I contain multitudes The microbes within us and a grander view of life

Ed Yong

Book - 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 p...artnerships 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. --

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New York, NY : Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers [2016]
Main Author
Ed Yong (author)
First U.S. edition
Item Description
"Originally published in the United Kingdom in 2016 by Bodley Head"--Title page verso.
Physical Description
355 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : color illustrations ; 24 cm
Includes bibliographical references (pages 299-338) and index.
  • Prologue: A Trip to the Zoo
  • 1. Living Islands
  • 2. The People Who Thought to Look
  • 3. Body Builders
  • 4. Terms and Conditions Apply
  • 5. In Sickness and in Health
  • 6. The Long Waltz
  • 7. Mutually Assured Success
  • 8. Allegro in E Major
  • 9. Microbes à la Carte
  • 10. Tomorrow the World
  • Acknowledgements
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index
Review by Choice Review

When the public thinks of microbes, the context is usually that of disease. Yet as Yong, a science writer for The Atlantic, indicates, life would not exist without the bacterial domains called Bacteria and Archaea. Emphasis is placed on the microbial biome within humans; the human genome contains some 25,000 unique genes, while human microbial flora, largely in the gut, contain some 500 times more. Several are involved in activities such as vitamin production or suppressing the growth of potential pathogens (which really are a tiny minority of microbes). But Yong does not neglect the importance of analogous interactions in nature as a whole. The book is replete with descriptions of host microbe interactions, and even genetic exchange within the microbe population itself--in humans and throughout nature. For example, in Japanese populations, the bacterium Bacteroides (arguably the most common organism within humans) contains genes obtained from another bacterium, which allows it to digest seaweed. Numerous anecdotes of a similar nature, alongside research studies on a variety of subjects, are found throughout the work. The reader is not only informed, but hopefully left with a fascination for the microscopic. Summing Up: Recommended. All readers. --Richard Adler, University of Michigan, Dearborn

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Review by New York Times Review

ONGOINGNESS: The End of a Diary, by Sarah Manguso. (Graywolf, $14.) Out of a desire to record every detail of her life, Manguso, a poet, began keeping a journal over 25 years ago - and was so prolific that her entries reached about 800,000 words. In this slim volume, she reflects on the project and her efforts to guard against forgetting, death and "that great and ongoing blank." THE ARRANGEMENT, by Sarah Dunn. (Back Bay/Little, Brown, $15.99.) Owen and Lucy have fled New York City for the Hudson Valley, settling in a 200-year-old house and stocking the coop with chickens. But paradise has its downsides, and the couple rock their upstate idyll by trying out an open marriage. What begins as an affair with a man in the city develops into love, and Lucy confronts an old question: whether passion or stability will win out. RUMI'S SECRET: The Life of the Sufi Poet of Love, by Brad Gooch. (Harper Perennial, $17.99.) Few figures have had the same resonance and enduring popularity as Jalai al-Din Mohammad Rumi, the 13th-century Muslim mystic who has been a muse for everyone from Madonna to budding Pinterest spiritualists. Gooch investigates Rumi's life and theology, with a focus on his life-changing, and creatively rich, relationship with the mystic Shams. SNOWBLIND, by Ragnar Jonasson. Translated by Quentin Bates. (Minotaur/Thomas Dunne, $9.99.) It's 2008 and Ari Thor Árason, a recent police academy graduate in a remote Icelandic village, is investigating the death of a local author. "This classically crafted whodunit holds up nicely," our reviewer, Marilyn Stasio, wrote. "But Jonasson's true gift is for describing the daunting beauty of the fierce setting, lashed by blinding snowstorms that smother the village in 'a thick, white darkness' that is strangely comforting." I CONTAIN MULTITUDES: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life, by Ed Yong. (Ecco/HarperCollins, $15.99.) Yong, a British science journalist, investigates the vivid, all-encompassing realm of our microbiome - the essential microscopic organisms that help bolster our health and work in concert with our bodies to shape how they work. (By a recent estimate, only half the human body is made up of human cells.) A HORSE WALKS INTO A BAR, by David Grossman. Translated by Jessica Cohen. (Vintage, $15.95.) In the basement of an Israeli comedy club, Dovaleh G's routine quickly veers into tales of his tormented childhood. Grossman's novel won the Man Booker International Prize in 2017. Our reviewer, Gary Shteyngart, called it a "magnificently comic and sucker-punchtragic excursion into brilliance."

Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [February 11, 2018]
Review by Booklist Review

*Starred Review* You are not alone. Smothered in and transformed by microbes, each one of us is a we not a me, insists science-writer Yong. A dazzling and dynamic, pliable and evolving menagerie of microorganisms known as the microbiome or microbiota exists within every human being. Recent estimates figure around 39 trillion microbes (mostly bacteria but also fungi, viruses, and archaea) and 30 trillion human cells share a symbiotic relationship in the typical person. There is no escaping these miniscule creatures. On average, we swallow about a million microorganisms per gram of food we eat and breathe out approximately 37 million bacteria per hour. Banish the stereotype that microbes are bad guys that beget only disease. In our bodies, they guide the immune system, make vitamins, assist in digesting food, degrade chemical toxins, and, very importantly, squeeze out pathogenic bacteria. Yong delves into research on the microbiome across a spectrum of species humans, mice, Hawaiian squid, citrus mealybugs, Mojave woodrats, coral, and giant tube worms, to list just a few. The title of the book, repurposed from Walt Whitman, is indeed apt. Bottom line: don't hate or fear the microbial world within you. Appreciate its wonders. After all, they are more than half of you.--Miksanek, Tony Copyright 2016 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

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.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review

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 © Copyright 2016. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.