Summary of I Contain Multitudes

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  • Scientific
  • Applicable
  • Eye Opening


Ed Yong, a science writer for The Atlantic and National Geographic, reveals humankind’s ever-shifting bacterial reality. He takes a bacterium’s eye view of the origins of life on Earth, traveling from bacteria’s evolution to modern efforts to fight disease. In places, the material can be somewhat icky – at least, for nonscientists who don’t really think about hosting a universe of microscopic critters – yet it is overall charming, illuminating and hypnotic. Yong offers a different history of life than you likely learned in school and outlines possibilities for what bacteria might do for the world. Sometimes whimsical, sometimes poetic, always scientific, he approaches microbes with a sense of humor. getAbstract recommends Yong’s exploration to anyone interested in science, medicine, or the countless tiny beings living in and on your skin.

About the Author

Ed Yong, a staff science writer for The Atlantic and National Geographic magazine, hosts the Not Exactly Rocket Science blog. His work has won several awards, including the National Academy of Science’s National Academies Communication Award.



You, Microbes and Life on Earth

Humans tend to think of living organisms as self-contained and autonomous. But countless tiny organisms live in or on every single living creature on Earth. They and you live in symbiosis with many microbes too small to see. You’re never just an “I.” You’re always a “we.”

Imagine the 4.54 billion-year history of the planet compressed into a single year. People have been around for only 30 minutes at most. Life emerged in March. It was all single-celled until October. Mammals and flowers didn’t emerge until early December, and dinosaurs ruled until “the evening of December 26, when an asteroid wiped them out.” The visible organisms with which you’re most familiar were late arrivals. Before that, microbes owned the world. Bacteria exist in the Arctic and in volcanoes; they are part of crucial natural cycles like photosynthesis. Plants, animals and people aren’t distinct from microbes: They all came from microbes.

All plants and animals belong to a classification “of organisms called the Eukaryotes,” which emerged about two billion years ago. Earlier, two “domains” of living things filled the Earth: bacteria and archaea. ...

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