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The Wild Life of Our Bodies: Predators, Parasites, and Partners That Shape Who We Are Today Hardcover – June 21, 2011

ISBN-13: 978-0061806483 ISBN-10: 006180648X Edition: First Edition

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; First Edition edition (June 21, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 006180648X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061806483
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (78 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #67,031 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


“A pleasure to read. He is not a biologist moonlighting as a writer; he is both. Dunn also does a wonderful job interspersing history, research, and speculation with real-life human beings. He has a natural flair for drama and tension . . . a highly readable, informative mashing of ideas and disciplines.” (Boston Globe)

“Grabbing the reader from the start . . . Dunn moves through the answer to these and other questions with a sure use of language, scientific research, and humor-all of which combined keep the reader highly engaged. . . . Mr. Dunn is a thorough and talented writer.” (New York Journal of Books)

“An extraordinary book about a previously little explored subject. With clarity and charm the author takes the reader into the overlap of medicine, ecology, and evolutionary biology to reveal an important domain of the human condition.” (Edward O. Wilson, University Research Professor Emeritus, Harvard University)

“[Dunn is] a master at applying the principle of administering a spoonful of sugar (i.e., humor) to make the “medicine” of complicated scientific information not merely interesting but gripping. Nothing less than an every-person’s handbook for understanding life, great and small, on planet Earth.” (Booklist (starred review))

“Adding touches of humor along the way, Dunn deftly explains complex biological systems for the general reader. […] Highly recommended for nature aficionados, this book should inspire many lively discussions.” (Library Journal)

From the Back Cover

A biologist shows the influence of wild species on our well-being and the world and how nature still clings to us—and always will.

We evolved in a wilderness of parasites, mutualists, and pathogens, but we no longer see ourselves as being part of nature and the broader community of life. In the name of progress and clean living, we scrub much of nature off our bodies and try to remove whole kinds of life—parasites, bacteria, mutualists, and predators—to allow ourselves to live free of wild danger. Nature, in this new world, is the landscape outside, a kind of living painting that is pleasant to contemplate but nice to have escaped.

The truth, though, according to biologist Rob Dunn, is that while "clean living" has benefited us in some ways, it has also made us sicker in others. We are trapped in bodies that evolved to deal with the dependable presence of hundreds of other species. As Dunn reveals, our modern disconnect from the web of life has resulted in unprecedented effects that immunologists, evolutionary biologists, psychologists, and other scientists are only beginning to understand. Diabetes, autism, allergies, many anxiety disorders, autoimmune diseases, and even tooth, jaw, and vision problems are increasingly plaguing bodies that have been removed from the ecological context in which they existed for millennia.

In this eye-opening, thoroughly researched, and well-reasoned book, Dunn considers the crossroads at which we find ourselves. Through the stories of visionaries, Dunn argues that we can create a richer nature, one in which we choose to surround ourselves with species that benefit us, not just those that, despite us, survive.

Customer Reviews

Very interesting book, I learned a lot from reading this book.
This is a really interesting look at our relationship with parasites and predators and other human beings.
Everyone should read this book to gain an understanding who we are and where we are possibly going.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

92 of 93 people found the following review helpful By A fellow with a keyboard on June 22, 2011
Format: Hardcover
In full disclosure, as a blogger, I received an advanced copy of this book. I don't think, however, that that influences what I'm about to say:

The bottom line is that this is a rare book that I feel comfortable labeling a must-read. And I don't just mean in the Ecology, Health, or Evolution category. Across all categories, this is one of the most insightful and compelling books I have read. (I'm not just saying that; I actually keep a list of these things: [...]

It's a must-read because, in an eminently entertaining and understandable way, Rob Dunn provides a powerful framework for understanding who we are: (1) Our bodies' interactions with other species, and correspondingly (2) the inseparability of the human part of us from the non-human part of us; (3) the many ways that evolution shaped us and (4) the consequences of living modern lives; and (5) the previously unacknowledged genetic diversity that has big implications for medical practice and for which diets we respond to, and can even help explain social behavior.

For each of these points, I've included a quote to illustrate:

(1) "On our bodies are a kind of living wonderland. There are more bacterial cells on you right now than there ever were bison on the Great Plains, more microbial cells, in fact, than human cells. Each of those cells are tiny but perhaps consequential."

(2) "Major systems of our bodies, including our immune system, evolved to work best when other species lived on us. We are not simply hosts to other species; we live lives intimately linked to them, and even the boundaries between the simplest categories of "us" and "them" and "good" and "bad" are blurry to the tools we have so far."

(3) "The wild workings of our bodies influence who we are.
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46 of 48 people found the following review helpful By Juan Manuel Morales on July 6, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I am ecologist working in Argentina. I tend to study ecological interactions of wild species here, for example the dispersal of seeds by a small arboreal marsupial, the monito del monte and how these interactions affect population dynamics and persistence. I read Dunn's book from this perspective, as an ecologist who thinks of the interactions among species. Dunn's book, as the other reviews point out, considers our changing relationships, as humans, with other species. But what I think the other reviews don't touch upon as much is that in part what this book really does is to take what ecologists and evolutionary biologists know about species like monitos del monte, ants, beetles or whatever else, and their interactions, and uses that knowledge to consider humans in a new light. We are, Dunn convinced me, like other species, just more poorly studied and more rapidly changing the ways that we interact with other species. I have thought about human history as one in which humans were wild ecological creatures, influenced by and influencing other species, but I haven't really thought about my own life as much in that light. Dunn makes a convincing argument for the benefits of taking the tools of ecology and evolution and looking at ourselves in more detail. I enjoyed this book greatly and feel tempted now as a professional ecologist, to think about some of things I study in a new light.
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43 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Rebecca Walden on July 1, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I've been reading Rob Dunn's articles, essays, poems and now books, since he held up a sign in an airport saying "Will Count Bugs for Food" at the onset of an early internship so that the doctorate candidate would find him. He's "done" it again with The Wild Life of Our Bodies. Done what? Communicated information he's obviously very passionate and learned about that both educates and entertains. Rob Dunn peppers his prose with humor and "slices of life" uncommon to typical scientific studies. I always get the feeling when reading writings by Rob that he so wants to share the boundless joy his field of study has brought him with the rest of us, infect us with the same enthusiasm. He delights his readers and still makes his points. Most of us can write and talk "peer to peer". It takes a true artist to convey his material in such a way that a "non-scientifically inclined" person such as myself still anxiously turns each page. Rob will no doubt be rewarded with readership beyond his immediate sphere because of his rare talent.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Helen G on July 6, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I have been reading Dr. Dunn's articles and I read his first book. They are all very good, but this is new book is better. It isn't like a normal science book. It is easy to read and exciting. I found myself wanting to skip ahead to see how things turn out. I learned all sorts of things about my life. I learned about my appendix, about the bacteria in my body, about why I get stressed, but I didn't realize I was learning, I just wanted to keep reading. I felt like there were complicated things in the book, but nothing was hard to understand. I don't have a science background but I saw how this book related to my life and it also made me think about the things I do on a daily basis and how often I am affected by other animals and bacteria without knowing it, or I guess whether I know it or not. The book also made me think about the ways that nature seems out of balance and how that balance might be affecting me. It seems silly to say that a book about the people in general made me thing about me, but that is what it did. In general this book was interesting, but it was also exciting and it has me thinking about myself differently.
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