The Wild Life of Our Bodies by Rob Dunn

Heldig will steal anyone's body heat...if they'll hold still for it.

Heldig will steal anyone’s body heat…if they’ll hold still for it.

Why I Read It: To feed my brain, and because the cover is very cool.

Where I Got It: The Library.

Who I Recommend This To: Anyone interested in human parasites and their relationship to the immune system would enjoy this book.

Publisher: Harper Collins (2011)

Length: 290 pages

This book was incredibly fun nonfiction to read. The subtitle to the book pretty much sums it up: Predators, Parasites, and Partners That Shape Who We Are Today. In some ways, this book explores a healthnut’s worst taboos, like inoculating yourself on purpose with parasitic intestinal worms. How about trying to grow living mammals in a metal box to be completely free of other organisms? The mystery of the human appendix has been all but solved; it’s there to bolster your flora and fauna in the eventuality that most of the small organisms in your digestive track get wiped out, like by dysentery or heavy antibiotic use.

While of great interest to anyone with a bioscience bend, you don’t have to be scientifically minded to enjoy this book. Indeed, the concepts contained in this work are laid out for everyone to enjoy and access. In fact, Rob Dunn often waxes nearly poetic in his passion to imbue this book, and his readers, with knowledge. There are also many footnotes containing esoteric, yet highly amusing, information. For centuries, humans have tried to live apart from the world, cleaning, dousing, shaving, medicating away any other living organism on or near our pristine bodies. But perhaps that has not been the wisest course; after all, the human body, and it’s immune system, evolved over millennium to coexist with these little, microscopic organisms. In this book, this taboo subject is covered.

Here are some tidbits I learned from this book: Depending on your gut fauna, you may be able to extract up to 30% more calories from the exact same portioned food than your neighbor, who has a different set of gut fauna. You have taste buds not only in your mouth, but also in your gut, potentially adding to your cravings for sweet and salty. Most large predators who hunt and eat humans are diseased, old, or damaged in a way that they cannot hunt their regular, harder-to-catch prey. Scorpionflies are so named because the male genitals are rather large for a fly and resemble a scorpion’s sting.

OK, you get the gist of how fun a read this book was. If you need to pick out a nonfiction as some reading assignment, you won’t lack for entertainment if you pick this one up.

readandreviewbuttonWhat I Liked: So much info told in such a fun way; yes, I read the footnotes, and I loved them; the cover is very cool; there are pronghorns in this book; the concept that living in harmony with nature also means being at peace with our internal fauna; the final chapter covers the possibility of greening up large cities with whole buildings that grow plants for food, air pollution control, and beauty.

What I Disliked: Occasionally, the author was a little over dramatic in telling an educational tale.

I’m including this in this week’s Read & Review Hop hosted by Anya over at On Starships and Dragonwings. Make sure to stop by her place to catch other book reviews.

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12 thoughts on “The Wild Life of Our Bodies by Rob Dunn

  1. TBM says:

    We like to watch a TV show called predators inside us or something like that. It freaks me out each time. This guy had a parasite in his eye and they had to kill it with a laser and you could see it wiggling. Then they left it there. Gives me the creeps. I bet I would enjoy this book.

    • nrlymrtl says:

      The body would most likely reabsorb the dead parasite, which would be saver and quicker healing than cutting into the eye to remove the carcass. Ah, the biologist in me lacks tact, doesn’t it?

      • TBM says:

        Reabsorb it–how? Break it down and eject it?

        • nrlymrtl says:

          You’re body does this all the time. In general, the body goes to work digesting the foreign material in situ. Sometimes this will form an abscess that will have to opened and cleaned, but usually what is usable to the body is incorporated and what is waste is broken down enough to enter the blood stream and it is then filtered and ejected from the body in the normal manner. Have you ever had a splinter you had to leave in place? Same thing.

          • TBM says:

            The body never ceases to amaze me. It can do so many amazing things to cope.

            • lynnsbooks says:

              I think all these comments are making me feel queasy!! Going to file this under ‘need to know basis’ or ‘too much information’. Particularly after all this talk of parasites in the eye and taste buds in the gut – yak! Only kidding, I’m not quite that girly but I’m not sure this is one for me. Interesting review though and high five for you with your diverse reading!
              Lynn :D

              • nrlymrtl says:

                hehe… I kind of need to torture you now with what I learned about body lice. Crabs, the STD, are also human body lice. But lice are limited to different regions depending on what size hair they can attach to. For instance, crabs can attach to pubic hair (generally a larger diameter hair) rather than head hair (smaller diameter). However, for most humans the eye lashes are large enough diameter to accommodate crabs. Just something to think about.

  2. Chinoiseries says:

    Gosh, I’m not sure I would pick this book off the shelf without any reviews to support it. But why ever not? It sounds very interesting! And educational as well: great bit about the formerly considered useless organ called the appendix!

  3. Anya says:

    Yes! I so approve and knew we were friends for a reason ;-) Have you read Parasite Rex?? Also a wonderful book about the awesomeness of parasites :D One of the guys in my lab is a parasite nerd and I borrowed it from my prof on his recommendation, super fun, but also a little scary ;-).

    I loved the note about the appendix! There is a disease that occurs only after massive antibiotic use caused by a bacteria that can’t outcompete one of the natural bacteria of our gut, so it only shows up after our gut bacteria have been wiped out by antibiotics. Once the disease occurs, it’s likely to reoccur, and then more and more likely to reoccur after that and it can get really dangerous. However, people with their appendices are less likely to get it in the first place because (you guessed it!) they can save some of their fauna for recolonization :D They also have some really… interesting treatments for restoring the proper bacteria, but I won’t go into them ;-)

    • nrlymrtl says:

      I know exactly what you are talking about with that ‘interesting treatments for restoring the proper bacteria’. Can you imagine bringing it up over tea with family and friends that you need a certain…uh, donation…in order to restore your gut fauna? Hehe! I love biologists. Parasite Rex is going on my Read Sooner TBR pile. thanks for the recommendation.

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