Summary and book reviews of I Contain Multitudes by Ed Yong

I Contain Multitudes

The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life

by Ed Yong

I Contain Multitudes by Ed Yong
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Aug 2016, 368 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 16, 2018, 256 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
James Broderick

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About this Book

Book Summary

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 micro biome - 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.

10. TOMORROW
THE WORLD

The house I'm standing in is a Platonic vision of the all-American suburban idyll. Outside, there are white clapboards, a rocking chair on a porch, and kids riding around on bicycles. Inside, there's more space than Jack Gilbert and his wife Kat know what to do with. Like me, they're British, and are used to snugger spaces. They're also warm and good-humoured: Jack is a dervish of energy, while Kat is poised and grounded. One of their sons, Dylan, is watching cartoons. The other, Hayden, for reasons best known to him, is trying to punch me in the bum. I am protecting myself by backing up against the kitchen counter, and nursing a cup of tea. And as I do that, I'm also passively ejecting microbes all over the cup, the counter, and the rest of this beautifully furnished kitchen.

In fairness, so are the Gilberts. As we've seen, along with hyenas, elephants, and badgers, we humans release bacterial smells into the air around us. But we also release the ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Yong brings to his celebration of these single-celled organisms the two qualities you want in any science writer: enthusiasm for his subject, and a metaphorical mind. Yong's zeal for his subject matter is, if you'll pardon me, infectious; and his gift for metaphor and analogy helps make palpable the mind-bending scope of the subject matter ... but for many readers, I suspect there might simply be a limit to their depth of fascination with this tiny, teeming legion of life. The book has no real plot, but rather consists of discussion about hundreds of experiments in labs across the world, aimed at isolating, identifying, and understanding the role of these innumerable invaders. The characters Yong has found who spend their lives peering through microscopes or monitoring petri dishes are as colorful and diverse as the life they are chronicling, but there's a sort of sameness that creeps into the narrative.   (Reviewed by James Broderick).

Full Review (814 words).

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Media Reviews

New York Times Book Review

[An] excellent and vivid introduction to our microbiota. . . . infectiously enthusiastic.

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 Boston Globe

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.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Yong makes a superb case for his position by interviewing numerous scientists and presenting their fascinating work in an accessible and persuasive fashion.

Library Journal

Highly recommended for general science readers interested in the complicated relationships between microbes and their hosts.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. An exceptionally informative, beautifully written book that will profoundly shift one's sense of self to that of symbiotic multitudes.

Booklist

Stared Review. Bottom line: don’t hate or fear the microbial world within you. Appreciate its wonders. After all, they are more than half of you.


Masterful . . . a tale that shifts our personal cosmology and compels us to look anew at the world

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.

Author Blurb David Quammen, author of Spillover
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."

Author Blurb Carl Zimmer, author of Parasite Rex
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.

Author Blurb Helen Macdonald, author of H Is for Hawk
Beyond fascinating. An amazing book. It'll change the way you think about the world. It'll change who you think you are.

Author Blurb Elizabeth Kolbert, author of The Sixth Extinction
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.

Author Blurb Rob Knight, author of Follow Your Gut and professor at University of California, San Diego
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.

Author Blurb Professor Jack Gilbert, University of Chicago
Yong has captured the essence of this exciting field, expressing the enthusiasm and wonder that the scientific community feels when working with the microbiome.

Author Blurb Jeff VanderMeer, author of the Southern Reach Trilogy
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.

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Beyond the Book

The Father of Microbiology

The discovery of microbes – those single-celled organisms that exist by the millions in a drop of water, blood, or tiny patch of any living tissue – was a game-changer, scientifically speaking. The once-preposterous notion of invisible creatures inhabiting our world opened the door to understanding how germs infect the body, how cells replicate, and how life itself begins. And who is the genius we have to thank for it? A civil servant from the Netherlands whose job was to make sure wine bottles being sold were sufficiently filled.

Antoni van Leeuwenhoek Antoni van Leeuwenhoek, the wine-gauger of the town of Delft in the seventeenth century has come to be known in scientific circles as the "father of microbiology." This civil servant who lacked a ...

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