Book Review: I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life by Ed Young

Posted September 7, 2020 by lomeraniel in Audiobooks, Non-Fiction, Review, Science / 0 Comments

Book Review: I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life by Ed YoungI Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life by Ed Young
Narrator: Charlie Anson
Published by HarperCollins Publishers Limited on 08-09-16
Genres: Non-Fiction, Science
Length: 9 hrs and 52 mins
Format: Audiobook
Source: Libby
Buy on Amazon/Audible
Overal Rating: five-stars

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.

This book was recently recommended by my endocrinologist during a podcast interview. She is an incredible doctor and wonderful human being, so I decided to borrow the audiobook version from the library. I was not sure if this book was going to be too dense to enjoy in audio format, but I am glad I went for it. The content of this book is absolutely fascinating, and I devoured it in just a couple of days. It was like listening to a documentary. The facts were so well explained and they were so interesting that I just could not stop listening. The beginning includes a history lesson about lenses and the first microscopes, and what was discovered by looking through them.

The book covers life on Earth from the beginning, giving a manageable timescale to give a real idea of how long we have been here and how long bacterias and unicellular beings have been already before us. I think I had already heard before that our mitochondria are the rests of primitive bacteria formed a symbiotic relationship with archaea, and the evolution of that is all forms of known life. This explains why they have different DNA than the specimen that contains them.

The book proceeds then to illustrate how possibly life has evolved and then has given quite some examples of symbiosis in the current animal kingdom that left me astounded. The very last part is about bacteria and their capability for HGT – horizontal gene transfer, a very quick way to evolve almost in real-time without waiting for the next generation – which is totally amazing. The implications of this in our lives is astonishing.

The very end of the book talks about pro and prebiotics, FMT – fecal matter transplant – and diverse diseases that could benefit from all the research shown in this book. I found it remarkable that despite all we already know, there is still a long way to get results in human apart from a couple of disorders that have been treated successfully.

I found the text very well written, with plenty of explanations and examples. It was impossible not to get engaged! Charlie Anson’s narration was also sublime. His compelling tone gave the feeling that he was really interested in the subject that he was narrating, and it was contagious, keeping me glued to my headphones. The only small setback I found were several noticeable audio edits. They were patches, fragments of sentences, and the quality of his voice was quite different in those. It was not too distracting, and I have to say that I fully enjoyed this audiobook in equal parts due to the quality of the text and Anson’s narration.

Just a note, Charlie Anson is part of the full-cast that narrates the Themis Files trilogy.

Story (Plot)
Overall: five-stars