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I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life

4.13  ·  Rating details ·  18,680 ratings  ·  2,065 reviews
Every animal, whether human, squid, or wasp, is home to millions of bacteria and other microbes. Many people think of microbes as germs to be eradicated, but those that live with us—the microbiome—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 pa ...more
Hardcover, 368 pages
Published August 9th 2016 by Ecco
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Dane Hi Veronica, depending on the reader, this book is for people who are curious and full of imagination... for the way the world can be seen through the…moreHi Veronica, depending on the reader, this book is for people who are curious and full of imagination... for the way the world can be seen through the lens of microbiology. Whoever reads this will be more informed about animals (including the human animal), plants, history and science. Answer: As early as possible!! :)(less)

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Will Byrnes
You’ve got company.


Carol Anne Freeling was certainly right when she said, “They’re hee-ur,” well maybe not enraged spirits, but there are certainly plenty of entities present to which we have paid insufficient attention. Maybe Regan MacNeil was closer to the mark in proclaiming “We are legion.”

When Orson Welles said “We’re born alone, we live alone, we die alone,” he was mistaken. Even when we are alone, we are never alone. We exist in symbiosis—a wonderful term that refers to different or
Always Pouting
Jan 29, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I feel like this book really exemplifies what I want from a science book written for a mass audience. It made everything really accessible and easy to understand without sacrificing on providing details or explanations. It provides a lot of citations so I can go look up the specific research papers and experiments mentioned that are of most interest to me, which I did. It also just connected research to larger ideas and theories for why things work the way they do. I think the whole point of sci ...more
Feb 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: people interested in biology, medicine, life
Recommended to carol. by: Anna
For my entire hospital career I have worked in oncology, where I have been part of teams taking care of people with cancer. Frequently patients have “neutropenic fevers,” a condition considered to be potentially harmful and almost always requiring admission to the hospital. Neutrophils are those brave little white blood cells that go out into our bodies and do battle with all the nasty things our bodies are exposed to every day. Neutropenia means the patient has none of those cells to speak of ( ...more
Mario the lone bookwolf
Apr 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
Inner values get, in this context, wholly new, trillion of dimensions.

Like so many prejudices, those against microorganisms are stupid and shortsighted. The first associations are not symbiosis and better health but infection and disease because the negative image is over-represented. Hygiene and health are essential, but the benefits of invisible companions are far too rarely highlighted and the beneficial minis outweigh the pests by far. Moreover, understanding the mechanisms is necessary for
Jeffrey Keeten
Apr 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science, nonfiction
”The latest estimates suggest that we have around 30 trillion human cells and 39 trillion microbial ones – a roughly even split. Even these numbers are inexact, but that does not really matter: by any reckoning, we contain multitudes.”

“Perhaps it is less that I contain multitudes and more that I am multitudes.”

I realized, as I was reading this book, that I have not had antibiotics in over twenty-five years. When I shared that information with my friends, the reactions were anywhere from “Wow” to
Petra is skipping Mon & going straight to Tue
Jun 11, 2020 marked it as 1-awaiting-review-but-read
Update: Antibiotics and obesity. It is routine in the US (although banned in the UK and Canada) to give cows, pigs, chickens etc low doses of antibiotics in order to fatten them up. No one knows why the antibiotics make them gain weight on the same amount of food, but they do. There is no reason to suppose that we are any different. The mechanism has to do with altering the biome, the microbes in the body, but how long the effect lasts isn't known, it might be a lifetime thing.

Antibiotics and re
Jan 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Well, I will never think of bacteria and archaea the same. I certainly have a newfound understanding of just how vital it is to every part of life. That microbes and bacteria have helped shape our planet for billions of years, down to every single flora and fauna; even all the oxygen we breath has come from bacteria.
I also never really thought about the microbes that are constantly around us and even on me, or how many you are "seeding" to the world. That"every person aerosolises 37 million bac
Nov 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is a fascinating book about the microbes inside all of us, and inside other animals as well. Now, it is often said that there are ten times as many bacteria in our bodies as there are cells. This, it turns out, is probably an over-estimate; the number of bacteria is probably in the same ballpark as the number of cells. But still, that is a lot!

This book goes into detail about the amazing partnerships--the symbioses--between microbes and large organisms, mostly animals and humans. Microbes a
¸¸.•*¨*•♫ Mrs. Buttercup •*¨*•♫♪
I am Legion.

