By: Steven L. Berk
Publication Date: February 21, 2023
Reviewed by: Barbara Bamberger Scott
Review Date: February 28, 2023
Author and physician Steven L. Berk has created a character, a young boy named Jacob, who will lead readers through some of the greatest medical advances of his time in a manner both mystical and thoroughly logical in his newest book, In Search of the Animalcule.
Jacob’s mother dies of childbirth fever shortly after his birth; herself an obstetrician, she had been working on a possible cure for this condition that afflicted so many women in the mid-1800s. Now Jacob will grow up in the same orphanage where his mother was raised. But he begins to display an incredible intellect – possibly genius. His new life will begin when at age 12 he sets out to find his father, a man he never knew. But he will find much more.
Meeting Louis Pasteur, Jacob’s knowledge is so impressive and his will to fight disease so sincere that he becomes the great physician’s medical assistant. He will work with Pasteur to discover the cause of many diseases – the animalcule – an old term for the substance that would be known in the world of science as bacteria. With the recently invented microscope, he and his co-worker, a young woman named Adrienne, will see these tiny creatures varying in color and shape in a variety of ailments. Jacob is flexible and ready to take on new challenges, moving across the globe. He is invited to work with such medical notables as Jacob Lister in Scotland who pioneered germ theory, Nobel Prize winner Robert Koch in the US, and Alexander Fleming, who discovered penicillium, ushering in the use of antibiotics. Jacob is able to postulate scientific scenarios and suggest possible remedies, even in his teens, and is fortunate to meet both Napoleon III and Queen Elizabeth I. In Berk’s ingenious schemata, Jacob’s journey through the fascinating world of scientific development - understanding disease and seeking cures - is balanced by his feelings as a young man meeting his estranged father for the first time, and later falling gently in love.
Author Steven L. Berk, M.D., Executive VP of the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center and Dean of the School of Medicine, displays here his skills as an imaginative wordsmith. He has constructed a comfortably readable panorama that can be enjoyed on many levels. Jacob is a child when his saga unfolds, yet doubtless a savant whose attention must fluctuate between the personal and the professional in nearly all situations. The reader will see his will and ambition grow and flourish, encouraged by his noted mentors who are themselves deeply impressed with the young man. All these imminent physicians were real, and their experiments and conclusions accurately portrayed, drawn in some instances from actual medical files. They are seen through the eyes of the entirely fictional Jacob, whom the author has successfully invented to draw their accomplishments together.
Quill says: Author Steven L. Berk’s literary creation, In Search of the Animalcule, is a potent mix of scientific fact and lively fiction, and will doubtless garner a wide readership both inside his profession and beyond.
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