Monday, July 02, 2018

I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life, by Ed Yong

book cover Ed Yong's style is a little bit over narrated, like those TV documentaries that start with some guy walking down the street while they present who he is and what he does. That's the only real issue I had with this book, other than a few groan inducing puns. Besides that, the book is not only extremely interesting, but also contains a multitude (OK, I like puns) of well crafted insights into the biological world all around us.

I Contain Multitudes explains how animal and plant life has evolved from a previous state in which microbes were everywhere and everything. Every adaptation since then has taken them into account and forced them to adapt in turn. Microbes, as explained by the book, are not a bunch of criminals hell bent on causing disease, but a complex ecosystem that overshadows the macrobiome, with complex adaptations in a matter of days.

A lot of eye opening ideas in the book. That disease is more often caused by an imbalance in a community of different microbes, not by one opportunistic infection. The old paradigm of "kill'em all" is no longer valid, as it just clears way for other microbes to take over the vacated real estate. The way selected cultures of microbes can function as a living drug for all kinds of afflictions, from bowel problems to mental issues, from tree diseases to those transmissible by insect bites, is shockingly powerful. But there is more, the most pervasive being that we cohabitate a world of bacteria and viruses that are as part of our identity and function as any other organ. Indiscriminately killing everything microscopic is then akin to cutting off your limb, just because you feel like it.

It is a book I can't recommend enough. Anyone even remotely interested in medicine should consider it as a must read. Anyone interested in their own health should read it. In fact, I can't imagine a single person that shouldn't read it. Check out the book's page on Ed Yong's web site for more information, videos and articles.

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