There have been three histories of bacteriology published in English. The earliest was The Microbe Hunters by Paul de Kruif. First published in February 1926, a second printing was called for in the March of the same year and the book has since been repeatedly reprinted. This must surely be one of the most successful, if not the most successful of books on medical history. Although written in a popular, journalistic style fully comprehensible to the layman it deserves both its success and the respect of the serious medical historian for it is a pioneer work based on extensive original research. In a second volume, Men Against Death, published in 1932, de Kruif added essays on the work of a number of other bacteriologists so that his two books cover in a most interesting way the exciting early history of bacteriology. I will always have the greatest affection for these works which, first read at the age of 15, were instrumental in leading me to take up bacteriology as a career.
However, accurate as they are, de Kruif’s books cannot be regarded as a serious history of bacteriology, nor were they intended to be. They remained, however, for several years the only work on the subject, until the completion, in 1931, of the Medical Research Council’s nine-volume System of Bacteriology. This book contained introductory paragraphs and essays on the history of bacteriology by William Bulloch which were everything the strictest historian could ask in learning and scholarship. In 1936 Bulloch gave the Heath Clarke lectures in the University of London, taking the history of bacteriology as his subject. These lectures were published in book form in 1938 as The History of Bacteriology and immediately became the authoritative standard work. It quite soon went out of print and for many years fetched a very high price on the second-handmarket. It was reprinted by the Oxford University Press in 1960.
The third history of bacteriology in English is the small volume written by William Ford for the ‘Clio Medica’ series which was published in 1939. This volume too has recently been reprinted as a paper-back. Ford’s work is written from a point of view slightly different from Bulloch’s being more strictly orientated to medical bacteriology and contains, for example, an excellent chapter reviewing the life and work of Koch.