> Skip to content
Play sample
  • Published: 13 November 2017
  • ISBN: 9781784700171
  • Imprint: Vintage
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 368
  • RRP: $22.99

I Contain Multitudes

The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life

A thrilling, witty, genre-busting book on microbes, one of science’s hottest topics, by a debut writer with a huge following.


Your body is teeming with tens of trillions of microbes. It's an entire world, a colony full of life.

In other words, you contain multitudes.

They sculpt our organs, protect us from diseases, guide our behaviour, and bombard us with their genes. They also hold the key to understanding all life on earth.

In I Contain Multitudes, Ed Yong opens our eyes and invites us to marvel at ourselves and other animals in a new light, less as individuals and more as thriving ecosystems.

You'll never think about your mind, body or preferences in the same way again.

'Super-interesting... He just keeps imparting one surprising, fascinating insight after the next. I Contain Multitudes is science journalism at its best' Bill Gates

  • Published: 13 November 2017
  • ISBN: 9781784700171
  • Imprint: Vintage
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 368
  • RRP: $22.99

About the author

Ed Yong

Ed Yong is an award-winning science writer who reports for The Atlantic. His blog, Not Exactly Rocket Science, is hosted by National Geographic, and his work has also appeared in Wired, the New York Times, Nature, the BBC, New Scientist, Scientific American, the Guardian, The Times and more. He lives in London.

You can find him on twitter @edyong209 and sign up to his weekly newsletter, The Ed's Up, on http://tinyletter.com/edyong209/.

Also by Ed Yong

See all

Praise for I Contain Multitudes

Beyond fascinating. An amazing book. It'll change the way you think about the world. It'll change who you think you are.

Helen Macdonald, author of H is for Hawk

I Contain Multitudes changes you the way all great science writing does. You become disoriented, looking at the world around you in a new way. With vivid tales and graceful explanations, Ed Yong reveals how the living things we see around us are wildly complex collectives.

Carl Zimmer, author of Parasite Rex

Yong has captured the essence of this exciting field, expressing the enthusiasm and wonder that the scientific community feels when working with the microbiome. It is rare that a writer has the capacity to speak to the public and the scientific world with equanimity; Yong has succeeded in delivering a compelling and informative exploration of a vast research field and a fundamental work that can stand as textbook and a rip-roaring read!

Professor Jack Gilbert, University of Chicago

This compelling and beautifully written book will change the way people look at the world around, and within, them. It provides an insight into the latest research in the field, and into the people doing the work, that is unmatched by any other book on the microbiome to date. Certainly among the best books in an increasingly crowded field and written with a true passion for and understanding of the microbiome.

Professor Rob Knight, University of California

Ed Yong has done something beautiful, and unlikely: he’s rendered the unseen world of bacteria thrilling, captivating and highly entertaining. This is a much-needed guide to the hidden kingdom that dominates life on Earth. It cuts through all the buzzwordy hooey and flakey hype of microbiomes with a scientifically steady hand, but told with an infectious sense of awe.

Adam Rutherford, broadcaster and author of Creation

Ed Yong is one of our finest young explainers of science—wicked smart, broadly informed, sly, savvy, so illuminating. And this is an encyclopedia of fascinations—a teeming intellectual ecosystem, a keen book on the intricacies of the microbiome and more.

David Quammen, author of The Song of the Dodo and Spillover

With a simply wonderful book, Ed Yong opens the doorway to a hidden world around and inside us. He's smart, he's witty, and he's at the cutting edge. You could not get a better guide.

Tim Harford, author of The Undercover Economist Strikes Back and Messy

Ed Yong has written a riveting account of the microbes that make the world work. I Contain Multitudes will change the way you look at yourself --- and just about everything else.

Elizabeth Kolbert, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Sixth Extinction

A marvellous book! Ed Yong’s brilliant gift for storytelling and precise writing about science converge in I Contain Multitudes to make the invisible and tiny both visible and mighty. A unique, entertaining, and smart read.

Jeff Vandermeer, author of the Southern Reach Trilogy

This is a book of wonder.


‘I Contain Multitudes is wonderful. Deeply strange, true, funny, beautifully written’

William Gibson

Beautiful, smart, and sometimes shocking


Momentous ... an essential read

Bryan Appleyard, Sunday Times

Yong vividly describes the intricate alliances forged by microbes with every other organism on the planet… The most delightful part of Yong’s book is that he does not just tell the stories of microbiomes, he also introduces readers to dozens of the scientists studying them… Their stories and conversations radiate the excitement of unlocking new secrets.

Susan Perkins, Science


Adrian Woolfson, Nature

I Contain Multitudes has a terrific story to tell … Ed Yong is a talented British science writer … his first book covers a huge amount of microscopic territory in clear, strong, often epigrammatic prose … He is infectiously enthusiastic about microbes and he describes them with verve … Even the book’s endnotes are rich with interesting asides, swarming with interesting sidelights, a teeming microbial world.

