Your Garage Summer Reading Amazon Fashion Learn more Discover it PME Fire TV Stick Subscribe & Save Patriotic Picks Shop-by-Room Amazon Cash Back Offer AllOrNothingS1 AllOrNothingS1 AllOrNothingS1  Amazon Echo  Echo Dot  Amazon Tap  Echo Dot  Amazon Tap  Amazon Echo Introducing new colors All-New Kindle Oasis AutoRip in CDs & Vinyl Segway miniPro

Your rating(Clear)Rate this item


There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.

on June 22, 2011
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. They influence our behavior, our weight, our metabolism and nearly everything else. We are what we eat, but we are also, it appears, what eats us."

(4) "Right now, you are at almost no risk of predation. No tigers lurk in your kitchen or yard. You are at low risk of encountering a parasite. But you are also likely to struggle to see, around you in your life, anything resembling wilderness devoid of the impact of humans. These realities have consequences, more than we have realized. You might call them side effects, except that they seem to be right in front of us, knocking on our door. They are the ghosts of our ecological history. They knock softly but carry the weight of life's billions of years."

(5) "The genetic diversity among African groups is as great as that found in all of the rest of the world combined, a finding that reconciles with what is known about the diversity of cultures. Almost a third of the languages are found in Africa, and, with them, a third of all ways of living. In other words, in the most common telling, we had the tree of life precisely backward. The tree of life itself is rooted in Africa, where most of the branches remain. The rest of humans, from Native Americans to aboriginal Australians to Swedes, descend from just a few branches corresponding to one or two migrations out of Africa."
11 comment|103 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on July 6, 2011
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.
0Comment|53 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on July 1, 2011
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.
0Comment|47 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on July 6, 2011
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.
0Comment|22 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on November 30, 2011
Let me just start off saying that I was skeptical coming into this because of lack of anything but 5 star ratings. I am a paranoid type of person and thought something had to be up with 100% of the ratings being 5 stars, and that, maybe, people associated with the book or writer padded the reviews. I couldn't be more happy about giving it a try anyway.

If this kind of thing interests you (and if you are reading this, I would imagine it does) then you will find this to be one of the most interesting books you could read. It teaches, it opens your mind, it presents you with a way of thinking that you might not otherwise experience.

The major theme of the book seems to be the effect modernization has had on our evolutionary benefits. It's a story of our evolutionary baggage and what we can or should do to turn that baggage back into usefulness. It ranges from large predators to microbial effects on our modern lives and explains how being indiscriminate of our extermination of perceived threats, we may have been doing more harm than good.

If you are worried about this being over your head, don't be. As I'm sure you will be able to gather from reading this review, I am not the smartest person on the planet and yet it was still as enjoyable to read as I could hope for. It really is worthy of 5 stars, and I am not very generous with my 5 star ratings.
0Comment|10 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on March 24, 2016
Dunn’s book addresses a host of intriguing questions such as:

-Why are there diseases that disproportionately attack those in the richest parts of the world while being almost non-existent in poor countries?
-Why is obesity at epidemic proportions among modern humans?
-Why—while people have diverse tastes overall—do there seem to be universal preferences for sweet, salty, and fatty foods?
-Why are so many people’s lives wrecked by constant stress and worry?
-Is the Appendix really a vestigial organ with no apparent purpose?

As the subtitle suggests, this book is about the role that other species have played in human evolution and the way we look, behave, and think today. The message of <i>The Wild Life of Our Bodies</i> is that humanity’s proclivity to see itself as an island--uninfluenced by other species--has its cost.

The book is popular science--approachable to a layman but with the usual disdain for gratuitous assertions and shoddy reasoning that define the scientific though process. That being said, Dunn does put some editorial opinion out there in ways that might appear as fact in a slipshod reading. The most prominent example being Dunn’s suggesting that what best defines humanity is not our intelligence or ability for abstract representation (or even our physical appearance), but that we are the only (first?) species that has killed other species off not purely of self-defense or for food, but to exercise control over our ecosystem. I doubt this would strike a majority of impartial scientists as a fair and unbiased way to define humanity. Granted, this point not what <i>The Wild Life of Our Bodies</i> is about, and whether one thinks this it is fair or not is not critical to whether one will find the book to be of value. However, the idea (and the fact) that humans have zealously killed off other creatures is certainly relevant to the discussion at hand.

