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

by Ed Yong

Hardcover, 2016




Ecco, (2016)


This book lets us peer into the world of microbes -- not as germs to be eradicated, but as invaluable parts of our lives -- allowing us to see how ubiquitous and vital microbes are: they sculpt our organs, defend us from disease, break down our food, educate our immune systems, guide our behavior, bombard our genomes with their genes, and grant us incredible abilities. While much of the prevailing discussion around the microbiome has focused on its implications for human health, Yong broadens this focus to the entire animal kingdom, prompting us to look at ourselves and our fellow animals in a new light: less as individuals and more as the interconnected, interdependent multitudes we are. I Contain Multitudes is the story of extraordinary partnerships between the familiar creatures of our world and those we never knew existed. It will change both our view of nature and our sense of where we belong in it. --… (more)

Media reviews

Ed Yong is a talented British science writer, a staff writer for The Atlantic and the author of a wonderful blog, Not Exactly Rocket Science, hosted by National Geographic. “I Contain Multitudes,” his first book, covers a huge amount of microscopic territory in clear, strong, often epigrammatic prose. Yong has advanced degrees in biology, and he is remarkably well informed; he includes descriptions of many studies that are still unpublished, and even a few original ideas for new experiments. He is infectiously enthusiastic about microbes, and he describes them with verve.

User reviews

LibraryThing member 2wonderY
Always interesting and occasionally elegant or laugh-out-loud funny. Highly recommended.
LibraryThing member chelseaknits
Lots of interesting facts but in such a big pile I stopped absorbing them after a while.

Kind of like a mat of bacteria...
LibraryThing member adzebill
As a biologist who studies multicellular organisms, and avoided microbiology wherever possible, this is something of a revelation. Yong makes a good case for treating individuals as walking communities or ecosystems; evolutionary biology and medicine need to keep this in mind.
LibraryThing member g33kgrrl
This is an excellent book. It does a great job of addressing a fast-evolving field and is honest about the limitations of our knowledge of the topic. I was very impressed. (I also really appreciated Yong's visit to Chicago at the end!)

For anyone else reading the kindle edition - there are some photos at the end of the book that weren't linked to anywhere else, so make sure you catch those.… (more)
LibraryThing member snash
A very readable summary of the most recent studies into the interactions of microbes with the rest of life illustrating their ubiquitous nature, often benefitting, sometimes harming.
LibraryThing member jhawn
The microbes within us and a grander view of life
LibraryThing member CharlotteBurt
I fascinating book all about the microbes all around us and other creatures. I learned a lot in the process of reading this including how much we don't know about our microbiome. For instance, probiotic yoghurts don't work, well they don't repopulate our gut flora anyway, but scientists are successfully eliminating dengue fever by introducing a specific bacteria to the mosquitos.… (more)
LibraryThing member PDCRead
You may think that we are just made from muscles, blood cells, bones and a fair bit of DNA, but in between the gaps are microbes. Billions and billions of them. There are the odd rogue ones, but most of them are useful and make up an essential element of our being. Without them we could not live. They help us in countless ways, sculpting our organs, protecting us from disease and feeding and nourishing us; our gut contains a complete ecosystem that ensure that we extract all the energy we need.

Microbes work equal miracles in other animals too, providing the ethereal light that disguises a squid as they hunt, ensuring that koalas are able to digest the unpalatable eucalyptus leaves and the weevil that uses bacteria to make its shell before killing them. The modern worldview of eliminating all microbes is causing as much harm as it is good; people nowdays have a revulsion of all things bacterial, hence the raft of cleaning products that are designed to scour all surfaces and hands clean of these unwanted intruders. However, as Yong successfully argues in this book that not only we might be missing a trick, but our bacterial ecosystem is essential for our survival. A good example of this is in hospitals; the modern view is that all windows have to be locked shut to keep rogue microbes out, but the effect of this is that patients sit in their beds stewing in a lethal mix of micro-organisms. This hazardous situation can be simply solved by opening a window, this allows the dispersal and dilution of the potentially lethal ones. Simple, but very effective.

It is a fascinating account of the unseen creatures that live within and all around us. Yong takes us on this journey through the microscope to discover the most recent research from scientists all round the world and tell us of the secrets that are being discovered about microbes. Some of the treatments being developed have the potential to make people’s so lives much better; one example is RePOOpulate – as unappealing as it sounds! However, this treatment has worked miracles with a 94% success rate and no side effects, a success rate not seen in many other cures. Yong writes with an engaging and eloquent style and makes the science in here really accessible. Well worth reading. 4.5 stars.
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LibraryThing member addunn3
We are a world in ourselves. This is an amazing look at the world of life that keeps our bodies living.
LibraryThing member Gwendydd
This is a fascinating look at what we currently know about how animals and plants interact with the microbes all around us. This is still a very young field, and there is a lot to learn. Yong writes with clarity and humor, so this is a very enjoyable and enlightening read.


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