I Contain Multitudes

I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life
by Ed Yong

QR 171 .A1 Y66 2016

“For most of human existence, microbes were hidden, visible only through the illnesses they caused. When they finally surfaced in biological studies, they were cast as rogues. Only recently have they immigrated from the neglected fringes of biology to its center. Even today, many people think of microbes as germs to be eradicated, but those that live with us – the microbiome – are invaluable parts of our lives.

I Contain Multitudes lets us peer into that world for the first time, allowing us to see how ubiquitous and vital microbes are: they sculpt our organs, defend us from disease, break down our food, educate our immune systems, guide our behavior, bombard our genomes with their genes, and grant us incredible abilities. While much of the prevailing discussion around the microbiome has focused on its implications for human health, Yong broadens this focus to the entire animal kingdom, giving us a grander view of life.

With humor and erudition, Ed Yong prompts us to look at ourselves and our fellow animals in a new light: less as individuals and more as the interconnected, interdependent multitudes we assuredly are. When we look at the animal kingdom through a microbial lens, even the most familiar parts of our lives take on a striking new air. We learn the secret, invisible, and wondrous biology behind the corals that construct mighty reefs, the glowing squid that can help us understand the bacteria in our own guts, the beetles that bring down forests, the disease-fighting mosquitoes engineered in Australia, and the ingredients in breast milk that evolved to nourish a baby’s first microbes. We see how humans are disrupting these partnerships and how scientists are now manipulating them to our advantage. We see, as William Blake wrote, the world in a grain of sand.

I Contain Multitudes is the story of these extraordinary partnerships, between the familiar creatures of our world and those we never knew existed. It will change both our view of nature and our sense of where we belong in it.”
– publisher description

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On a Farther Shore: The Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson

On a Farther ShoreOn a Farther Shore: The Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson by William Souder

QH 31 .C33 S68 2012

“She loved the ocean and wrote three books about its mysteries, including the international bestseller The Sea Around Us. But it was with her fourth book, Silent Spring, that this unassuming biologist transformed our relationship with the natural world.

Rachel Carson began work on Silent Spring in the late 1950s, when a dizzying array of synthetic pesticides had come into use. Leading this chemical onslaught was the insecticide DDT, whose inventor had won a Nobel Prize for its discovery. Effective against crop pests as well as insects that transmitted human diseases such as typhus and malaria, DDT had at first appeared safe. But as its use expanded, alarming reports surfaced of collateral damage to fish, birds, and other wildlife. Silent Spring was a chilling indictment of DDT and its effects, which were lasting, widespread, and lethal.

Published in 1962, Silent Spring shocked the public and forced the government to take action – despite a withering attack on Carson from the chemicals industry. The book awakened the world to the heedless contamination of the environment and eventually led to the establishment of the EPA and to the banning of DDT and a host of related pesticides. By drawing frightening parallels between dangerous chemicals and the then-pervasive fallout from nuclear testing, Carson opened a fault line between the gentle ideal of conservation and the more urgent, new concept of environmentalism.

Elegantly written and meticulously researched, On a Farther Shore reveals a shy yet passionate woman more at home in the natural world than in the literary one that embraced her. William Souder also writes sensitively of Carson’s romantic friendship with Dorothy Freeman, and of Carson’s death from cancer in 1964. This extraordinary new biography captures the essence of one of the great reformers of the twentieth century.”
– publisher description

Nature Wars

Jim SterbaNature Wars: The Incredible Story of How Wildlife Comebacks Turned Backyards into Battlegrounds
by Jim Sterba

GF 503 .S74 2012

“This may be hard to believe, but it is very likely that more people live in closer proximity to wild animals, birds, and trees in the eastern United States today than anywhere on the planet at any time in history. For nature lovers, this should be wonderful news. Unless, perhaps, you are one of more than four thousand drivers who will hit a deer today, or your child’s soccer field is carpeted with goose droppings, or coyotes are killing your pets, or the neighbor’s cat has turned your bird feeder into a fast-food outlet, or wild turkeys have eaten your newly planted seed corn, or beavers have flooded your driveway, or bears are looting your garbage cans.

For four hundred years, explorers, traders, and settlers plundered North American wildlife and forests in an escalating rampage that culminated in the late nineteenth century’s “era of extermination.” By 1900, populations of many wild animals and birds had been reduced to isolated remnants or threatened with extinction, and worry mounted that we were running out of trees. Then, in the twentieth century, an incredible turnaround took place. Conservationists outlawed commercial hunting, created wildlife sanctuaries, transplanted isolated species to restored habitats, and imposed regulations on hunters and trappers. Over decades, these efforts slowly nursed many wild populations back to health.

But after the Second World War, something happened that conservationists hadn’t foreseen: sprawl. People moved first into suburbs on urban edges, and then kept moving out across a landscape once occupied by family farms. By 2000, a majority of Americans lived neither in city nor in country but in that vast in-between. Much of the sprawl has plenty of trees, and its human residents offer better amenities than many creatures can find in the wild: plenty of food, water, hiding places, and protection from predators with guns. The result is a mix of people and wildlife that should be an animal lover’s dream come true but often turns into a sprawl dweller’s nightmare.

Nature Wars offers an eye-opening look at how Americans lost touch with the natural landscape, spending 90 percent of their time indoors, where nature arrives via television and films in which wild creatures often behave like people or cuddly pets. Yet our well-meaning efforts to protect animals allowed wild populations to burgeon out of control, causing damage costing billions, degrading ecosystems, and touching off disputes that polarized communities, setting neighbor against neighbor.

Deeply researched, eloquently written, counter-intuitive, and often humorous, Nature Wars will be the definitive book on how we created this unintended mess.” – publisher description