Last summer, popular science writer Ed Yong published his book on the microbiome to great acclaim. The book, I Contain Multitudes: the Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life, became a bestseller and showed up on countless “Best of” book lists for 2016. Since many medical anthropologists work on topics that either touch upon the microbiome or deal with it outright, it seemed obvious that at least some of them should have a chance to publicly reflect on Yong’s work. As anthropologists, we read journalists like Yong’s work and sometimes complain about what they missed or how they simplified their subjects. Our role as public scholars is often to complicate things and to highlight that tales about things like microbiomes aren’t always so easy to tell. In fact, sometimes the things that scientists study and that we research resist our attempts to tell coherent stories about them at all. Microbes are one such category of things. As you’ll see in the collection of thoughtful, provocative, and often funny, reactions to Yong’s book below, the microbiome is a messy and engrossing subject.
Matthew Wolf-Meyer’s reaction to Yong’s book may or may not be driven by his microbiota.
Jamie Lorimer examines why liberals love the microbiome.
Alex Nading asks if microbes can give gifts.
Amber Benezra looks at the stories Yong tells – and doesn’t – about the microbiome.
Erin Koch examines our fuzzy relationships to microbes.
Editor’s Note: Our hope is that this type of popular nonfiction book forum, showcasing our reactions to medical topics written for general audiences, will continue well into the future here on Critical Care. Should you have a book you’d like to coordinate responses to, or would like to see reviewed next, please let us know. You can contact me at Theresa.MacPhail @ stevens.edu.