So, apparently human beings (and all beings in general) are just bags of bacteria and other microorganisms, and these fascinating fellas have always dominated the Earth, from the birth of life to present days: there are more bacteria in our guts than starts in our galaxy. Interesting, uh? I would say a wonderful topic for a wonderful book!

I loved this book and found it extremely interesting for many reasons. First, because it was very well-written, and second because it opened my
Feb 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing

Though we might lather our skin with antibacterial soap, clean our hands with alcohol sanitizers, gargle with mouthwash, scrub our kitchen surfaces, disinfect our bathrooms, spray Lysol all over the house, take antibiotics, etc., there are - and always will be - microbes everywhere. This is especially true of our warm moist bodies - which are covered inside and out with microorganisms....and this is a good thing.

Bacteria are on and in our bodies

In fact our bodies are really an indivisible aggreg
aPriL does feral sometimes
I Contain Multitudes' by Ed Yong is a fun read!

Each one of us is a microbiome, with billions of bacteria literally on every bit of our skin and hair. Inside our bodies and in our cells, we have even more interesting little microscopic monsters. Plus, we share these little bugs with everyone we meet, especially the people we live with. If you have a dog, the volume of bacteria in your home increases exponentially.

If, gentle reader, you are now scratching and twitching, may I suggest getting a co
Clif Hostetler
Aug 19, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: science
Recently I've been hearing reports of miracle cures of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) by use of fecal matter transplants. Also I've heard that some autoimmune diseases may be caused by environments that are too clean.

Upon hearing these things the question that comes to my mind is, why this new found enthusiasm for microorganisms? We've known about bacteria since Louis Pasteur. So why all this new information about microbes as if it was something new? (Actually we learn in this book that Antonie
I liked this book so I am giving it three stars.

It is common knowledge today that everything and all of us are covered with microbes - that some are good and some are bad. Their number can be debated. We have in the past been fixated on getting rid of them. This has been to our detriment. It is clear we have gone too far. Antibiotics are good and necessary, but at the same time they must be used with care. In heedlessly wiping out microbes, we have created an environment where pathogens prolife
Laura Noggle
Feb 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2020, nonfiction
Fecal transplants, stool banks, and sham “poo” — definitely my favorite chapter.


Ever since the pandemic began, I could not stop thinking about this book and Bill Bryson's The Body.

"Every time we touch an object, we leave a microbial imprint upon it. Every time we walk, talk, scratch, shuffle, or sneeze, we cast a personalised cloud of microbes into space. Every person aerosolises around 37 million bacteria per hour. This means that our microbiome isn't confined to our bodies. I
Oct 23, 2018 marked it as to-read
Everybody likes this book about gutbunnies, which is a term I just now made up for the tiny little things that live in you.
Mar 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reviews
Thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated all the information in this book. Might change how you look at yourself, think of yourself and the world around you.
Mar 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
You are what you eat.
You eat what you are.
What you aren't eats you and other things that aren't you, but are in you.
I am legion.
Sep 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biology
Yong explores the microbiome, not just in humans but in many creatures. He reveals the amazing variety of ways that microorganisms influence their multicellular counterparts. A properly balanced microbiome is not only critical to health, but can be essential to proper development, reproduction and survival. In essence we are one system with the many trillions of foreign organisms in our bodies. We rely on each other. Not that there is a clear cut line between beneficial and pathogenic, a single ...more
Joshua Buhs
Aug 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
A fascinating topic poorly served by the conventions of popular science writing.

Ed Yong's book is about microbes--bacteria, mostly, but also viruses and few other extremely small creatures--and how they live with other organisms--humans for the most part, with plenty of other animals, too, though no plants.

It has Darwinian ambitions, announced in its subtitle: "A Grander View of Life" evokes Darwin's famous phrase closing the first edition of "On the Origin of Species": "There is grandeur in thi
You may think that we are just made from muscles, blood cells, bones and a fair bit of DNA, but in between the gaps are microbes. Billions and billions of them. There are the odd rogue ones, but most of them are useful and make up an essential element of our being. Without them we could not live. They help us in countless ways, sculpting our organs, protecting us from disease and feeding and nourishing us; our gut contains a complete ecosystem that ensure that we extract all the energy we need.

