The Wild Life of Our Bodies
Predators, Parasites, and Partners That Shape Who We Are Today
By Rob Dunn
(Harper, Hardcover, 9780061806483, 304pp.)
Publication Date: July 2011
A biologist shows the influence of wild species on our well-being and the world and how nature still clings to usand 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 lifeparasites, bacteria, mutualists, and predatorsto 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.
Rob Dunn is a professor in the Department of Biology at North Carolina State University. A rising star in popular-science journalism, he has written more than eighty magazine articles for National Geographic, Natural History, Scientific American, BBC Wildlife, and Seed. His most recent book is Every Living Thing. He lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, with his two children; his wife, Monica; and many thousands of species of wild life.
“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.”
“Grabbing the reader from the start . . . author 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.”