Sustaining Life: How Human Health Depends on Biodiversity

Hardcover (Print)
Rent from
(Save 67%)
Est. Return Date: 07/24/2015
Buy New
Buy New from
Used and New from Other Sellers
Used and New from Other Sellers
from $3.69
Usually ships in 1-2 business days
(Save 89%)
Other sellers (Hardcover)
  • All (24) from $3.69   
  • New (5) from $9.98   
  • Used (19) from $3.67   


The Earth's biodiversity-the rich variety of life on our planet-is disappearing at an alarming rate. And while many books have focused on the expected ecological consequences, or on the aesthetic, ethical, sociological, or economic dimensions of this loss, Sustaining Life is the first book to examine the full range of potential threats that diminishing biodiversity poses to human health.

Edited and written by Harvard Medical School physicians Eric Chivian and Aaron Bernstein, along with more than 100 leading scientists who contributed to writing and reviewing the book, Sustaining Life presents a comprehensive—and sobering—view of how human medicines, biomedical research, the emergence and spread of infectious diseases, and the production of food, both on land and in the oceans, depend on biodiversity. The book's ten chapters cover everything from what biodiversity is and how human activity threatens it to how we as individuals can help conserve the world's richly varied biota. Seven groups of organisms, some of the most endangered on Earth, provide detailed case studies to illustrate the contributions they have already made to human medicine, and those they are expected to make if we do not drive them to extinction. Drawing on the latest research, but written in language a general reader can easily follow, Sustaining Life argues that we can no longer see ourselves as separate from the natural world, nor assume that we will not be harmed by its alteration. Our health, as the authors so vividly show, depends on the health of other species and on the vitality of natural ecosystems.

With a foreword by E.O. Wilson and a prologue by Kofi Annan, and more than 200 poignant color illustrations, Sustaining Life contributes essential perspective to the debate over how humans affect biodiversity and a compelling demonstration of the human health costs. It is the winner of the Gerald L. Young Book Award in Human Ecology Best Sci-Tech Books of 2008 for Biology by Gregg Sapp of Library Journal

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A landmark book that lays out the case for the conservation of biodiversity and the multiple benefits it provides - pharmacopeia, regulation of infectious diseases, and food production/security. Sustaining Life is a much needed resource and a call to appreciate and take action to conserve our biological diversity at this critical time."—Integrative and Comparative Biology

"The book is perfect for undergraduate students in any biologic field, or as supplemental reading for a large number of graduate students in areas ranging from public health and medicine to ecology or biologic sciences. I also highly recommend it for physicians, scientists, policymakers, and the general public."—The New England Journal of Medicine

"Well-written chapters on the threats to biodiversity and biodiversity's contributions to medical and biomedical research, with a sharp focus on seven threatened groups of organisms. Excellent color photographs, maps, and diagrams accompany a highly readable, low-jargon-laden text. Highly recommended."—Choice

"Sustaining Life is the best work ever about what biodiversity means to human health." — Donald Kennedy, President Emeritus of Stanford University and Former Editor-in-Chief of Science

"This remarkable volume Sustaining Life will be an important text for our introductory majors' course, Foundations of Biological Diversity, this fall at Harvard. There is nothing comparable that so well establishes our dependence on—and membership in—the consortia of species with which we share the planet, important to humans in every way." — Brian Farrell, Professor of Biology and N. Michele Holbrook, Charles Bullard Professor of Forestry, Harvard University

"Although written by physicians and scientists, the book is without jargon or esoteric terminology, and is highly accessible to the layperson. It is flush with beautiful photography, easily understood graphs, charts and illustrations, and three supplemental appendices. This exquisite text - surely destined to find its way into college curricula - is authoritative, with extensive references." —

Highlighted in Conservation Magazine, Vol. 9 No. 4

"An invaluable resource for policy makers and a fascinating exploration for general readers of their hyper-connected biosphere. This book represents a landmark addition to our understanding of our ecological heritage, and the importance of preserving it." — Publishers Weekly

"The book, the Silent Spring for frogs and fishes, is clear, readily understandable, and its message is compelling." — Holcomb B. Noble, Pulitzer Prize winning science editor

"It is a remarkable labor of love by its editors, Eric Chivian and Aaron Bernstein, and manages to merge three books in one: a textbook for scholars, a plea to policy makers, and a beautiful read for nonscientists. The production values and glossy photographs are superb. Heavily subsidised, it is ridiculously cheap, and should be on every undergraduate reading list and everyone else's gift list." — The Lancet, Vol 372

"Sustaining Life is the most complete and powerful argument I have seen for the importance of preserving biodiversity."—Al Gore, former Vice President, 2007 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate

"It was an exhilarating moment when scientists broke the genome code and showed us the basic building blocks of the human being. Now scientists are showing us how biodiversity works and why it is crucial to saving our planet for our children's children and beyond. This important and compelling book is a blueprint for acting wisely and urgently."—Bill Moyers, former White House Press Secretary, Host of PBS's Bill Moyers Journal

"There is probably no better way to convince anyone still uncertain about the urgent need to preserve biodiversity, which is rapidly diminishing as a result of human activities, than to document its importance to human health and medicine. The authors have done this with great thoroughness and from every possible angle, producing a volume that pairs authority with anecdote and scholarship with passion."—Harold Varmus, President, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, 1989 Nobel Prize Laureate, former Director of the National Institutes of Health

