In This Review

Have Bacteria Won?
Have Bacteria Won?
By Hugh Pennington
168 pp, Polity, 2015

High-profile pandemics and the spread of drug-resistant microbes have fueled fears about humanity’s ability to contend with the scourge of viruses and bacteria. But Pennington answers the question posed by his title with a resounding no: the microbes have not “won.” He warns, however, that it would be an error to conclude that they have lost. Humans have made astounding progress during the past century in bringing tiny parasites under control, but the war against them—to use a metaphor the author dislikes—will continue indefinitely, thanks to their collective resilience. Some outbreaks are genuine, but many alleged microbial emergencies are mostly ginned up by the media, which find it expedient to misreport and exaggerate bacterial or viral threats, sometimes out of ignorance, sometimes willfully. The book offers brief but informative discussions of recent real and not-so-real pandemics.