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 partners, and introduces us to the scientists on the front lines of discovery.
Yong, whose humor is as evident as his erudition, prompts us to look at ourselves and our animal companions in a new light—less as individuals and more as the interconnected, interdependent multitudes we assuredly are. The microbes in our bodies are part of our immune systems and protect us from disease. Those in cows and termites digest the plants they eat. In the deep oceans, mysterious creatures without mouths or guts depend on microbes for all their energy. Bacteria provide squids with invisibility cloaks, help beetles to bring down forests, and allow worms to cause diseases that afflict millions of people.
I Contain Multitudes is the story of these extraordinary partnerships, between the creatures we are familiar with and those we are not. It reveals how we humans are disrupting these partnerships and how we might manipulate them for our own good. It will change both our view of nature and our sense of where we belong in it.
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, the Byron H. Waksman Award for Excellence in the Public Communication of Life Sciences in 2016, and the National Academies Keck Science Communication Award in 2010 for his old blog Not Exactly Rocket Science. He regularly does talks and radio interviews; his TED talk on mind-controlling parasites has been watched by over 1.5 million people.
I Contain Multitudes, his first book, looks at the amazing partnerships between animals and microbes. Published in 2016, it became a New York Times bestseller, and was listed in best-of-2016 lists by the NYT, NPR, the Economist, the Guardian, and several others. Bill Gates called it "science journalism at its finest", and Jeopardy! turned it into a clue.
Ed cares deeply about accurate and nuanced reporting, clear and vivid storytelling, and social equality. He writes about everything that is or was once alive, from the quirky world of animal behaviour to the equally quirky lives of scientists, from the microbes that secretly rule the world to the species that are blinking out of it, from the people who are working to make science more reliable to those who are using it to craft policies. His stories span 3.7 billion years, from the origin of life itself to this month's developments in Congress. He makes terrible puns and regrets none of them. He has a Chatham Island black robin named after him.