Clearly written for older teenagers and young adults, Wood’s Louis Pasteur combines both the informative aspects of a biography and the excitement inherent in scientific endeavors. Pasteur is portrayed as a hard-driving man who is not without his faults, but who has a sincere intention to benefit humanity. He could berate or ignore a colleague and then spend a sleepless night in concern over a child who came to him for help.
An underlying theme of Wood’s story is one that is often ignored in stories of Pasteur: that of nationalism. Pasteur was an ardent Frenchman in a country of nationalists. His father, Jean Pasteur, left the army embittered by Napoleon’s defeat, and it was in such a household that Louis was raised. What Pasteur carried out in much of his early work with the beer and wine industries, and then with the silk industry, was as much to benefit France specifically as humanity in general. Deeply affected by France’s humiliation at the hands of Germany following the Franco-Prussian War, Pasteur took as a personal offense contributions to science by German investigators.
Two stories from the book bring out this side of Pasteur. During the nineteenth century, anthrax was a significant problem in animals; the disease wreaked havoc on the livestock industry. In 1876, Robert Koch of Germany isolated the microbe that caused the disease and was properly applauded for his work. Pasteur was not satisfied, however, and Koch was a German. Wood describes how Pasteur was able to attenuate the organism, producing a vaccine that would be effective in protecting cattle and...
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