Jonathan Weiner, New York Times

[A] densely fascinating and elegant book… Yong’s book is vividly enjoyable.

Daily Telegraph

[A] fascinating and lively study.

Michael Prodger, The Times

[It] bowls along wonderfully... His hero, Sir David [Attenborough], would surely approve.

The Economist

Masterful ... smart, canny, and often quite beautiful ... In the realm of the life sciences there is a noble tradition of popular books that ... have reshaped our view of the world ... In my own reading I think of Schrödinger’s What is Life, Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene and, more recently, Nick Lane’s The Vital Question. Among such company, I Contain Multitudes can hold its head high.


I Contain Multitudes makes the importance of popularising science…sparklingly clear... From his vibrant introduction to his witty endnotes, Yong’s expertise and narration hold no less wonder than a sacred text.

Kate Womersley, Spectator

Yong delves into our deepest, darkest nooks and crannies to shed new light on what it is to be human.

Stuart Blackman, BBC Wildlife

[A] marvellous, thrilling and richly annotated book… I call it marvellous: everything about the microbial world is to be marvelled at. And it is a page-turner in a very old-fashioned sense. All life is here, and death too, and sex and violence, including deviations of which you had never dreamed ... We have an inner life, in every sense, and are the richer for it: richer still for this witty and compelling book.

Tim Radford, Guardian

Offer[s] engrossing—and gross—details about how an invisible world shapes our species…Mr. Yong’s book lives up to its title, containing multitudes of facts presented in graceful, accessible prose….The author wonderfully turns to the humanities again and again to enrich the book’s scientific detail…And he’s funny.

Wall Street Journal

A science journalist’s first book is an excellent, vivid introduction to the all-enveloping realm of our secret sharers.

Editor's Choice, New York Time Book Review

[Yong is] one of our best and brightest popularisers of science. Yong’s boundless curiosity and infectious enthusiasm make him the perfect guide to complex scientific ideas, while the clarity and concision of his writing ensure that the lay reader is not made to fell unduly daunted… Excellent book’

Simon Griffith, Mail on Sunday

[An] utterly absorbing and hugely important book… [Yong] is an extraordinary adept guide. Writing with lightness and panache, he has a knack of explain complex science in terms that are both easy to understand and totally enthralling… I Contain Multitudes is popular science writing at its best. Reading this book will make you view the world differently.

Wendy Moore, Literary Review

A state-of-the art look at what we know about microbes… Yong makes difficult concepts and scientific terms easy to understand – and his excitement at the variety and wonder of nature makes him an enthusiastic and engaging writer’

Kate Whiting, UK Press Syndication

The complex relationships between microbes and their environments are explored with rigour and humour.

Bridie Pritchard, Northern Echo

A whistle-stop tour of the microbial world for the non-expert… Yong has won numerous awards for his science writing…it doesn’t take long to realise why.

Florence Greatix, Chemistry World

[A] magnificent revaluation of bacteriology.

Kate Womersley, Spectator

Ed Yong’s magnificent revaluation of bacteriology, I Contain Multitudes, counsels humility for student doctors like me: modern medicine’s pathogens may be the future’s therapeutics.

Kate Womersley, Spectator

An account that is far, far more entertaining than an exploration of microbes should be.

Tom Whipple, The Times, Book of the Year

I also very much enjoyed and admired I Contain Multitudes.

Bill Bryson, Observer, Book of the Year

A deep and sensible dive in to this complex and fascinating dimension of biology.

Irish Times, Book of the Year

[It] is superbly judged. It brilliantly synthesises the surprising and recently-revealed inter-dependencies of visible and invisible organisms… Look out for it on numerous book prize shortlists in 2017.

Guardian, Book of the Year

Yong will make you think about yourself – and the world around you – in a different way.

Brad Davies

It is a fascinating account of the unseen creatures that live within and all around us. Yong takes us on this journey through the microscope to discover the most recent research from scientists all round the world and tell us of the secrets that are being discovered about microbes… Yong writes with an engaging and eloquent style and makes the science in here really accessible. Well worth reading.

Paul Cheney, Nudge

Super-interesting... He just keeps imparting one surprising, fascinating insight after the next. I Contain Multitudes is science journalism at its best

Bill Gates

Yong’s enthusiasm for bacteria is infectious, as he describes the beauty of luminescent bacteria in the Hawaiian bobtail squid and the benefits of our microscopic neighbours.

Jane Shilling, Daily Mail

A master class in popular scientific education.

Simon Shaw, Mail on Sunday

Yong made me think "wow" over and over again. He tells us that there is a universe of tiny things. We should think about them.

William Leith, Evening Standard