The great Victorian biologist Thomas Huxley once wrote, “I know of no familiar substance forming part of our every-day knowledge and experience, the examination of which, with a little care, tends to open up such very considerable issues as does yeast.” Huxley was right. Beneath the very foundations of human civilization lies yeast-also known as the sugar fungus. Yeast is responsible for fermenting our alcohol and providing us with bread – the very staples of life. Moreover, it has proven instrumental in helping cell biologists and geneticists understand how living things work, manufacturing life-saving drugs, and producing biofuels that could help save the planet from global warming.
In The Rise of Yeast, Nicholas P. Money argues that we cannot ascribe too much importance to yeast, and that its discovery and controlled use profoundly altered human history. Humans knew what yeast did long before they knew what it was. It was not until Louis Pasteur’s experiments in the 1860s that scientists even acknowledged its classification as a fungus. A compelling blend of science, history, and sociology, The Rise of Yeast explores the rich, strange, and utterly symbiotic relationship between people and yeast, a stunning account that takes us back to the roots of human history.