Home > NewsRelease > In Conversation With Steven L. Berk,M.D. Author of In Search of the Animacule
In Conversation With Steven L. Berk,M.D. Author of In Search of the Animacule
Norm Goldman --  BookPleasures.com Norm Goldman -- BookPleasures.com
For Immediate Release:
Dateline: Montreal, Quebec
Monday, March 20, 2023


Bookpleasures.com welcomes as our guest, Steven L. Berk,M.D. author of In Search of theAnimacule.

Dr. Berk is the ExecutiveVP of the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center and Dean ofthe School of Medicine.

He is a board-certifiedexpert in infectious diseases and has written a multitude ofpeer-reviewed papers and five medical textbooks. He is a member ofthe American Osler Society and author of Anatomy of Kidnapping,a recipient of the Forward Review of Silver Book of the Year award.

Good day Dr. Berk andthanks for taking part in our interview.

Norm: What has beenyour greatest challenge (professionally) that you’ve overcome ingetting to where you’re at today?

Dr. Berk: As a Dean it isa challenge to teach medical students the great traditions of historyand physical exam, professionalism, empathy for patientsand prepare them for an entrepreneurial and fastmoving healthcare system.

Post COVID, it is achallenge to promote the great breakthroughs in science suchas vaccine development to a sometimes-cynical public.

Norm: What ledyou to specialize in infectious diseases? 

Dr. Berk: Infectiousdisease is a field that emphasizes the importance ofhistory and physical exam, of attaining a broad baseof knowledge not only about bugs and drugs butalso epidemiology, public health and anthropology. 

I was attracted to theconcept of rapid diagnosis and successful treatmentand cure.

The specialty changed inthe late 1980's with the HIV pandemic and I adapted like others to amore difficult chronic disease and primary care role.

As I express in InSearch of the Animalcule, it is a fieldof amazing breakthroughs in science.

We had no treatment forHIV in 1988 but now there are more than 30 drugs that attack thevirus in 7 different ways. 

Norm: How can weprevent the spread of infectious diseases and what can individuals doto protect themselves? 

Dr. Berk:With eachinfectious disease the guidelines will be different but handwashing,whose origins I describe in the book, will always be an importantfactor.

For some disease such as polio, smallpox, measles andmumps, full protection can be obtained by vaccination.

Forrespiratory disease, masks will be an effective protector. Sometimesgiving antibiotics prior to an infection is effective.

Norm: Did you write InSearch of the Animacule more by logic or intuition, or somecombination of the two? Please summarize your writing process. 

Dr. Berk:For many years Ihave wanted to tell the story of a period in history, in severaldifferent countries in Europe, that changed the world forever-a period when it was discovered by severalscientists, that animalcules, bacteria, too smallto see were responsible for mankind'splaques and diseases.

I wanted to describe how science isincorporated into a doctor's practice- having Jacob meetSir William Osler in America. I wanted tohonor scientists and doctors who died studying and fightinginfectious disease. These themes would become evenmore important in the COVID era. 

Norm: Whatpurpose do you believe your story serves and what matters to youabout the story? 

Dr. Berk: My story isthe story of man's early recognition and battle against infectiousdisease and it is more relevant now than ever before as the publicassess the meaning of the COVID pandemic. 

I hope it is atribute to all scientists and physicians. It is thestory of how great breakthroughs in science are actually made,and how science and medicine have and will be irrevocablyconnected.

Norm: What do you hopewill be the everlasting thoughts for readers who finish your novel? 

Dr. Berk: The seriousnature of infectious disease, the role of science insaving us from death and suffering. I hope I might influencehigh school and college students to considera career in science or medicine. 

Norm: Where did thetitle come from?

Dr. Berk: In Search ofthe Animalcule is about finding germs or bacteria that werefirst described by Leeuwenhoek as animalcules,little animals.

While he didn't attribute them to causingdisease, he set the stage for others to discover their role in causing epidemics, plagues and sickness.

Jacob, the leading character in the book, works with Pasteur, Lister,Koch, Osler and others search for animalculesthat cause disease.

Norm: How did you goabout creating the character of Jacob Pfleger? Is there much of youin the character?

Dr. Berk: Allthe events in the book are accurate to the bestof my knowledge. I needed to know what exactly happened inVienna when Semmelweis described childbed fever and whatoccurred in the laboratories of Pasteur and Kochand in the operating rooms of Lister.

Jacob needed to havea rational reason and story for how he wound up helping out in allthe laboratories, operating rooms and hospitals in severaldifferent countries and four continents.

Jacobs travels andexperiences all fell into place between 1847 and 1902- asingle person's life span. 

Norm: Isthere much of me in the character-

Dr. Berk: The themes oftotal commitment to science and medicine versuslife to be enjoyed is a theme that is common to both of us. Also thefield of medicine's treatment of women, importance ofscience beyond national boundaries and the challenge ofhow scientific discoveries become the practice of medicineare concerns of both of us. 

Jacobis a genius in many ways, almost a savant, a childvery much affected by growing up in an orphanage.He may in fact be able to predict future in certain cases-all of these are qualities and circumstances very different frommine.

Norm: What proved to bethe most challenging aspect of writing this book?

Dr. Berk: It was achallenge creating fictional characters working withhistorical figures, heroes in science, in a setting that washistorically accurate as best as I could make it.

Getting Jacob tothe right places at exactly the right times.  Nothaving written fiction before, was of course as challengeas was keeping the entire narrative in the first person. 

Norm: Are therevocabulary words or concepts in your book that may be new toreaders? 

Dr. Berk: I tried not touse complicated scientific language. I wanted the book tobe understood by the public who werenot doctors or scientists. 

Norm: What did youenjoy most about writing this book? 

Dr. Berk:Tellingthe story that I had long wanted the public to appreciate. 

Norm: What are yourupcoming projects and how can our readers find out more about you andIn Search of the Animacule?

Dr, Berk: I expect after16 years as Dean of a medical school, I may write my nextbook about true experiences I have had in medicine. Readerscan find out more about me by reading my memoir- Anatomy ofa Kidnapping.

Norm: As this interviewends, if you could invite three scientists to your dinner table, whowould they be and what would you ask them? 

Dr. Berk: Pasteur, Lister,and Koch. I would ask them if they had ever workedwith someone like Jacob Pfleger.

Norm: Thanks once againand good luck with all of your future endeavors

Follow Here To Read Norm'sReview of  In Search of the Animacule.

 Norm Goldman of Bookpleasures.com

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