23 September 2016

I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life by Ed Yong

Summary from Goodreads:
Joining the ranks of popular science classics like The Botany of Desire and The Selfish Gene, 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. 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.

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. Those in cows and termites digest the plants they eat. In the deep oceans, mysterious creatures without mouths or guts depend on microbes for all their energy. Bacteria provide squids with invisibility cloaks, help beetles to bring down forests, and allow worms to cause diseases that afflict millions of people.

I Contain Multitudes is the story of these extraordinary partnerships, between the creatures we are familiar with and those we are not. It reveals how we humans are disrupting these partnerships and how we might manipulate them for our own good. It will change both our view of nature and our sense of where we belong in it.

The hot new thing in microbiology (and pop culture diet-land) is the science of symbiotic microbes.  Microbes that help us digest food!  Or keep us from getting fat! Or sick! Or old!  Well, hold your horses.  Before you hop on the hot new fad, get some science in your brain.

And for that, you'll need Ed Yong's well-written and well-researched I Contain Multitudes.

This book is a very interesting and informative overview about symbiotic microbes. Yong has a gift for science writing - he neatly conveys complex information in a compulsively readable format. He covers all types of symbiotic relationships from the very simple single-cell organisms and their one symbiotic bacteria to the human gut with its myriad microbial population.  He visits scientists working with almost every Genus of organism on this planet.  He also recounts the history of our war against all microbes (at the beginning of germ theory, all the germs you came across were automatically considered harmful) and how research and advances in technology are causing scientists to rethink our relationship with our single-celled ancestors.

(Aside: more pictures!! Why are there never enough pictures? Also, many thanks to his US editors for not "Americanizing" Yong's British English.)

Recommended for everyone, particularly fans of David Quammen.

Dear FTC:  I bought my copy of this book.

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