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

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

by Ed Yong
     
 

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New York Times Bestseller

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

Overview

New York Times Bestseller

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. 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.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Jonathan Weiner
…[an] excellent and vivid introduction to our microbiota, or microbiome…Ed Yong is a talented British science writer…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degrees in biology, and he is remarkably well informed; he includes descriptions of many studies that are still unpublished, and even a few original ideas for new experiments.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…Even the book's endnotes are rich with interesting asides, swarming with interesting sidelights, a teeming microbial world.
Publishers Weekly
★ 05/30/2016
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. (Aug.)
Wall Street Journal
“Offer[s] engrossing-and gross-details about how an invisible world shapes our species…Mr. Yong’s book lives up to its title, containing multitudes of facts presented in graceful, accessible prose….The author wonderfully turns to the humanities again and again to enrich the book’s scientific detail…And he’s funny.”
The Economist
“For a lesser writer, the temptation to oversimplify the science or to sex up unwarranted conclusions might have proved irresistible. Mr Yong expertly avoids these pitfalls…. I Contain Multitudes bowls along wonderfully without it. His hero, Sir David [Attenborough], would surely approve.”
The Guardian
“Masterful . . . a tale that shifts our personal cosmology and compels us to look anew at the world
New York Times Book Review
“A science journalist’s first book is an excellent, vivid introduction to the all-enveloping realm of our secret sharers.”
Boston Globe
“Not since de Kruif’s classic, “Microbe Hunters,’’ has this invisible world been brought so vividly to life… Yong’s curiosity and humor made me smile and even laugh out loud, much to my husband’s surprise. By the end of the book his sense of wonder for microbes was, well, infectious.”
Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Beautifully written. . . . Yong - who like Carl Zimmer belongs to the highest tier of science journalists at work today - weaves revelatory anecdotes and cutting-edge reporting into an elegant, illuminating page-turner.”
Wired
“Beautiful, smart, and sometimes shocking.”
Science
“A delightful, witty book. Yong vividly describes the intricate alliances forged by microbes with every other organism on the planet
The Week
“[Yong’s] enthusiasm and wonder are propulsive. While [he] acknowledges that the questions outnumber the answers in this relatively nascent field, he thrills to the potential inherent in what scientists have already learned about microbes’ astonishing powers. As a result, so do we.”
Philly Voice
“The strong narrative, rigorous reporting and fluid writing make I Contain Multitudes one of the most essential science books of the year. Yong’s wit, and endearing inability to pass up an opportunity for wordplay, are just a couple of the many bonuses that make it enjoyable, too.”
Brainpickings
“Fascinating and elegantly written. . . . Yong peels the veneer of the visible to reveal the astonishing complexity of life thriving beneath and within the crude confines of our perception. . . . masterful [and] intensely interesting.”
Cell
“[A] informative and infectiously readable book.”
Starred Review Booklist
“Bottom line: don’t hate or fear the microbial world within you. Appreciate its wonders. After all, they are more than half of you.”
GeekDad
“Yong writes like Sagan did, with humor and a deep understanding of science. The incredible partnerships these microbes have with all of us, the weird facts that enlighten our knowledge, our own view of nature: they all will change once we understand these partnerships better.”
William Gibson
“Ed Yong’s I Contain Multitudes is wonderful. Deeply strange, true, funny, beautifully written.”
David Quammen
“Ed Yong is one of our finest young explainers of science-wicked smart, broadly informed, sly, savvy, so illuminating. And this is an encyclopedia of fascinations-a teeming intellectual ecosystem, a keen book on the intricacies of the microbiome and more.”
Carl Zimmer
“I Contain Multitudes changes you the way all great science writing does. You become disoriented, looking at the world around you in a new way. With vivid tales and graceful explanations, Ed Yong reveals how the living things we see around us are wildly complex collectives.”
Helen Macdonald
“Beyond fascinating. An amazing book. It’ll change the way you think about the world. It’ll change who you think you are.”
Elizabeth Kolbert
Ed Yong has written a riveting account of the microbes that make the world work. I Contain Multitudes will change the way you look at yourself—and just about everything else.”