If “terraforming” is the term for how an alien race might environmentally engineer Earth to make it suitable for them to live here, perhaps we could call humanity’s assault on other species “bio-forming” of the planet—choosing a roster of species that strikes our fancy. All the time humans were trying to make ourselves more comfortable by getting rid of inconvenient species, we remained ignorant to the downside.

Dunn covers a broad range of mismatches between who we are evolutionarily and how we live in the modern world. “The Wild Life of Our Bodies” suggests that, like the pronghorn antelope, humans are in many cases overdesigned because of the loss of species (parasites, predators, symbiotes, etc.) that helped to make us who we are today. (One question that once puzzled biologists was why pronghorns were so much faster than every species they faced.)

While it sounds good to be overdesigned (at least relative to the alternative), it’s not without cost. In our case, we had guts that were supremely adapted to having parasites, but the lightning fast (on an evolutionary timescale) elimination of those parasites has left us with bodies that attack a non-existent enemy and this has resulted in a number of new diseases. We are used to diseases that succeed in the poorest—and, hence, least hygienic areas-- but disease that mostly attacked in the cleanest places on Earth have puzzled us for some time. Crohn’s disease is a prime example. “Rewilding” (i.e. putting parasites back into) the guts of Crohn’s patients has shown positive results.

Dunn lays out a couple of the theories as to how the loss of our intestinal bacteria may result in a number of first-world ailments. Interestingly, some of these diseases aren’t even digestive in nature, and might seem to have no logical connection to gut bacteria. However, our body’s systems are a system-of-systems—i.e. they are integrally linked. One issue is that some parasites have been able to mask their presence, and our bodies have learned to present a heightened response to account for this veiled threat. Today our systems can’t tell the difference between our squeaky clean guts and a gut full of these sneaking parasites so it drops the immune system version of an A-bomb.

This is one example of why some diseases don’t exist in the third-world where the body knows what parasites it’s up against. One might say, “Yes, but these ailments of over-reactive systems can’t be as bad as the effects of the parasites.” That’s often not true. Most people with internal bugs (we all have them to some degree), don’t even realize it. The fact that people with Crohns’ are willing to have predators implanted in them speaks to this issue.

There has been concern for years about downside of the rampant use of anti-bacterials, antibiotics, and antiseptics, and this is a topic Dunn addresses as well. For example, there seems to be little evidence that such agents in soap do any particular good, but they decidedly do bad (encouraging drug resistant species.)

Perhaps the single greatest change in the nature of homo sapiens life resulted from the agricultural revolution, and Dunn delves into how this seminal event changed our bodies. With paleo-dieting all the rage, it will come as no surprise that there have been some major changes to the human diet since our hunter-gatherer ancestors roamed the Earth. Once again, we have bodies built on an evolutionary timescale, and they don’t necessarily cope well with our new diets.

One problem is that we have strong hardwired drives for foods that were a rarity in our species’ past, but which we now produce in abundance. For example, we eat far too much refined sugar because our bodies are wired to love sweet, but that kind of food was rare to our pre-agricultural ancestors. Hence we have the existence of diabetes, and its greater prevalence where high-sugar diets are common. Many people are also saddled with an evolutionary advantage to store fat because their ancestors come from a clime where food was not abundant year round. The problem is that now there’s a grocery store on every corner and this once great advantage is contributing to burgeoning waistlines.

I gave this book a high rating on the grounds that it presented a lot of food for thought, and that’s what I most value in non-fiction. Some of the theories may turn out to be incorrect, but this book offers one a lot to think about and clear explanations of the bases for what can otherwise seem a little outlandish. There is also some wit in places that contributes to heightened readability.
0Comment|One person found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on November 29, 2011
After hearing an interview with Rob Dunn on NPR I decided I had to read this book. I was not disappointed. As an Evolutionary Biologist this was definitely right up my alley but I do think this book would be enjoyed by anyone who has an interest in the interconnectedness of species. Dunn's writing is superb. It is witty and informative without bogging down in long technical descriptions. He does however provide enough detail to spark a researcher's curiosity to delve into the topic further at a later time. My husband, also a Biologist, was a little disappointed that there were no pictures of Whipworms since he considered invertebrates to be the coolest organisms on the planet! I've always argued that we did not evolve in a bubble and I find it refreshing to read a well thought review of how important co-evolution was in shaping who we are today. I highly reccommend this book and look forward to more from Dr. Dunn.
0Comment|3 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on July 18, 2011
Having read Dunn's first book, "Every Living Thing", I was eager to dive into his second. I was not let down!! This is a fantastic read. Dunn has done a remarkable job weaving the story of who we are as a species, whence we came, and the remarkable relationships we have with other species - big (predators) and small (parasites). As a professor of ecology, evolution, and biological anthropology I am a critical reader of literary forays into the biology and evolution of our species. There are many attempts, but only a few emerge as ones that are as well thought out and delightfully unfolded as what Dunn has accomplished. This is not a dry recitation of fact after fact. In addition to being a trained biologist (and professor of ecology), Dunn is truly a gifted writer - witty, relevant, irreverent, insightful, and...informed! If you have the time or proclivity to read only one book this year - this is the one!!
0Comment|10 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on April 8, 2016
This book examines what are lives are like without the various species we evolved with. In a lot of cases we face issues we never had to face with them. There are plenty of things to think about when reading this book.

