I Contain Multitudes
The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life
New York Times Bestseller
New York Times Notable Book of 2016 • NPR Great Read of 2016 • Named a Best Book of 2016 by The Economist, Smithsonian, NPR's Science Friday, MPR, Minnesota Star Tribune, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, The Guardian, Times (London)
From Pulitzer Prize winner Ed Yong, a groundbreaking, wondrously informative, and vastly entertaining examination of the most significant revolution in biology since Darwin—a “microbe’s-eye view” of the world that reveals a marvelous, radically reconceived picture of life on earth.
Every animal, whether human, squid, or wasp, is home to millions of bacteria and other microbes. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Ed Yong, whose humor is as evident as his erudition, prompts us to look at ourselves and our animal companions in a new light—less as individuals and more as the interconnected, interdependent multitudes we assuredly are.
The microbes in our bodies are part of our immune systems and protect us from disease. In the deep oceans, mysterious creatures without mouths or guts depend on microbes for all their energy. Bacteria provide squid with invisibility cloaks, help beetles to bring down forests, and allow worms to cause diseases that afflict millions of people.
Many people think of microbes as germs to be eradicated, but those that live with us—the microbiome—build our bodies, protect our health, shape our identities, and grant us incredible abilities. In this astonishing book, Ed Yong takes us on a grand tour through our microbial partners, and introduces us to the scientists on the front lines of discovery. It will change both our view of nature and our sense of where we belong in it.
British science journalist Yong succeeds in encouraging readers to recognize the critical importance of biological microorganisms. He argues that humans must move past the belief that bacteria are bad and need to be eradicated, and adopt a deeper understanding of the positive role they play in the lives of most organisms. Yong makes a superb case for his position by interviewing numerous scientists and presenting their fascinating work in an accessible and persuasive fashion. Throughout, he takes a holistic ecological perspective, contending that it makes no sense to examine bacteria in isolation. As in all ecological systems, context is everything, and the complex community structure of the microbiome does much to determine the effects of various bacteria. Yong demonstrates that this more inclusive view has led to a reconceptualization of how the immune system might work, how microorganisms can shape the development of organ systems, how bacteria might play a role in autism, and how the microbiome may influence an organism's propensity for obesity. He also shows that scientists have moved beyond the theoretical by successfully performing "ecosystem transplants" of human gut microorganisms, and he envisions a future that includes "artisanal bacteria" designed to perform specific tasks. Yong reveals "how ubiquitous and vital microbes are" on scales large and small.
A new perspective on microbiology.
Asking better questions about our health starts with having a deeper knowledge of how we work. Ed Yong nails that exploration in this book. A readily accessible scientific journey into the microscopic inner worlds of our bodies. Simultaneously, it is a macro level look at how everything works by way of its tiniest building blocks.
Ed Yong’s narrative style is the pull that keeps the pages turning. You can’t help but wonder how much more of your science classes you would have enjoyed had the texts been written so engagingly as this one. Beautiful anecdotal examples break down complex scientific principles for the Everyman. A careful build up interspersed with beautifully descriptive imagery, gives the book a novelistic tone that you won’t find in any AP Bio course.
And what you learn is truly powerful. You will finish this book and end up with a whole new relationship with the food you intake, gut health, and your relationship to the complex yet invisible bacterial universe around you. A key takeaway for me was that I need to learn to reach for the opposite of whatever my default craving is.