Monday, November 19, 2012

Nonfiction Monday: Invincible Microbe by Jim Murphy and Alison Blank

Nonfiction Monday is a weekly meme in the Kidlitosphere that invites bloggers to read and review a nonfiction book on Monday as a way to promote high-quality nonfiction titles.  Each week, a different blogger "hosts" Nonfiction Monday and provides a roundup of all the posts.  This week Nonfiction Monday is hosted by Perogies & Gyoza.

Nonfiction Monday

Invincible Microbe: Tuberculosis and the Never-Ending Search for a Cure by Jim Murphy and Alison Blank

Consumption.  Wasting Disease. TB.  Whatever you call it, tuberculosis has taken the lives and livelihoods of more people throughout history than almost any other ailment.  As scientific advances have made new treatments available, the bacteria has evolved, morphing itself into an evermore complex disease, requiring new and more complex treatments.  Invincible Microbe traces the evolution of the disease from as far back as Ancient Egypt to the modern outbreaks in New York City and Asia, the evolution of our understanding of how the disease spreads, and the treatments that have been used to treat the illness from the poultices to the "royal touch," to blood letting, sanitariums and antibiotics. Solid, steadily-paced writing in well-defined chapters that progress chronologically provides the basis for an engaging read.   A bounty of well-captioned, well-placed photographs and red sidebar text to help readers pronounce unfamiliar words provides just the right amount of  illustrative engagement and assistance for young readers. Back matter that includes a bibliography and index makes for an all-around well-researched and well-documented read.

But what I liked the most - even more than the public health posters and snippet stories of individuals who suffered from and sometimes survived bouts of tuberculosis - was that the book brings the reader fully up to date.  In doing so, the authors take the opportunity to show how decisions to provide better access to healthcare only to those who can afford to pay for it winds up costing a society in the long-run.  By not providing care to the poor, diseases spread more quickly and become more resilient.  To treat the man who eats in the restaurant, but not the contagious individual who makes or serves his dinner (and probably can't afford to take a night off), only serves to perpetuate the disease.  It's risky to state such logical, practical truths without them coming off as ideological or politically motivated.  I applaud the authors both for taking that necessary risk and for referencing specifically the mistakes and short-sightedness of the past that clearly show how the cheapest, quickest, easiest and/or most popular solution to a problem is likely not a comprehensive solution, but rather a way to push finding a real solution further down the road.  Will tween and teen readers get this?  Probably.  It wouldn't hurt to have an adult to provide some additional guidance, but the authors do a good job of setting the stage for further inquiry for the curious reader.

Recommended for: middle and high schoolers with an interest in science and medicine or who need to read a nonfiction title for a school assignment (because, let's face it: TB isn't exactly a topic that grabs the average kid looking for something to read, and it's not likely the first thing that comes to mind when a librarian is recommending a book to....well, anyone, really). But still read it!

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  1. Alicia -- Thanks for the very thoughtful review. And you're right (and Alison and I knew this going in) this isn't a sexy or socially hot topic and might not be on everyone's(anyone's?) must read list. But the reality of our present medical state is that diseases are skillfully resisting many of our frontline antibiotics and will continue to resist more and more of them and that this is an important subject to introduce to kids.

  2. Wow! Jim Murphy! Thanks for stopping by and for commenting. I agree about the importance of introducing this topic to kids. How do we get kids to pick up a book like this? I definitely have kids who I know would enjoy it, but so often they get hung up on nonfiction that isn't about war or espionage, thinking they wouldn't like it, because it doesn't have the same cache.