After an introduction in part one, part two explores why we might be afflicted with Crohn's Disease and other auto-immune diseases in the developed world, but not in other parts of the world. The answer very well might be that we in the modern world with its cleanliness and health care are missing the worms that infect the rest less fortunate part of the world. Less fortunate in the sense that they live without what we have come to rely on and aspect. If we factor in their lack of Crohn's Disease and its like, the matter might not seem so clear. One scientist wondered about our lack of worms, and if it could be responsible for these diseases. In an actual clinical trial Crohn's patient were given a benign species of hookworms, and most of those given the worms either improved or went in to remission. The reason that auto-immune diseases are prevalent might be that without the worms in our bodies for the immune system to fight it attacks our own bodies. Of course, there is a lot more research needed to provide that direct link. It's possible that there could be alternative explanations, or it might be only a part of the explanation.

The next part covers the trillions of bacterica that live in and on us. Research has shown that a lot of the bacteria in our guts are beneficial. These bacteria help us digest fiber and play a role in our immune system. Other research has shown a correlation between low fiber diets and colon cancer. The appendix is discussed as being a beneficial organ, long thought to be a relic and useless. Studies have shown that a particular antibody we have actually benefits good bacteria in our appendix. In the developing world where the incidence of appendicitis is rare the appendix replenishes their guts with the good bacteria that live in the appendix after a bout with common diarrheal diseases. Without the need to repopulate our guts in the developed world the appendix can become blotted and rupture, sending the bacteria into the body cavity where it can have deadly consequences. Again more research is needed to improve our understanding of our interaction with the bacteria that could be considered a part of us.

Part four covers how domestication of plants and animals have changed us. For me there was not much of interest in this part, except for lactose intolerence was reverse in cultures that domesticated cows and other milk producing species.

The subject of part five is the relationship we had and now have with predators. There is a theory that poisonous snakes are responsible for our excellent color vision. In other primates, the better the vision, the more poisonous snakes were in the environment. There are other explanations for color vision, such as the ability to spot nutritious fruits. The modern plague of anxiety disorders may involve a misdirection of fear from predators we used to come across with some frequency.

In part six the creatures that live on or did live on us are discussed. There is a theory that our hairlessness, which evolved in relation to lice, ticks, and other bugs that dine on our blood, has led to xenophobia. This theory could be a stretch, but is plausaible. Our hairlessness has also led to our being prone to skin cancers.

The final part is on how we could make are city environments more like those we evolved in. Massive rooftop gardens and whole vacant buildings acting as natural cliff environments, which are thought to be part of our evolutionary environment. This section I view as pie in the sky type thinking. Although I believe we need people to dream big, because good things have often come with those dreams and people.

The book as a whole is pretty good. It was for the most part interesting throughout. I like the fact that the author presents experiments that support the various theories proposed in the book. The author also did not actually do any of the experiments or propose any of the theories explained in the book. But, like a good scientist he assesses the different theories and their weaknesses, which all of them basically had.

I would recommend the book for those interest in our evolution with other species in our environments, and what might be the result of not having them in our environment anymore. Like I said the author is careful in presenting the facts, based on experiments, and the proposed theories. This should be appreciated by readers who value honesty by an author in presenting hers or his ideas. I think it is incumbent upon an author to present known and possible problems with his or hers ideas being presented.
0Comment|Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
TOP 500 REVIEWERon December 19, 2015
I've read a great deal about the recent interest in probiotics, and struggled with some of the issues.

“The Wild Life of Our Bodies: Predators, Parasites, and Partners That Shape Who We Are Today” by Rob Dunn is one of the best basic books on the area, one recommended by the American Museum of Natural History in conjunction with its marvelous exhibit “The Secret World Inside You.”

