Welcome to the Club.

i-0be8347a4df2a4202306bf2b961c5533-microcosm2.jpgHello, and welcome to the ScienceBlogs Book Club. This is a ScienceBlogs special feature: an online, round-table discussion of Microcosm: E. coli and the New Science of Life, by Carl Zimmer. Carl will be joined on the blog by three expert guests—Jessica Snyder Sachs, John Dennehy, and PZ Myers.

Microcosm reveals how a common bacterium, most often associated in this country with outbreaks of foodborne illness, has been a scientific workhorse for decades, quietly starring in some of the last century's most spectacular achievements in biology: the discovery of genes, the understanding of evolution and competition among species, the dawn of genetic engineering and the ethical questions it's raised, and our efforts to define life itself.

As the panelists discuss the book, you're invited to add questions and commentary to the 'comments' section of posts. The contributors will be reading along and reacting to your thoughts. The result, we hope, will approximate an old-fashioned book club, minus the overcrowded living room.

The conversation runs from June 1 to June 15. You can learn more about Microcosm here, and read an adapted excerpt from the book in the New York Times, here.

Before we get started, a bit about the contributors:

John Dennehy

i-43ed75ea90268abca7be526cd642b044-john_dennehy.jpgJohn Dennehy is an evolutionary ecologist and a professor at Queens College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Research in the Dennehy lab focuses on the evolution of emerging infectious diseases and the evolution of life history variation using bacteriophages (parasites of bacteria) as model organisms. Dr. Dennehy has published articles in Evolution, Ecology Letters, The American Naturalist and The Quarterly Review of Biology. One of these papers was the subject of a Science Times article by Carl Zimmer. Dr. Dennehy maintains a blog at The Evilutionary Biologist.

i-f5be82edddb56f71d85498203aa84ef5-pz_myers.jpgPZ Myers

PZ Myers is a professor of biology at the University of Minnesota, Morris, where he specializes in evolution and development -- the hot new field known as evo-devo, which tries tease apart the complementary interactions of evolution and development. He writes professionally for Seed magazine, where his column focuses on the strange and often counter-intuitive relationships between genes and the dynamic events of development.

He is best known for his weblog, Pharyngula, which Nature magazine called the most popular science weblog on the planet. The weblog is a player in the culture wars, and much of the content addresses creationist claims and also promotes a New Atheist worldview. PZ Myers has been cited and quoted in the fund-raising literature for the Discovery Institute, and along with Eugenie Scott and Richard Dawkins, was one of the featured militant atheists in the new Ben Stein propaganda movie for the Intelligent Design movement, Expelled. PZ likes to think of himself as having a second job as a boogeyman for creationists, and he has lectured all over the country on communicating science, on new revelations in evolutionary biology, and on the hilarious misconceptions of creationists.

Another theme in his writing is an appreciation of the natural world, promoting the value of biological diversity...especially of interesting and exotic invertebrates...and especially molluscs...and especially cephalopods. Rumors of romantic entanglements with nubile squid are, however, entirely false, as he will cheerfully explain in explicit detail and at length.

Jessica Snyder Sachs

i-7cce95b26c573f4aa3cee118155325b4-jessica_sachs.jpgJessica Snyder Sachs is a contributing editor to Popular Science and Parenting magazines and writes regularly for Discover, National Wildlife, and other national publications. Prior to becoming a full-time freelance writer, she managed and edited Science Digest.

Sachs recently published her second book for the general reader, Good Germs, Bad Germs: Health and Survival in a Bacterial World, winner of the Fund for Investigative Journalism's annual book award. Good Germs, Bad Germs explores our emerging understanding of the bacterial ecosystems that imbue a healthy human body and how their disruption can lead to inflammatory disorders and drug-resistant infections. She continues the discussion on her blog, www.jessicasachs.com.

Jessica's first book, Corpse, looked at the dynamic ecosystem of insects, plants, and bacteria that colonize the body after death. Subtitled "Nature, Forensics, and the Struggle to Pinpoint Time of Death," Corpse describes the 200-year pursuit of an accurate postmortem clock and features the casework of the world's leading forensic entomologists, botanists, and anthropologists.

i-4c45ccae66f485d1c9de7df9476e126c-carl_zimmer.jpgCarl Zimmer
The New York Times Book Review calls Carl Zimmer "as fine a science essayist as we have." In his books, essays, and articles, Zimmer reports from the frontiers of biology, where scientists are expanding our understanding of life. He is a frequent guest on radio programs, such as Fresh Air and This American Life. He also lectures regularly at universities, medical schools, and museums.

Zimmer's books include Soul Made Flesh, a history of the brain; Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea; At the Water's Edge, a book about major transitions in the history of life; The Smithsonian Intimate Guide to Human Origins; and Parasite Rex.

In addition to writing books, Zimmer contributes articles to the New York Times, as well as magazines including National Geographic, Discover, Scientific American, Science, and Popular Science. He also writes an award-winning blog, The Loom. From 1994 to 1998 Zimmer was a senior editor at Discover, where he remains a contributing editor. He has won fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

He lives in Connecticut with his wife Grace and his children, Charlotte and Veronica.

Please tune back in later today, when we kick off our discusion of Microcosm!

More like this

"The first rule of ScienceBlogs Book Club is you do not talk about ScienceBlogs Book Club.

The second rule of ScienceBlogs Book Club is you do not talk about ScienceBlogs Book Club..."

This blog needs RSS so I can add it to a feed reader, and don't forget about it completely.

Also, It would be nice to have a list of upcoming books that will be featured, So I can get reading to have an advanced knowledge of the books before their turn comes up.

We're working on the feed issue right now. Thanks for pointing it out.

There is no decision yet on future books, but a list is definitely something we'll do when possible.

Just ordered the book from my library (sorry Carl, kids in college). I do hope it's geared to the non-scientist.

By longsmith (not verified) on 02 Jun 2008 #permalink

I think you'll like it, longsmith.

I have only some college education, But I love Zimmer's work. I've read many of his columns, and his book "evolution"

I've read the first few chapters of Microcosm, and have found it very entertaining so far.

Lost the book while I was moving a couple of weeks ago, but once I find it, I'll be glued to it until I finish.

Great Idea for a book club! I second the motion of posting 'upcoming' titles so that I can buy and read in advance. Perhaps I'll have a little more to contribute then.

I just finished the book on Sunday! How lucky for me.

By molliebatmit (not verified) on 03 Jun 2008 #permalink

Maybe I'm getting a head of myself, but what would be super nerdy and awesome is if SEED worked something out with publishers to put a "Scienceblogs Book Club" seal on new releases.

And if it would somehow mock Opera's book club in the process that would be a bonus.

make that Oprah's

The RSS feed is now working! Click the RSS link at the top of the page, and scroll down to 'ScienceBlogs Book Club.'

If this becomes an ongoing feature, we will be posting upcoming titles in advance so that people can read along at home (or ahead of time).

As for catching up with Oprah and putting out our own, stickered special editions: yes! I hope the Book Club will be such an explosive success that that will be the obvious next step. :)

Science Book Club is an excellent idea! Living on an island in BC limits my physical abilities to research new science and hence am on the blogs all the time! Finished Microcosm last week - huge amount of astounding info written with wonder and the thrill of life. Great book, Keep up the good work, Carl!