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Review: In Search of the Animalcule
Norm Goldman --  BookPleasures.com Norm Goldman -- BookPleasures.com
Montreal, QC
Monday, March 20, 2023

Review: In Search of the Animalcule

Author: Steven L. Berk, M.D.

Publisher: iUniverse

ISBN: 978-1-6632-4800

Steven L. Berk, M.D.'s novel, In Search of the Animalcule, employs the perspective of an imaginary character, Jacob Pfleger, as a storyteller to explore the rich history of bacteriology.

His narrative is an inspirational and motivating demonstration of how one can triumph over hardship and prevail despite obstacles. 

It confirms and strikingly illustrates how cutting-edge discoveries can revolutionize our environment. 

We accompany Jacob from his time at the Vienna Foundling Home after his mother, an obstetrician, passed away from "childbed fever" - a bacterial infection that caused high mortality rates in women after childbirth. Jacob had been alive for two days when his mother died. His dad, a French wine merchant, knew of his mother's pregnancy but abandoned her and Jacob before he was born. 

Jacob exposes a tantalizing hint in the opening chapters that his birth in 1848 and his mother's death would ignite a chain of events that would revolutionize the world forever. He states, "one might say that my birth and her death set in place events that would change the world forever. My mother's death would disclose a horrible secret and change the lives of men, women, and children over the coming centuries."

As we uncover more into the story, we discover the remarkable secret that his mother kept - a secret that would unlock the solution to a lethal disease that had bedevilled women for centuries. 

His mother had been a colleague of the Hungarian obstetrician Ignaz Semmelweis, who realized the importance of handwashing in preventing the spread of infectious diseases. Regrettably, Semmelweis met with extreme scepticism as the medical community resisted change. Many hypothesized that the spread of disease was due to foul air. 

In 1859, when Jacob was twelve and living in the orphanage, Doctors Ignaz Semmelweis and Ferdinand von Hebra came to call. They were keeping a commitment they had made to his mother. It was from these two physicians that Jacob learned the painful realities about his mother's passing after birthing him.

His mom was one of the first to recognize doctors' lack of attention to cleaning their hands. This caused the needless deaths of countless women because of the spread of deadly particles during delivery. For Jacob, this discovery gave his life a newfound direction, spurring him to preserve his mother's legacy and strive to instate vital hygiene protocols that would save countless lives. He was convinced that his destiny was to use science to combat animalcules, bacteria, microbes, or whatever may eventually be known. 

As we track Jacob on his journey, we realize such leaps forward as the public health repercussions of pasteurization, the end of the spontaneous generation myth, the importance of antisepsis and infection control, and the Koch work to affirm that bacteria caused specific diseases. We also gain knowledge about his work with Louis Pasteur, the French scientist who showed the relationship between microorganisms and disease, and Robert Koch, who established the bacteria theory of disease. 

We learn about the British surgeon Jacob Lister, who was a pioneer in antiseptic surgery; And William Osler, an iconic figure in the annals of modern medicine and is renowned for his dedication to medical education and performing clinical medicine. Osler was the author of the famous textbook, The Principles of Medicine, which is still seen as a benchmark in the field. (My father graduated in medicine from McGill University in 1925, and among the books he left behind was a copy of Dr Osler's book). Interestingly, Dr Osler was a professor at McGill in the early 1900s before relocating to the United States. 

Dr. Berk's use of an imaginary protagonist makes the history of bacteriology more understandable and pertinent to readers. This approach animates the development of this essential field, deepening readers' understanding of microbiology's influence on human well-being and society.Furthermore, he has succeeded in skillfully combining factual events with fictional components to craft a captivating and believable tale.

Admirably appropriate is his dedication to his book, where he declares he dedicates his tome to Ignaz Semmelweis and all those scientists whose effort was never appreciated in their lifetime. "To the models of scientific excellence: Pasteur, Koch, and Lister." To all those Jacobs who made remarkable contributions to the initial infectious disease era, but whose identities will never be recorded. To Lazear and Thullier, warriors in the battle against microbes. And we must not forget, as he emphasizes, the hundreds of healthcare professionals who have perished struggling against COVID-19 as the war against microbes continues.

Follow Here To Read Norm's Interview With Dr. Berk

 Norm Goldman of Bookpleasures.com

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Name: Norm Goldman
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Dateline: Montreal, QC Canada
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