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Reviewed by Shrabastee Chakraborty for Readers' Favorite
Theresa Marie Pfleger is an unusual woman in many ways. As an obstetrician at a Viennese maternity hospital, she is not only one of the first female doctors but she is also greatly revered by her colleagues. Despite creating unique hypotheses regarding the cause of childbed fever, she succumbs to it. Jacob Pfleger, her orphaned child, is nothing short of a genius. After learning about his mother’s untimely demise, he sets out to find his estranged father. A chance event brings him a rare opportunity to work alongside Louis Pasteur. Afterward, Jacob works with other legends such as Joseph Lister and Robert Coch. He devotes his life to discovering the unidentified life forms that could cause fatal diseases. The memoir-style In Search of the Animalcule by Steven L. Berk, M.D. chronicles Jacob’s life.
The recent pandemic made us realize, despite all medical advances, how an almost invisible particle can wreak havoc in our lives. With this background, it is easy to appreciate the relevance of Berk’s work that takes us to the dawn of microbiology research. Jacob, the protagonist, is representative of countless researchers who painstakingly established the field of microbiology. His endless enthusiasm, revolutionary ideas, and penchant for asking the right questions and forming the correct hypotheses got my respect. Jacob’s eventful life takes us on a remarkable journey and helps us experience many of the milestones in microbiology research. Steven L. Berk, M.D. authentically depicts the development of the various techniques and safety practices common in medicine today. As a researcher myself, I was thrilled to find references to many of the routine techniques we use, including animal modeling, tail vein injections, and bacterial cultures.
Berk raises several pertinent questions, such as the knowledge gap between academic research and medical practice. He also highlights the discrimination against female researchers and doctors, which is still an issue in medicine and academia. Finally, Berk shows how our inherent reluctance to accept a ground-breaking idea has repeatedly thwarted progress despite the sacrifices of researchers. In Search of the Animalcule is an ode to all the known and unknown soldiers who are relentlessly fighting a war against microbes.