Summer Reading Enjoyment

Here are some books for your summer reading enjoyment.  We start with snippets of three Rob Dunn books .  According to his most recent biography,  Rob Dunn is a professor in the department of applied ecology at North Carolina State University and in the Natural History Museum of Denmark at the University of Copenhagen.

This reading list includes all five of his books.  He lives in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Every Living Thing: Man’s Obsessive Quest to Catalog Life, from Nanobacteria to New Monkeys, Smithsonian Books, 2009

The wild leaps up and more often than not we do not even know its name.

I began to see similarities not only among the scientists who made big discoveries, but also in how Western scientists and society responded to those discoveries.  For one, we are, before these discoveries, always more ignorant than we imagine ourselves to be. […] we are repeatedly willing to imagine that we have found most of what is left to discover.  Before microbes were discovered, scientists were confident that insects were the smallest organisms. Before life was discovered at the bottom of the ocean, many scientists were confident nothing lived deeper than three hundred fathoms.  Once we made a tree of life that included four kingdoms (animals, plants, fungi, prokaryotes), we were confident that there would be no more major branches to reveal.

…most species on Earth are not yet named. Most named species have not yet been studied. When we lived in small communities, hunting and gathering, we knew only the animals and plants around us, particularly those that were useful or dangerous.  Living on the thin green surface of our small planet in a universe full of stars, we are not so different today.  The wild leaps up and more often than not we do not even know its name.

The Wild Life of Our Bodies: Predators, Parasites, and Partners That Shape Who We Are Today, Harper Collins, 2011

Let our lives again be where the wild things are.

In the pages that follow, I tell a story of the consequences of our changing relationship with the rest of nature. I begin with our parasites and then discuss, in turn, the species we depend directly on (our mutualists), our predators, and then our diseases.  I conclude by considering the crossroads at which we find ourselves.  We have options. One,  the one we are headed towards, is a world removed from nature (which is itself increasingly impoverished) and we are sicker, less happy, and more anxiety-ridden for it. In this world, we treat our problems with more and more medicines in an attempt to use chemicals to restore what we miss from other species. We live in a bubble from which we look out at the rest of life.  The other options are more radical but no less possible.  Through the stories of a handful of half-wild visionaries, I will consider some of these radical options that include giant living buildings, predators in our cities, and the restoration of parasitic worms to our guts’ wild plants.

In the end, what we need in our daily lives is not quite wilderness.  Wilderness is what did away away with to allow ourselves to live free of malaria, dengue, cholera, and large carnivores eating our loved ones. It is taboo to say that we should manage the nature closest to us for us, but ever since we started to farm or control pests that is what we have always done.  The step we must take now is to manage with more care and nuance.  We can favor good bacteria in our mouths and discourage bad bacteria.  We can introduce harmless nematodes into our bodies to restore our immune system.  We can expose ourselves to species in which we find joy, curiosity, and happiness.  We can even, more creatively, create green cities, cities more revolutionary than just buildings with green rooftops, cities in which entire walls are built out of life. Imagine butterflies emerging from cocoons growing on flowers growing out of high-rise apartment balconies.  Imagine predators diving on prey on street corners — hawks in Manhattan, bears in Fairbanks. Imagine all of them, more of them — and their wild calls, back outside our doors.

Never Home Alone: From Microbes to Millipedes, Camel Crickets and Honeybees, the Natural History of Where You Live,  Basic Books, 2018

When it comes to the species mating, eating, and thriving alongside us, nothing is quite what it seems.

You might in hearing about all this life be inspired to go home and scrub, and then scrub some more.  But here is the other surprise. As my colleagues and I have looked at the life in homes, we have discovered that many of the species in the most diverse homes, the homes fullest of life, are beneficial to us, necessary even.  Some of these species help our immune systems to function.  Others help to control and compete with pathogens and pests. Many are potential sources of new enzymes or drugs. A few can help ferment new kinds of beer and breads.  And thousands carry out ecological processes of value to humanity such as keeping our tap water free of pathogens.  Most of the life in our homes is either benign or good.

Unfortunately just as scientists have begun to discover the goodness, the necessity even, of many of the species in our homes, society at large has stepped up efforts to sterilize our indoors…[W]e not only favor the persistence of these resistant species –we speed their evolution.

Not to mention, the area affected by these changes is immense: the indoors is one of the fastest growing biomes on our planet and it’s now bigger than some outdoor biomes….[T]he floor area indoors in Manhattan is now threefold greater than the dirt area outdoors.

The best we can hope for is to populate the indoors with species that benefit us rather than do us harm. But if we are to do so, we first have to understand the species that have already made it indoors, those two hundred thousand species that we know so little about.

Other books by Rob Dunn:

  • Never Out of Season: How Having the Food We Want When We Want It Threatens Our Food Supply and Our Future.
  • The Man Who Touched His Own Heart: True Tales of Science, Surgery, and Mystery.

Explore the life on Northeast Creek in the James Pullman Photos and the David Carter Photos under EXPLORE.

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