Ed Yong’s “I Contain Multitudes”

It is not as often that you find authors, either of scholarly or literary schools of thought, tell a story from the perspective of the misunderstood entities. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the voice of the voiceless but it takes efforts in understanding the world from the other side.


Ed Yong’s “I Contain Multitudes” takes a stance completely opposite to the prevailing perception towards the microbial world. For the generation that defined the sanctity by wiping the hands with a hand sanitizer, the book sets out to change the perspective.

It is technically a non-fiction book that introduces use to the concept of the microbial world and it’s significance in the mere existence of the many species in the world, but Ed Yong makes sure that he puts the things in the right frame of setting up by drawing us back to the evolutionary era.

He uses the evolution as an “imaginary year timelines” and specifies the dominance of microbes in the evolutionary cycle. He provides multiple examples to quote why microbes are essential in every walk of life and the differential value that they bring into various species that’s ever walked on the planet.

For a moment, it would feel that he is trying hard to sell the concept of microbes as he mentions time and again about the positive impact that microbes create rather than the general scary-disease causing entities. But, as you finish the book, you realize why it was such an important thing to do as our perspectives change towards the end.

There is a section in the book that even questions the spiritual side of our existence where he puts in multiple aspects that define “You” as a human being. He highlights the physical, genome, cellular comparisons and makes drives home the point how non-existential we would have been, if not for our interaction with the environment we are surrounded with.

Overall, Ed Yong’s “I Contain Multitudes” definitely changes the perspective towards nature and our interaction with it as you were pulled deeply into the microbial world. A definite read. 

Listen to his reading session at “Politics & Prose”: