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The Hidden Half of Nature: The Microbial Roots of Life and Health

4.30  ·  Rating details ·  540 ratings  ·  83 reviews
Prepare to set aside what you think you know about yourself and microbes. The Hidden Half of Nature reveals why good health—for people and for plants—depends on Earth’s smallest creatures. Restoring life to their barren yard and recovering from a health crisis, David R. Montgomery and Anne Biklé discover astounding parallels between the botanical world and our own bodies. ...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published November 15th 2016 by W. W. Norton Company (first published November 16th 2015)
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Feb 01, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Soil fascinates me. I'm not a scientist or a biologist, but ecology is one of my passions, and the role of soil - the source of plant life and health, rejuvenated by organic matter and critters, essential to agriculture and healthy food, able to sequester carbon, so tied in to the whole web of life - is vastly interesting to me.

I read this book because I'm a fan of David Montgomery's other science books for general audiences, and was interested to learn more about he and his wife rejuvenated th
Jun 07, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: green
The authors are a married couple, one a geologist and the other a biologist. When they moved into a new home in Seattle, they discovered (as many other American home-owners have) that the soil in their backyard was about 1-2 inches of turf over clay. It is apparently standard practice to scrape away all the topsoil when making a new development, then buy turf to lay on top of that just before the sale.

So, they set about trying to improve the soil. This basically required a lot of organic matter
Emilie Greenhalgh
Jan 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
So we hear we should eat organic, take probiotics, eat less meat, eat our vegetables... but why and how exactly will this improve our health? Isn't it all just another a trend? And why is organic farming and no-tillage agriculture better than chemical fertilizers? And why is "conventional" farming so entrenched in our culture?

If you've ever wondered about any of questions, this book is for you. It is definitely dense for non-biologists, like myself, but fascinating. The way the book is put toge
Gwen Vandendriessche
May 17, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: science
Not exactly what i had expected... I thought it would be a lot more about the microscopic life in the upper layer of the ground (arthropods, fungi, bacteria, etc. which help the gardener) and nature. This book was actually much about medicine and health which isn't really my cup of tea, but it was very instructive nonetheless!
Dec 17, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: ecology
I feel bad for not liking this book. I love all things microbes but don't love the writing style. It was a biography, more than anything else, which I am sure worked for many people, but it didn't work for me. There were some interesting aspects to the book but I had to wade through the personal lives of the authors, and I just couldn't make myself care about their house, their garden, or their lives. Of course I care about cancer and am always interested in reading about any advance in that fie ...more
Tom Farrell
Feb 28, 2017 rated it liked it
A book that covers a something you can't see but is integral to the web of life on earth, microbes and fungi and how they keep soil fertile and keep people healthy . The first third covers fungi and microbes in soil and the second two thirds talks about gut microbes, our microbiome. A lot of interesting info on areas that are currently being heavily researched and more fully understood. I am in no position to determine how accurate the info is but it seems well researched. The final couple of ch ...more
Matt Nyman
This was a strange book to read. At several points, I almost quit reading it because of the giant leaps between back and forth between overly detailed technical science and overly generalized policy directives. And just generally I didn't enjoy it, but there was enough detail to keep me reading. The idea of the book, that the microbial environment and the microbiota that surround us and are within us are critical for a true understanding of environmental and personal health, is undeniable. And i ...more
Scott Lupo
Jun 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
A nice little primer on microbes and how they have the potential to being the key to good health both for people and plants. The writing is well done with a good flow and keeps the reader engaged. It begins with the authors attempting to bring their yard back from the dead to construct vegetable gardens. Through their journey they begin to realize that much of what makes a garden thrive happens underneath our feet, in the ground where bacteria and microbes work symbiotically with plants. Really ...more
Mar 15, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"The Hidden Half of Nature" is a very balanced book using both personal stories and the histories of agriculture, science, and medicine to contextualize the impact of the microbial world on both soil and digestive tract health, and why those things matter.

Over the course of the book, it develops that both the soil around plant roots and the cavities of the human colon have an odd number of similarities. Both develop microbe ecologies that play critical roles in extracting nutrients and protecti
Brad Janocha
Jun 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: top-ten
This book changed the way I look at nature. Beautifully written and continuously captivating, The Hidden Half of Nature bridges the gap between environmental sustainability and personal health. The authors blended their personal story with a history of scientific discovery, painting a picture of the essential symbiosis between microbes and human health. I recommend this book to anyone, but especially those interested in the environment, self-help, public health, or agriculture. I absolutely love ...more
Jun 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A really approachable guide to the research behind microbiome theory. I loved how David and Anne combine their research and experience, both agricultural and medicinal. I think further research will similarly point to the connections between healthy soil with a balanced micro-ecosystem and sustained good health of those who draw their lives from it.
Steve Sanders
Jun 03, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
3.5 stars. An accessible book about the science of microbes and how they impact both the world around us and our health. Gave me plenty to think about.
Jenni Link
Jan 05, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A popular-science overview of what we currently understand about the symbiotic relationships between the microbial world and the visible world, including plant and animal health, this is a quick and informative read that will definitely have something new to teach you if, like me, you last took a science class a couple of decades ago. The authors are a husband and wife team - he a geologist, she a biologist - who each write one of the book's two sections, the first focused on soil science and th ...more
David Kirchman
The novel thesis of the book is that microbes making up "microbiomes" are crucial in our health and in the health of soil and the plants we eat. A review mentioned that the two authors, husband and wife, alternate in taking the lead on the chapters. But I remember only one chapter that was written in the first person by the wife who had just been diagnosed with cancer. The book sunk a bit too much for me into New Age-y-ness and the description of our immune system was a bit too tedious. But if y ...more
Jan 19, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nutrition
In general it was a good book especially for the general audience who may just be getting introduced to the ideas in this book. I enjoyed the sections on the working with the garden more than the sections about the microbiome of our bodies.