Dunn makes five major points; my comments are not meant to denigrate Dunn’s fine book but only demonstrate how quickly our learning in the area is growing:

(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." [The AMNH exhibit greatly increases these numbers; they claim there are more microorganism in and on a single human being than there are stars in the entire universe.]

(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." [One major finding: some of the dangerous pathogens, we are learning, also can have beneficial effects.]

(3) "The wild workings of our bodies influence who we are. They influence our behavior, our weight, our metabolism and nearly everything else. We are what we eat, but we are also, it appears, what eats us." [One important reason: microorganisms have three basic attributes: they can pick up genes from other species; they multiply very quickly, perhaps three times in an hour, and consequently a helpful attribute for their own survival can quickly multiply in the organism they inhabit.

(4) "Right now, you are at almost no risk of predation. No tigers lurk in your kitchen or yard. You are at low risk of encountering a parasite. But you are also likely to struggle to see, around you in your life, anything resembling wilderness devoid of the impact of humans. These realities have consequences, more than we have realized. You might call them side effects, except that they seem to be right in front of us, knocking on our door. They are the ghosts of our ecological history. They knock softly but carry the weight of life's billions of years." [And billions of individual microorganisms; one bit of learing: for a healthy biome feed your microorganism – primarily fiber in vegetables legumes.]

(5) "The genetic diversity among African groups is as great as that found in all of the rest of the world combined, a finding that reconciles with what is known about the diversity of cultures. Almost a third of the languages are found in Africa, and, with them, a third of all ways of living. In other words, in the most common telling, we had the tree of life precisely backward. The tree of life itself is rooted in Africa, where most of the branches remain. The rest of humans, from Native Americans to aboriginal Australians to Swedes, descend from just a few branches corresponding to one or two migrations out of Africa."
Overall, I found Dunn‘s book a very useful starting place to explore this rapidly developing area of scientific research. And, of course, I am very interested in learning how this new area of science might help me live a healthier life.

Although the jury is still out, I've concluded that probiotics purchased in drugstores probably are not going to make me healthier. This conclusion was reinforced by studying the wonderful exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History in NYC called "The Secret World Inside You." It is exceptionally useful, filled with facts and data and explained beautifully in the seven main sections and in a number of very informative videos.

Three main points have troubled me:

a. Most of these supplements contain only six or eight strains of bacteria, but AMNH makes it clear that there are well over a thousand in the small intestines of a healthy person. What evidence is there that the eight strains in this supplement are particularly helpful?

b. The micro-organisms have to pass through the stomach which is an incredibly hostile environment for living organisms like bacteria or fungus.

c. There are "only" 35 Billion organisms in a typical supplement; AMNH indicates that there are trillions of micro-organisms in each of us, more organisms than all of the stars in the universe in one single person. How can a few billion have any effect?

So, my working conclusion is that taking these supplements can't really do any harm to anything but your pocketbook. Your stomach will do most of them in before they arrive where they will do you any good. Once there, they are like tourists, visiting, but unlikely to be able to thrive against the vast number of organisms already thriving there.

What is much more important, based on my reading, is the prebiotics that we eat, the foods that will help our billions of organisms thrive. These are basically vegetable products, especially those with lots of fiber like beans, green vegetables, fruits, and perhaps a bit of fish once in a while.

Make up your own mind, but for me, I'll keep feeding my own microorganisms and trying to keep them healthy. In the meantime, continue to read new books as they continue to inform us of something old – and very new – under the sun.

Robert C. Ross
December 2015

Addendum: If you are interested in reading more about this subject, here are the books the AMNH especially recommends to learn more about this rapidly emerging science.

Welcome to the Microbiome: Getting to Know the Trillions of Bacteria and Other Microbes In, On, and Around You by Rob DeSalle.

Life's Engines: How Microbes Made Earth Habitable (Science Essentials) by Paul G. Falkowski.

March of the Microbes: Sighting the Unseen Reprint Edition by Ingraham, John L. published by Belknap Press (2012)

The Wild Life of Our Bodies: Predators, Parasites, and Partners That Shape Who We Are Today by Rob Dunn.

Missing Microbes: How the Overuse of Antibiotics Is Fueling Our Modern Plagues by Martin J. Blaser.

The Good Gut: Taking Control of Your Weight, Your Mood, and Your Long-term Health by Justin Sonnenburg.

The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health, and Disease by Daniel Lieberman.

10% Human: How Your Body's Microbes Hold the Key to Health and Happiness by Alanna Collen.
0Comment|Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse