Where the Germs Are: A Scientific Safari is a fascinating exploration of the microflora and fauna that live in, on, and around us – most of which are harmless, but many of which can make us seriously sick.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, and Nicholas Bakalar is an excellent writer. He has a clean, direct writing style free of excessive words or needlessly technical jargon. He effortlessly segues from one topic to another without leaving you behind in what is admittedly a lot of information about microbiology.
There are twelve chapters in all, some of which include “Microbes: An Introduction,” “Hungry? Let’s Eat: The Contaminated Kitchen,” “Whiter Whites and Brighter Colors: Healthy Laundry,” “What’s Love Got to Do with It: Microbes and Your Sex Life,” and “Paint the Town Red: Germs in Public Places.”
Other chapters include the risks you take when owning pets, especially reptiles and wild or exotic pets; the cold and flu viruses; risks associated with water (drinking and recreational); and straight talk about antimicrobial products and their efficacy. He also provides some interesting details about bottled water sourcing, labeling, and regulation in the US.
If you have never read up on germs or sanitation before, you might be inclined to think that the bathrooms are the dirtiest areas of your home, but you’d be wrong. It’s actually the kitchen, and more specifically the kitchen sink. Bathrooms come in a close second, though. But again, if you are thinking that the toilets are the nastiest thing in your bathroom, you would be wrong there, too. It’s actually your toothbrush.
I must admit that I’m flabbergasted by the sheer number of bacteria that are in and on our bodies and which we – without realizing it – leave behind us on everything we touch and everywhere we go.
Although reading Bakalar's book is likely to disabuse you of the illusions you have about how clean you and your home actually are (or more specifically aren’t), he’s very careful to assure you that he is not trying to be alarmist or make you paranoid about germs, and he goes out of his way on several occasions to specifically state that you need not be. We actually need bacteria to survive, and our immune system needs to be exposed to foreign invaders in order to develop and function properly.
Life is full of uncertainties and dangers, but the most practical way to protect yourself from unwanted germs is to – as he repeats often – wash your hands regularly with soap and water.