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

I’ll confess that I started this book last year but never finished it. It lost some of its appeal about 3/4th the way through. However, there were parts of it that were very intriguing.

The book is focused on those things we’d rather not think about sometimes: microbes. Ed Yong, the author, begins his discussion on microbes with a brief history. Then he examines the particular microbes of the human body. Much of the book is centered around the practical knowledge of the microbes in you and me; however, he demonstrates similarities and differences with microbes in nature. For example, he speaks at length about gut bacteria because the stomach contains trillions and trillions of good flora essential to human life. He shows how it must be a balanced ecosystem; let one strain dominate over another and you could be out with irritable bowl syndrome. To illustrate this, he uses the great coral barrier reef off the coast of Australia. This, too, contains a complex system of microbes that, when thrown out of equilibrium by oil from boats or other various man-caused problems, when thrown off its delicate balance, dies off.

Some of his conjecture is also very interesting. For example, I have been a huge proponent of the hippie drink, kombucha. It contains probiotics, a fancy word for microbes that line the stomach. The conventional wisdom is if you ingest drinks such as these, your stomach will have more probiotics to help digest food and keep your stomach running smoothly. However, this has been challenged by science. According to one study mentioned in the book, the science does not support superior stomach function due to these beverages or probiotics in pill form. That’s not to say they are not useful at all, but as Yong explains, the science just isn’t there yet to say whether its beneficial.

Overall, I wouldn’t read this again, but the few nuggets that I gleaned were worth the time to read.

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