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Every Living Thing: Man's Obsessive Quest to Catalog Life, from Nanobacteria to New Monkeys
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Every Living Thing: Man's Obsessive Quest to Catalog Life, from Nanobacteria to New Monkeys

4.03  ·  Rating Details ·  170 Ratings  ·  29 Reviews
Dunn traces the history of human discovery.
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published December 2nd 2008 by Smithsonian (first published 2008)
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Apr 23, 2009 Melody rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Dad
I really enjoyed this book, which looks at scientists through the ages, many of whom are more than a little bit dotty. Especially Linnaeus, of course. I learned a lot about archaea and nanobacteria (or maybe nanons, the jury's still out on the ultimate nomenclature), but mostly this book is about hubris, about the depth and breadth of our ignorance, and about those visionaries clutching guttering candles in the dark. Dunn is humorous without being snarky, respectful without being obsequious, and ...more
Barry Bridges
Other than stealing the title from a classic, Dunn presents an acceptable original work telling of discovery and hardship in science.
Cassandra Kay Silva
Jun 23, 2011 Cassandra Kay Silva rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science
What really hooked me on this book was the topic. I have always felt (and am glad to not be alone in this regard) that the world wherein the very small reside is far under represented in scientific literature. Considering the vast number of Bacteria and Archaea that exist it always astounds me how little coverage they get in Biology textbooks and the like. I absolutely adored Dunns descriptions of Leeuwenhoeks unique and ecstatic feelings of observing things in the realm of the very small and I ...more
Jan 18, 2009 Liz rated it it was amazing
This was a great book. There are all kinds of bits of biology history and information interwoven throughout the book-- yet its told in such a story-telling manner, that I kept wanting to read and never put it down. Also, it's a wonderful perspective on what science research is, and how its so much more than just a bunch of facts that we memorize in high school or college. I think its a must-read book for anyone considering pursing the sciences post high school. Though also a very good read for a ...more
Jun 03, 2016 Jef rated it it was amazing
Science education so often takes the grandest discoveries about the nature of life and the universe and turns them into a litany of boring facts completely lacking in the human element. The fact that the continents move is actually amazing, and the idea was widely considered so outlandish as to be impossible until actually very recently. But by the time I was in science classes it was fed to us as just one more thing we had to learn. The idea that the archaea are distinct from bacteria never see ...more
Aug 25, 2012 Zl added it
This book came recommended by a colleague. The author explores the personalities of biological discovery, especially those associated with taxonomy and biodiversity. Including Linnaeus, Antonine von Leeuwenhoek, Terry Erwin, Dan Janzen, Lynn Margulis, Carl Sagan, Carl Woese, Craig Venter, Frank Drake and others. While the beginning held my attention, I found my mind wandering through the final section on "life in space". This may because the earlier parts are based in evidence and physical disco ...more
Michael Alexander Henke
Many people may remember hearing the name Carl Linnaeus from a biology class they took at one point time. He's the man who gave the binomial nomenclature system for classifying life. Unless you continued to study the sciences, there's a good chance you haven't thought about him in quite some time.
Linnaeus was obsessed with naming the natural world around him. In his life he named over 10,000 species and if you live in the northern hemisphere then nearly every animal you see on a daily basis was
Jan 09, 2009 Susan rated it really liked it
For the most part I really enjoyed this. Dunn's focus was: the more you look at the life that surrounds us, the more you'll find. My background is in biology, but I never really thought about the whole spectrum of life as a whole this way before, as my focus in school and professionally has necessarily always been a relatively narrow range of life. It was kind of mind boggling. My only real issue was that I found his excessive footnotes pretty annoying: either the information should have been im ...more
Dec 20, 2008 Andrea rated it really liked it
Shelves: popular-science
This book is a readable retracing of the classification of life from the Enlightenment to the present. The author does not attempt to be exhaustive, but focuses on crucial characters and controversies that have led to major revisions in the way we view the world. Dunn makes a compelling case that how we classify and organize living organisms is crucial to understanding our attitude toward our environment and our place in the universe. Enjoyable, understandable for the average educated reader. I ...more
Oct 20, 2009 Joel rated it it was amazing
Every Living Thing tells the story of the push to understand more about the quantity and diversity of life in the universe. It is simultaneously humorous and fascinating with gossipy histories of science giants (Linnaeus comes off a cowardly, manipulative genius) and accounts of forms of life like beetles (and the mites that live on them) who masquerade as army ants in the rain forests of Central America. It's a quick read that just might inspire one to get a microscope and explore.
