A Book Review

One of the most significant problems in amateur microscopy today is the books; what is available to the microscopist is either quite advanced and targeted to the current or future professional, or lamentably rudimentary and intended for the casual youngster. I’m of the opinion that a sufficiently motivated child or an interested adult would profit greatly from a more advanced text than is usually offered… In any case here’s a modern book I quite like. -K

Guide to Microlife is a conveniently sized book by Kenneth G. Rainis and Bruce J. Russell. It’s not particularly imposing either within or without and I would wager dollars to donuts that most microscope owners, fancying themselves serious, would put it back after leafing through it at the booksellers.  It is lovely to leaf through however, and I expect a fair number would keep it in mind and suggest it to any of the children in their life who show an interest in microscopy that extends beyond sight and exclamation. I count that a mistake. Not because it would be of no use to a child, I expect it would be much used in no time at all, but because it’s accessible style leads it to be easily put aside by adults who would benefit enormously from it.

It’s not surprising that an adult might at first put this book aside as too simplistic. It was written to be simple, direct, and I’ll hazard unassuming, so as not to intimidate the budding explorer. In the beginning acknowledgements credit is given to a few folks at Wards Sci. (a local company I quite love!) specifically for their advice in making the book more accessible. That the very accessibility which makes the work so welcoming should turn off some who would otherwise benefit enormously is only one of the draw backs of the work. The other is its price; $40.00 (US) for a book of under 300 pages which is intended for the precocious child might seem a bit excessive. It’s certainly worth the price but I will confess to purchasing my copy second hand for far less.

It is my opinion that the only thing, second to a limited literature, keeping microscopy from gaining a far more significant following, or catching the enthusiasm of one peering through a lens, is the lack of a means of easily identifying the wonders seen. This book is a credit to the literature and invaluable as an aid to identification. Admittedly, as a book on microscopic life it’s far from comprehensive and as a guide to identification it can be, at times, quite general, but for less than a hundred dollars one would be hard pressed to find a book that could identify half as much a quarter as well.

In the book proper “microlife” is broken down into four general and obvious groups; monerans, microfungi, protists, and microanimals. If the last group is rather broad it can be excused, and very well I might add, for no other reason than utility. When looking through ones microscope one may encounter all manner of things, living, or otherwise; once it is established as living, a certain number of specimens become far more likely than other and of those micro-animals may be more varied than the other groupings. Having such a limited selection of groups, together with such quality illustrations and photomicrographs (I feel I might be remiss in mentioning just how good the images in the book are) one can easily establish if not the specific subject seen, then at least enough to determine where to look for more specificity. This is where I think the value of the book comes through, in identification.

Sure it has a few suggestions for experiments of the most rudimentary sort, more than enough ‘science fair bait’ as it were, but to know, or at least have an idea of the life one sees through the lens is no small thing. If more of the so called serious amateurs owned this book I’m sure one would see far less forum and message board posts begging for identification of common organisms. If in this book the areas in which different organisms are commonly found are given childish micro-habitat designations such as “Bed and Breakfast” it must absolutely be accepted for no other reason than its utility.

The chances are if one is in possession of this book, and one sees an unknown living thing upon a microscope slide, it will be identified. Perhaps it will not be narrowed down to genus and species in the course of the slim volumes 287 pages, but enough will be shown to point the way to a comprehensive tome. It is a fantastic book, profusely and wonderfully illustrated, anyone with a microscope and an interest extending beyond the petrographic, metallurgic, or narrow field which holds a particular interest would do well to own this book.

It’s a profusely illustrated book with some of the more descriptive and utilitarian micrographs and microphotographs which I have seen. In looking through the work one gets a genuine sense of the interest the authors hold for their subject. It is more than its utility, more than its simplicity, a welcoming book which encourages, above all else. For my own part, as one who has pursued microscopy for some time, I will say that the book is excellent and true to its intent; inspirational without being useless and simple without being juvenile, it provides a starting point for identification or an almanac of where to locate desired subjects. It really is a quality work and for all it’s basic content I can not say enough on it’s virtue for the advanced yet un-specialized student.

Below find appropriate links to it on AbeBooks and Amazon:

http://www.abebooks.com/servlet/SearchResults?kn=Rainis&tn=Guide+to+Microlife&x=66&y=17

http://www.amazon.com/Guide-Microlife-Science-Life-Environmental/dp/0531112667/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1391376894&sr=8-1&keywords=Guide+to+Microlife

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