Rob Knight
“This compelling and beautifully written book will change the way people look at the world around, and within, them. Certainly among the best books in an increasingly crowded field and written with a true passion for and understanding of the microbiome.”
Professor Jack Gilbert
“Yong has captured the essence of this exciting field, expressing the enthusiasm and wonder that the scientific community feels when working with the microbiome.”
Jeff VanderMeer
“A marvelous book! Ed Yong’s brilliant gift for storytelling and precise writing about science converge in I Contain Multitudes to make the invisible and tiny both visible and mighty. A unique, entertaining, and smart read.”
Bookpage
“A must-read for the curious and science-minded, Yong’s book helps guide us through this exciting landscape.”
Library Journal
08/01/2016
Most people associate bacteria with the bad germs that cause infection and disease, but symbiotic bacteria are crucial to life as we—and many other species—know it. Yong, a science journalist who writes for the Atlantic, examines the bacteria vital to the digestive, immune, and reproductive health of species as diverse as humans, squid, woodrats, and wasps. Even sap-sucking aphids rely on symbiotic microbes to provide them with the amino acids they can't make on their own. He concludes this fascinating study with a look at the brave new world of synthetic biology, where scientists hope one day to bioengineer "designer" bacteria equipped with the right genes to destroy pathogens, eliminate cancer cells, and alter neurotransmitters. (Originally published in Great Britain, this book retains British spelling, punctuation, and expressions.) Yong's readable and entertaining style is appropriate for the nonspecialist, though occasionally the author gets carried away with the use of metaphor and other figurative language. VERDICT Highly recommended for general science readers interested in the complicated relationships between microbes and their hosts.—Cynthia Lee Knight, Hunterdon Cty. Historical Soc., Flemington, NJ
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2016-06-01
The microbiome is one of the most talked-about topics in modern science, but it's a complex and evolving field with important nuances often missed by the media. Atlantic science writer Yong refines the natural history of these microscopic wonders and breaks down the cutting-edge science that may soon result in revolutionary medical advances.Simply put, the microbiome (or "microbiota") is the vast collection of bacteria, viruses, and other microscopic organisms that live in and on the bodies of animals. While scientists have long been aware of the presence of some microbes, their abundance and significance have only been truly understood with the advent of tools that reveal their genetic identity. As a result, specialists around the world are focusing on exactly how microbes affect the health of their hosts. In this sweeping and meticulously researched book, the author introduces many of these pioneering researchers, and through their experiments, he elucidates microbes' astonishingly wide-ranging roles. Prepare to meet some weird animals and weirder microbes, as Yong guides us through the animal kingdom to explain how microbes facilitate digestion, reproduction, and other functions integral to the survival of a species. In humans, microbes have been shown to regulate inflammation, an immune response linked to dozens of chronic conditions. In fact, in the absence of symbiotic microbes, life as we know it would quickly collapse—and yet it was only recently that microbes were understood to be more than disease-carrying bugs and more recently still that scientists have begun to understand their potential medicinal power. The author excels at objectively navigating the large body of research related to the microbiome without overselling its curative potential or sacrificing any of the deliciously icky details, and he delivers some of the finest science writing out there in language that will appeal to a wide audience. An exceptionally informative, beautifully written book that will profoundly shift one's sense of self to that of symbiotic multitudes.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780062368591
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
08/09/2016
Pages:
368
Sales rank:
15,430
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.30(d)

Related Subjects

Meet the Author

Ed Yong is an award-winning science writer on the staff of the Atlantic. His blog Not Exactly Rocket Science is hosted by National Geographic, and his work has appeared in The New Yorker, Wired, the New York Times, Nature, New Scientist, Scientific American, the Guardian, the Times, Discover, Slate, and other publications. He lives in London and Washington DC.

Brief Biography

Date of Birth:
December 1981

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