I was actually disappointed by the sections on the microbiome of our bodies as there was no mention of Bechamps although they talked a lot about Pasteur. In the end I felt as if I hadn't gotten any new information and that there was a lot that could have been
This is the first book I've seen that really stitches together the importance of microbes in both our soils and our bodies. Gives a great overview of the scientists and actors involved in our current understanding of germ theory and health without being too heavy handed. It's not really a "how-to" book, and while a part of me would have liked them to offer like, a specific way to address gut dysbiosis, that's not what they set out to do.

I enjoyed it a lot
Apr 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent writing on the microorganisms in our lives. The book offers a easy-to-understand approach to the science of microbiomes in our soil and in our gut. The authors include some very personal reasons for exploring this field and the connections are solid. I borrowed this book from the library but will be buying it because it has a lot of useful information.

Aaron Bumgarner
Jan 08, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is an eye-opening look about the microbes in our soil and inside us. Most everyone knows there are lots of microbes in and around us, but to learn how they work, how critical they are, and how we are disrupting various systems is important. Good read!
Jul 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely amazing. Changed the way that I looked at the world around me. I love going small (microbial), both in relation to learning about gardening and the human body. Amazing, and well written.
Mar 03, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Simple but fascinating! My favorite kind of science. Now I get to add "Soil nutrient depletion" to my list of Things About The Future I'm Worried About.
Dan Carey
Interesting, but I think some of the science regarding the human gut biome is suspect (or at least unsettled). The parts that deal with soil fungus seem to be on firmer ground.
Costin Manda
Mar 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: owned
I am conflicted about this book. On one hand, the subject is of terrible relevance and needs to be known by as many people as possible. On the other, the authors are not very good writers: the whole book feels like a big blog post, filled with repetitions, personal opinions and little in the way of hard data. Most of the information in it I already knew, but that's because I am fascinated with the subject. If I didn't know it, I would have probably loved the book.

But what is The Hidden Half of N
Bill Leach
This book explores the importance of microbes to the higher plants and animals. The authors start with their efforts to improve their garden soil through the addition of organic matter as a basis for examining the archaea, bacteria, fungi, protists and viruses.

Early chapters review our discovery and improving understanding of microbes through the work of Linnaeus, van Leeuwenhoek, Pasteur, Carl Woese, and finally Margulis who showed that modern plants and animals are the result of mergers with b
Feb 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
Very well written and researched, the authors make a good case for eating organically. These two scientists, a geologist (soil scientist) and a biologist give evidence that improving our soil, even in our own backyards, can improve our health and that of the planet. The book gives an interesting historical background of how we came to view bacteria as the enemy, often rightly so. Unfortunately, science went to the extreme and sought to destroy all bacteria to our detriment as we are now learning ...more
Dec 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is packed with useful information and is well researched, including extensive referencing at the end. It begins by addressing soil biology as told by David, but then pivots and explores the microbiome using Anne's voice. Both topics are broached through personal experience narrative but the information is FAR from anecdotal. Instead it takes very deep dives bordering on the over-detailed, and then pulls back a bit, challenging you to learn along with them without the struggle of taking ...more
Sep 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I think this might be my favorite of Montgomery’s books on soil health. For anyone interested in soil biology and/or the human microbiome, this book makes an excellent introduction to the way that humans and plants alike are affected by microbes. More than that, I learned a lot even as someone who has read A LOT on this topic from other sources. It’s full of fascinating tidbits of information that will blow your mind if you’re into this kind of thing... like how bacteria have assimilated genes f ...more
Wynne Lee
Nov 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Outstanding description of past and present microbial ecology related to plants and humans, with practical motivations (gradening; health). The authors explain the many similarities among plants and animals via the unseen and just-being-discovered world of micro- and macro ecologies. Valuable for anyone who cares about our world, or ourselves. Very readable, excellent metaphors to bring key points home, some interesting histories of how we got 'here' (to chemical-dependent industrial agriculture ...more
Ben Haworth
Feb 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Many books seek to change perspectives. Many books achieve a semblance of such a change. However, this book has truly changed my life.

Already given over to the idea of the benefits of growing one’s own food in an organic and sustainable method, “The Hidden Half of Nature” has given me a language and thought-frame for why such a lifestyle is important—not only for the health of the earth but for human health.

I highly recommend this book. It’s an easy read and although I am aware that many will f
May 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: owned
This book was awesome! I was given this book as a parting gift from my employer at a composting company, but it covers so much more than just soil and compost. Each chapter i felt like I was learning something new, and there were so many mind-blowing revelations that I encountered throughout the book that made me stop and think about my life and what I had previously thought.

It’s very well researched, and for a non-fiction book, it is a really fast and easy read. The authors do a great job of e
Martha Meyer
Oct 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing
David Montgomery and his wife Anne Bikle step out of their respective science disciplines and tackle the new science of microbes through the lense of their own yard and Anne's cancer diagnosis. Part memoir, part science introduction, they are great writers with a passion to explain (maybe better than I have ever heard it done) the similar ways of keeping soil and humans healthy. This book will help the rest of us understand how things were meant to be so we can restore what we can of the world - ...more
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David R. Montgomery is a MacArthur Fellow and professor of geomorphology at the University of Washington. He is an internationally recognized geologist who studies landscape evolution and the effects of geological processes on ecological systems and human societies. An author of award-winning popular-science books, he has been featured in documentary films, network and cable news, and on a wide va ...more

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