Book Review: I Contain Multitudes

I Contain Multitudes: the microbes within us and a grander view of life


Ed Yong
Harper Collins Publishers
2016

“In the great evolutionary race, they spring, while we crawl. But we can get a little closer to their blinding pace by forming partnerships with them. Bacteria, in other words, allow us to do decent impressions of bacteria.” (207)

If you even moderately consider yourself to be a curious person, Ed Yong’s I Contain Multitudes will enrapture you with a fascinating portrayal of the complexities of the microbiome--the complete world of bacteria that facilitate the function of the world as we know it. With a title based on a quote by Walt Whitman, Yong dives into the invisible world that exists in, on, and around us with enviable literary poise. Yong serves the scientific public domain in a similar vein as Erik Larsen, who has tackled popular history in works such as Devil in the White City and In the Garden of Beasts. While everyone has some preliminary knowledge of the capacity of bacteria from their own experience with strep throat or swimmer’s ear, Yong clearly details the beginning of our understanding of the unparalleled power of the microbial world. The book is incredibly diverse in scope, exploring phenomena from bioluminescence in squid to the treatment of horrific diseases such as elephantiasis. Consequently, readers of every interest will find something fascinating. Furthermore, the book is impressively current, detailing ongoing research as well as the foundational history of the field, which helps readers understand the ebb and flow of the scientific method and public knowledge. Whether you’re a trained biologist or just interested in learning something new, if you read one book this year for the expanding of your scientific worldview, I Contain Multitudes should be on your short list.