Jul 02, 2015 Belkora rated it it was amazing
A very good biology book for physicists, as it has little jargon, and is about the effort to enumerate species and estimate the number of species as yet undiscovered and uncounted (among other aspects of studying biodiversity). Discusses the huge increase in the number of known species since the late 1800s, as found in tropical forests, the sea floor, etc. Portraits of the discoverers and theorists make the book an enjoyable read.
Jan 16, 2012 Adrienne rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
So enjoyable to learn a bit about the naming of animals, insects and plants. But then, how can we be so grandiose and tentative a the same time? Grandiose in that we think we've named everything, tentative in thinking about the scope of life. The reverse would be more appropriate; we have named a few things, and the scope of life is grander than we conceive.
May 27, 2009 Tom rated it really liked it
This is very good read, not super technical and very interesting. It's kind of a history of the important discoveries in biology and the scientists who made them over the past 50 years or so. Also a lot of interesting personal experiences and accounts of field work (searching for beetles that live only on the backs of ants in the Amazon). Overall, well written.
May 11, 2012 Jigsaw rated it liked it
Well written, and the topic is interesting, but he seemed to repeat himself a lot. Every time he mentioned a discovery regarding how life is more widespread/diverse/plentiful than we might imagine (which was the whole book, basically), he'd repeat his spiel about it, which wasn't really warranted, since it was already the book's overriding theme.
Jul 27, 2011 Eric added it
this book is elegantly written, and presents the stories of discovery that take shocking, revolutionary turns on what life is and how it exists, and the smarty-pants scientists who get kicked around when they stick to their guns. i'm not normally interested in cellular life--more plants and animals, but these are important dramatic stories in biology.
Mar 25, 2016 Flexanimous rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2016
Absolutely wonderful. It's a window into the incredible richness and diversity of life, but also human nature: our tendency as a species to think we've learned all there is to know, as well as the incredible passion (or obsession) some individuals have to find out more.
May 28, 2011 Marty rated it it was amazing
It is one of the most fun and interesting nonfiction books I have ever read. IT gives you the feel of how science really advances. It seems both more controversial and more alive than I have ever perceived before.
Kathy Morrow
Sep 16, 2012 Kathy Morrow rated it it was amazing
Rarely does a scientist walk the fine line between dry facts and beautiful prose but Rob Dunn succeeded. A story that will keep you fascinated because you're both learning and imagining. Great read for anyone, but particularly good for biologists.
Mar 02, 2012 Dianne rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
Well, to be honest, I browsed intensively rather than read every word, but do like this book and the idea of it quite a lot. A great preface by EO Wilson; all in all, we've barely scratched the surface of total organisms on our planet that we can madly categorize.
The first part of this book is an enjoyable history of finding and name living things. When it gets to contemporary history, the Me Journalism overwhelms the story. It's about who the author knows and his thoughts on becoming a father. I got pretty bored and irritated by the end.
Nov 02, 2014 Jvermeersch rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Bevat een paar sterke lessen over hoe wetenschappers zouden moeten omgaan met onzekerheid. Verpakt in de vorm van een biografie van een hele reeks biologen - zowel revolutionairen als dwazen. Gaat minder over de biologie zelf.
Sep 09, 2009 Jaime rated it it was amazing
Wonderful book - very interesting and accessible. Dunn has an obvious passion for his work and a really beautiful way of expressing it.
Jul 16, 2016 BridgitDavis rated it it was amazing
The brilliance of the information overcame the small drawbacks in writing.
James Robinson
Jun 25, 2012 James Robinson is currently reading it
Not the Herriot one.
Oct 25, 2010 Scott rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
NC State Prof. writes book just for me. Loved reading the backstories of scientists I teach about each year. Taxonomy is my favorite branch of biology so this was a real page turner for me.
Meghan rated it liked it
Jan 16, 2016
Dan Chadwick
Dan Chadwick rated it really liked it
Feb 11, 2016
Katy rated it it was amazing
Aug 05, 2012
Ray Erickson
Ray Erickson rated it it was ok
May 20, 2017
Alan rated it it was amazing
Mar 15, 2014
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“Science is full of egos and arrogance, but it is fuller of simple moments of pleasure at the joy of finding some gem of new knowledge, big or small. Such gems can be anyone’s.” 3 likes
“Copernicus theorized that the Earth revolved around the sun, but it was not until he lay on his deathbed that he published anything regarding his discovery. He had largely kept it a secret, and a pretty good one as they go.* It would take Galileo to publicize and add nuance to Copernicus’s theory, but soon what was once heretical, that the Earth circled the sun, seemed obvious. Our place in the universe changed in a generation. The biological equivalent of the Copernican revolution would prove less simple. The biological world does not revolve around us, but we still tend to believe it does.” 2 likes
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