The subtitle of the above book is Predators, Parasites and Partners That Shape Who We are Today and it proved irresistible to me. The author is a professor in the biology department of North Carolina State University and has written extensively for magazines like National Geographic, Scientific American, Natural History, BBC Wildlife and Seed.
The theme of the book is how we evolved in a world of parasites and predators that we have mostly eliminated in our environment, but our bodies are still ticking along with the internal systems we evolved to deal with them. We have gotten rid of the “wild” in our environment, but not the need for it in our bodies. For instance, internal parasites seem to help keep diseases like Crohn’s at bay. Parasites evolved to provide benefits for the immune system of their host in order to ensure their own survival.
But we have a tendency to kill wild life, not just the predators on the open plains, but those in and on our bodies. Antibiotics have done great things, but the use of them for every sniffle have often killed useful, good bacteria and microbes and caused the disease-resistant microbes to flourish.
A new study of the appendix shows that that it harbors good bacteria, so the intestine can be repopulated after a pathogen kills the good bacteria. Other stories; how cows and grass domesticated humans, how our fear response developed by being hunted by the big predators, how our vision developed in order to see snakes, why we are the only relatively hairless mammal, other than the mole rat, are highly engaging.
The last chapter deals with hopeful experiments in rewilding our cities. Rooftops are being greened in many cities and vertical farms have been built in Newark and Italy. These fit the author’s thesis “that our bodies and lives only make sense in the context of other species….Our lives … are still and will always be where the wild things are.”
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. You might, as well.