The 5 Best Microbiology Textbooks of 2020

A review of five general or diagnostic microbiology textbooks that may be useful to undergraduates, medical students, and professionals.

An open book resting on a table.

Whether you are an undergraduate taking a microbiology course, a medical student preparing for the USMLE exam, or an infectious disease healthcare professional trying to wrap your head around a complex case, an effective textbook can help you to better understand the field of microbiology and achieve your goals. Microbiology is a complex biology sub-discipline, covering the science of disparate disease-causing microorganisms ranging from bacteria to fungi, and is of relevance to a great variety of human industries from nutrition to drug development and patient care. Regardless of your level of training or pursuits, we believe that these five microbiology textbooks, ranging from introductory to advanced, will serve as useful learning tools and support your understanding of this complicated and versatile field. Our team may earn a small commission from qualifying purchases made through the below links at no additional cost to you.


Microbiology: An Introduction by Tortora, Funke, Case, and Weber presents key microbiology concepts and their applications with clarity and a level of detail appropriate for students taking an introductory microbiology course or professionals looking to review fundamental concepts without delving into ultra-fine discussion of theory and experiments. The text is relatively easy-to-understand and has engaging graphics that are intended to support learning. Some readers may find the content challenging to learn, but this is likely more related to the complexity of microbiology as a discipline than any deficiencies with the work of Tortora and his co-authors.

The 13th edition of the textbook has been updated to include increased coverage of the microbiome and its implications for human health, vertical transmission of infectious diseases, bioterrorism, the “hygiene hypothesis,” and the use of vaccines to prevent disease.


Textbook of Diagnostic Microbiology by Connie Mahon and Donald Lehman is a more clinically-focused textbook suitable for medical students, nursing students, and healthcare providers engaged in patient care. The textbook employs a “building-block approach” to teaching and includes a demonstrative case study within each chapter, intended to equip the student with clinical problem-solving skills that are directly relevant to the diagnosis and treatment of patients. The end of each chapter has review questions and “points to remember” sections that could aid the learning process. Graphics, including photomicrographs, are full-color.

The 6th edition of the textbook includes updated content on the Zika virus, mycology, methods for preventing and treating infectious diseases, and the latest technology for molecular diagnostics. In addition to healthcare providers, professionals involved in non-clinical aspects of patient diagnoses, such as medical laboratory technicians, may find this book useful.


Microbiology: A Systems Approach by Marjorie Cowan and Heidi Smith, currently in its 5th edition, is well-suited for beginner microbiology students without a strong background in the sciences. The textbook provides balanced coverage of basic and clinical information and would be useful to both students pursuing research careers as well as those within the healthcare space.

A clear and engaging writing style, attractive visuals, and presentation of core concepts without a superfluous level of detail make this a useful textbook for individuals studying or reviewing the essentials of microbiology.


Health profession students and practicing healthcare providers may also find Microbiology with Diseases by Body System by Robert Bauman to be a useful text. This readable textbook presents content at a level of complexity understandable by students with only a moderately strong background in biology. The focus of Bauman’s book on the clinical applications of key microbiology concepts is intended to prepare students for healthcare careers.

Interesting case studies support the learning process and enhance student engagement. The 5th edition has a “Solve the Problem” feature that provides the opportunity for students to gain exposure to real-world medical problems and develop their critical thinking skillset.


Koneman’s Color Atlas and Textbook of Diagnostic Microbiology provides a comprehensive account of the bacteria, fungi, parasites, and viruses that cause many human diseases. The textbook includes realistic clinical scenarios, high quality full-color images, and coverage of the identification of a variety of cell types and structures to considerable depth in addition to the discussion of core microbiology principles.

This heavy 1830-page textbook is intended for advanced learners working in the healthcare field. Medical students, physicians, nurses, and other healthcare professionals or trainees may find this more clinically-focused textbook useful for studying or reviewing concepts relevant to patient diagnosis.


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