"As a public health physician, I have been deeply involved for decades in helping political leaders, policy-makers, and the general public understand the relationship between human beings and the environment. Sustaining Life is the best and most comprehensive resource available demonstrating how human health depends on the health of the natural world."—Gro Brundtland, former Director-General of the World Health Organization, former Prime Minister of Norway

"One of the main reasons the world faces a global environmental crisis is the belief that we human beings are somehow separate from the natural world in which we live, and that we can therefore alter its physical, chemical, and biological systems without these alterations having any effect on humanity. Sustaining Life challenges this widely held misconception by demonstrating definitively, with the best and most current scientific information available, that human health depends, to a larger extent than we might imagine, on the health of other species and on the healthy functioning of natural ecosystems."—Kofi Annan, former Secretary-General of the United Nations, 2001 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, from the Prologue

"A powerhouse of information on a topic that concerns of us all. Highly recommended."—Irwin Weintraub, Library Journal Reviews

"Comprehensive and compelling...Well researched and with stunning graphicsthe volume could serve admirably as a college text or recommended reading for politicians, health and resource managers, and citizens at large."

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review.

In 1992, the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School agreed to coordinate a massive, international scientific effort under the direction of Nobel Peace Prize-winning scientist and author Chivian (Critical Condition: Human Health and the Environment) to catalog "what was known about how other species contribute to human health." The result of that extraordinary collaboration, involving more than 100 contributors, is this thorough volume, an invaluable resource for policy makers and a fascinating exploration for general readers of their hyper-connected biosphere. Species diversity, it turns out, acts as a kind of insurance policy for humans, by buffering stresses to the environment. The "mosaic of ecosystems" provide "services" (food, timber, air and water purification, waste decomposition, climate regulation) necessary for life that, due to their complexity and scale, are almost impossible to substitute. Naturally, the system is robust but vulnerable: the vultures of southern Asia, for instance, are threatened with extinction because their natural diet-carrion-has been poisoned with medicine routinely prescribed for livestock and humans. Another "service" contributed by the ecosystem is the highly useful E. coli bacteria, used in biomedical research to develop new medications and provide insight into Alzheimer's and other diseases. This book represents a landmark addition to our understanding of our ecological heritage, and the importance of preserving it. 175 color illus.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Library Journal

This unique work, edited by two Harvard Medical School physicians, explores the symbiotic relationship among the planet's species and how animals, insects, and plants on land and water have provided enormous health benefits through the natural products they produce. Our quest for natural products to treat and cure diseases is dependent upon this biodiversity of flora and fauna for the long term. Alterations that result in pollution, habitat destruction, climate change, exploitation, radiation, war, and conflict threaten the survival of many of the organisms that have been so vital to human health. The editors illustrate this relationship by focusing on amphibians, bears, primates, gymnosperms, cone snails, sharks, and horseshoe crabs whose contributions to human well-being are critical and the tragedy that would ensue if these organisms disappeared. They offer strategies to change the way we eat, farm, travel, live, work, and use energy to sustain the ecological complexity that allows all species to thrive. A powerhouse of information on a topic that concerns us all. Highly recommended.
—Irwin Weintraub

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195175097
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 6/2/2008
  • Edition description: Illustrate
  • Pages: 568
  • Sales rank: 979,168
  • Lexile: 1600L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 8.50 (w) x 10.80 (h) x 1.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Eric Chivian, M.D., is the Director of the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School. He shared the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize. He is the lead editor and author of Last Aid: The Medical Dimensions of Nuclear War and Critical Condition: Human Health and the Environment.
Aaron Bernstein, M.D., is a Research Associate at the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School, and pediatrician at Children's Hospital Boston, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School.

Read More Show Less

Table of Contents

Foreword - E. O. Wilson
Prologue - Kofi Annan
1. What is Biodiversity?, Stuart Pimm, Maria Alice dos Santos Alves, Eric Chivian, and Aaron Bernstein
2. How is Biodiversity Threatened by Human Activity?, Eric Chivian and Aaron Bernstein
3. Ecosystem Services, Jerry Melillo and Osvaldo Sala
4. Medicines from Nature, David J. Newman, John Kilama, Aaron Bernstein, and Eric Chivian
5. Biodiversity and Biomedical Research, Eric Chivian, Aaron Bernstein, and Joshua P. Rosenthal
6. Threatened Groups of Organisms Valuable to Medicine, Eric Chivian and Aaron Bernstein
7. Ecosystem Disturbance, Biodiversity Loss, and Human Infectious Disease, David H. Molyneux, Richard S. Ostfeld, Aaron Bernstein, and Eric Chivian
8. Biodiversity and Food Production, Daniel Hillel and Cynthia Rosenzweig
9. Genetically Modified Foods and Organic Farming, Eric Chivian and Aaron Bernstein
10. What Individuals Can Do to Help Conserve Biodiversity, Jeffrey A. McNeely, Eleanor Sterling, and Kalemani Jo Mulongoy
Appendix A: Co-sponsors
Appendix B: Treaties, Conventions, and Intergovernmental Organizations
Appendix C: Non-Governmental Organizations

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously

    If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
    Why is this product inappropriate?
    Comments (optional)