I Contain Multitudes

I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life
by Ed Kong
Published: Aug 2016

The title is a clever reference to Walt Whitman’s ‘Song of Myself’ but literally refers to the massive communities of microbes that inhabit our bodies. According to the NIH, some estimates show microorganisms outnumbering human cells by 10 to 1 (though they only make up 1-3% of our mass because they’re so teensy!). Depending on where you look – skin, mouth, genitals – there are different types of bacteria performing various roles, contributing to our natural biochemical processes. While this book describes the relationships humans have with bacteria, we really have nothing on some plants and animals studied, where the symbiosis has reached a level of critical co-dependence. So we get a good review of the history of microbiology as well as more current research in the field as it explodes in popularity. I for one, welcome our bacterial overlords.

5 out of 5 stars: Kong deftly captures the pendulum of scientific attitudes towards bacteria – swinging between the extremes of “germophobia, where all microbes must be vanquished, towards microbomania, where microbes are heralded as the explanation for – and the solution to – all our ills.” In the end, they are all necessarily out to harm or support us, we’re all just part of the same complicated machinations of life struggling to continue existing.

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