Diane in Australia
I did enjoy this book, but it didn't 'wow' me as much as some of the other reviewers. In fact, I started it awhile ago, and just got distracted by other books, and put it down ... which never happens, if I'm enthralled by a book. When I finally came back to it, I did learn a few things, and read a few things aloud to hubby, so, all-in-all I suppose it was a 'good read'.

4 Stars = Outstanding. It definitely held my interest.
May 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing

This is absolutely fabulous scientific nonfiction. I think at times, scienctific nonfiction swings one of two ways--over simplified, or overly pendantic. This book truly hit the sweet spot. It's accessible, gorgeously written, and incredibly informative and well-researched.

In particular, I liked that Yong doesn't shy away from differing schools of thought. Microbiology as we know it today is still a relatively new science, and as such there are a LOT of
Not that into biological science, I generally prefer technology; but I really enjoyed this! By the end of the book, I couldn't help but think of microbes as biological nanobots. The potential is impressive. Microbes also have a lot to teach the world about the importance of diversity and the death spiral of the policy of removing certain microbes determined to be unhealthy without studying and understanding the environment in which they exist. Apparently, biology has a lot to teach us about soci ...more
Jun 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book is jam-packed with tons of information about the recently uncovered world of microbes. Considering how many books about microbes are popping up, I was skeptical at first, but it quickly became apparent that this book was based on nothing but the best science available on the subject. Just like the Sonnenburgs' book Gut, I contain Multitudes focused on what we know about microbes and was very clear about the lack of evidence when speculating. The researchers cited by Yong are the best i ...more
Ed Yong is a London-based science writer for The Atlantic and is part of National Geographic’s blogging network. I had trouble believing that I Contain Multitudes is his first book; it’s so fluent and engaging that it immediately draws you into the microbial world and keeps you marveling at its strange yet fascinating workings. Yong writes like a journalist rather than a scientist, and that’s a good thing: with an eye to the average reader, he uses a variety of examples and metaphors, interspers ...more
Ross Blocher
Apr 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I Contain Multitudes is science writing at its best: Ed Yong is curious and energetic, and his enthusiasm for bacteria (and wordplay) runneth over in this wide-ranging look at microbiomes within and without. The Whitman-inspired title is apt: we drift through a world teeming with bacteria. Our nonhuman bacterial denizens number in the trillions, and like Pigpen from Peanuts we exude a cloud of our own making, aerosolizing some 37 million bacteria per hour. Yong is quick to dispel the oft-cited b ...more
Jan 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book contains so much information one would need to reread and reread it and still not absorb it all. The history of microbe studies as well as very current research is fascinating. Ed Long does a great job using analogies to help the lay reader understand the complexities. Those interested in science and specifically microbes will enjoy this book.
Jan 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
Utterly fascinating. Review to come, once I pick up the pieces of my brain and assemble some coherent thoughts.
When Orson Welles said "We're born alone, we live alone, we die alone", he was mistaken. Even when we are alone, we are never alone. We exist in symbiosis--a wonderful term that refers to different organisms living together. Some animals are colonized by microbes while they are still unfertilized eggs; others pick up their first partners at the moment of birth. We then proceed through our lives in their presence. When we eat, so do they. When we travel, they come along. When we die, they consum ...more
Caro the Helmet Lady
I'm not going to write a serious large review about this one, because I'm simply incapable to operate the terminology of the subject well and I'm not going to pretend that I am by copy-pasting. I assure you that there's many great reviews here on GR and you can easily find it. I'm just going to say that this was very interesting, sometimes even mind blowing, fact packed book, that gives a lot to think about the origins of life on this planet and its life forms, us as organisms, us as organisms c ...more
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Ed Yong is a science journalist who reports for The Atlantic, and is based in Washington DC.

His work appears several times a week on The Atlantic's website, and has also featured in National Geographic, the New Yorker, Wired, Nature, New Scientist, Scientific American, and many more. He has won a variety of awards, including the Michael E. DeBakey Journalism Award for biomedical reporting in 2016

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Believe it or not, we're halfway through 2021! As is our tradition, this is the time when the Goodreads editorial team burrows into our data to...
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“Within 24 hours of moving into a new place we overwrite it with our own microbes, turning it into a reflection of ourselves.” 16 likes
“All zoology is really ecology. We cannot fully understand the lives of animals without understanding our microbes and our symbioses with them.” 15 likes
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