Skip to main content

The Wild Life of our Bodies – Rob Dunn ****

This book is a little more wide-ranging that I first expected. I had thought the book would be purely about the microscopic life inside of us – species of bacteria and such things – with which we form symbiotic relationships, and how it has shaped us as human beings. Whilst much of the book focuses on this, we also look at the general ways in which how we live and respond to stimuli in the modern world still reflects strongly our historic interactions with all of life, especially predators. All kinds of areas of life – from the way we construct buildings and streets – seem to have been influenced to an impressive extent by the interactions we had with other life when in a more pure state of nature.
What it comes down to with this book – and it’s probably one of the best things you can say about a book – is that I learned a lot and had great fun doing so. There are many interesting little nuggets of information that I wasn’t aware of – I had no idea, for instance, that even today most human births take place during the night, with the likely explanation being that this is the time when, in the past, other members of the community would have been around to provide protection if necessary from predators during those first few moments of the child’s life.
Then there are the big, new ideas that perhaps most of us won’t yet have heard of. One of these is the interesting possibility that many diseases we suffer from in modern times are the result of our losing our intestinal worms and internal bacteria. The argument is that our bodies evolved in such a way as to accommodate this life inside of us, and even to benefit from it – so now we’ve removed some of this life, through the overuse of antibiotics and so on, our bodies can’t function as they were supposed to. This is one reason why, the book argues, that we need in some sense to return to nature, and to restore relationships with other organisms that we have lost.
There are fascinating human stories to compliment the science – which, I should say, is always well presented. We meet Crohn’s disease patients, for instance, who, desperate to get better, travel far from home to seek out worms in order to ‘re-wild’ their bodies, often with a lot of success. And when Dunn is retelling the stories of how some of the new ideas in the book were investigated, there’s suspense in the writing as we eagerly wait to discover the results of experiments, and whether evidence for these new ideas comes up.
Add to this that there is humour and a sense of fun in Dunn’s writing – and this is a book well worth reading. If you want to understand how living things inside of us and around us have shaped and continue to shape human beings, I would recommend this.
Also on Kindle:  
Review by Matt Chorley


Popular posts from this blog

The Feed (SF) - Nick Clark Windo ****

Ever since The War of the Worlds, the post-apocalyptic disaster novel has been a firm fixture in the Science Fiction universe. What's more, such books are often among the few SF titles that are shown any interest by the literati, probably because many future disaster novels feature very little science. With a few exceptions, though (I'm thinking, for instance, The Chrysalids) they can make for pretty miserable reading unless you enjoy a diet of page after page of literary agonising.

The Feed is a real mixture. Large chunks of it are exactly that - page after page of self-examining misery with an occasional bit of action thrown in. But, there are parts where the writing really comes alive and shows its quality. This happens when we get the references back to pre-disaster, when we discover the Feed, which takes The Circle's premise to a whole new level with a mega-connected society where all human interaction is through directly-wired connections… until the whole thing fails …

Everything You Know About Space Is Wrong - Matt Brown ****

What we have here is a feast of assertions some people make about space that are satisfyingly incorrect, with pithy, entertaining explanations of what the true picture is. Matt Brown admits in his introduction that a lot of these incorrect facts are nitpicking - more on that in a moment - but it doesn't stop them being delightful. I particularly enjoyed the ones about animals in space and about the Moon.

Along the way, we take in space exploration, the Earth's place in space, the Moon, the solar system, the universe and a collection of random oddities, such as the fact that Mozart didn't write Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. Sometimes the wrongness comes from a frequent misunderstanding. So, for example, Brown corrects the idea that Copernicus was the first to say that the Earth moves around the Sun. Sometimes there's some very careful wording. This is used when Brown challenges the idea that the Russian dog Laika was the first animal in space. What we discover is that, i…

Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs - Lisa Randall ****

I did my PhD in galactic dynamics - which is an awkward subject when people want to know what its relevance to the 'real world' is. So I was excited when Clube and Napier's book The Cosmic Serpent came out, around the same time, because it provided me with a ready-made answer. It argued that the comets which occasionally crash into Earth with disastrous results - such as the extinction of the dinosaurs - are perturbed from their normal orbits by interactions with the large-scale structure of the galaxy.

I was reminded of this idea a few years ago when there was a flurry of media interest in Lisa Randall's "dark matter and the dinosaurs" conjecture. I was sufficiently enthusiastic about it to write an article on the subject for Fortean Times - though my enthusiasm didn't quite extend to purchasing her hardback book at the time. However, now that it's out in paperback I've remedied the situation - and I'm glad I did.

Dark matter is believed to exi…