 marrije
    October 23, 2007

    Lovely cover. Reminds me of Scott Westerfeld’s novels – do you guys have the same designer by any chance? Would be a great cross-feed if you inspired his novels and his novels inspired your covers…

  5. #5 Jim Hu
    October 24, 2007

    Looks nice, Carl! We’ll have to put up a page about it on EcoliWiki 😉

  6. #6 Timothy Chase
    October 24, 2007

    Well, I have been focusing a fair amount on climate change recently, but it will be a nice break with my spare time to get back to bacteria, pathogenicity islands, lateral gene transfer networks, phages and whatever else your e coli might have in store for me.

    Thanks… this will be a real pick-me-up!

  7. #7 King Aardvark
    October 24, 2007

    That is one fantastic looking cover you’ve got there, Carl. Congrats, from someone who just bought Parasite Rex and is very much looking forward to it.

  8. #8 Deech56
    October 24, 2007

    I wonder if the microbiologist who plated the bugs was left handed. And the little loop melt marks in the agar? Hmmmmm. j/k

    I look forward to enjoying this one as much as I did your other books. Congratulations.

  9. #9 Spanish Inquisitor
    October 27, 2007

    Is it “Microcosmos” or “Microcosm”? The book cover says the latter. I’m assuming the publisher knows, and not the author. 🙂

  10. #10 Carl Zimmer
    October 28, 2007

    Thanks, Spanish [9]. Typo is fixed.

  11. #11 iratecat
    October 29, 2007

    I wonder about the process of making that cover. Did the cover designer (presumably a professional, a graphics design person more than a science person) pour some agar, culture a door handle in LB, and plate those colonies? Did he walk into a lab, point to a dish and say “hey, can I borrow this for 10 minutes”? Or is it maybe a stock photo, pulled from the vast archives that must be kept somewhere?
    These are the questions that keep me up at night.

  12. #12 factician
    October 29, 2007

    As someone who works studying E. coli (and its close cousin Salmonella) every day (and not just as the cloning workhorse that most biologists use it as), I look forward to seeing what you’ve been writing.

    Good times.

  13. #13 Stegve
    November 1, 2007

    I would have written the word “microcosm” in E. coli colonies across the face of the dish.

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