I Contain Multitudes

Ed Yong

I Contain Multitudes



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Microbes contribute to our lives in such a complete and complex way, that it is impossible to ignore their importance. I Contain Multitudes shows us how the animal kingdom can be wonderful when viewed from the perspective of the united and cooperative universe that it really is. Microbes make up the ecosystems present in our body, with which we live in symbiosis for our entire existence, establishing alliances which can bestow us with extraordinary powers. 

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Analysis and key concepts


Microbes were the first inhabitants of this earth and it is thanks to them that we live in an oxygenised world


From Pasteur onwards, bacteriology became a science that studied microbes to destroy them; in fact they are fundamental components of life on our planet


Microbes are the builders and protectors of our bodies and we interact with them throughout our whole life


It really does depend on the context: microbes are never good or bad at all, and our relationship with them is made up of continuous adjustment and negotiation


Lack of balance between microbial ecosystems can cause disease: dysbiosis is an imbalance between different species


A lifestyle that involves little interaction with microbes leads to a weakening of the immune system, and therefore to poor health


Microbes and bacteria make it possible for many species to survive in otherwise impossible conditions


Bacteria mutate and evolve at an astonishing rate and can also be valuable partners in our evolution


Instead of removing microbes from our bodies and environments, we might want to consider adding them, in order to create microbiomes that support the life of our planet




Take-home message

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Many useful tips to:

  • Learn to see microbes as the builders and protectors of life.
  • Understand that every individual is host to a vast microscopic zoo with which they interact their whole life.
  • Recognise that the first inhabitants of the planet were microbes and that we came along millions of years later.

Ed Yong is a science reporter who has written for The Atlantic magazine since 2015. His work has featured in a wide variety of publications such as Nature, Scientific American, Wired and The New York Times. He has a degree in natural sciences from Cambridge University, after which he obtained a master’s degree in philosophy and another one in biochemistry. He was born in Malaysia and moved to the UK at the age of 13, later becoming a British citizen. He has received numerous awards for his journalism; in 2010 the National Academy of Science of the United States awarded him the National Academies Communication Award.


Publishing house:

Random House