Jul 3, 2016

The Hidden Half of Nature

Microbial Roots of Life and Health
by David R. Montgomery and Anne Biklé

The smallest living things on our planet can have the greatest impact on all those life forms we do see. This book is about microbes, what they do and how to cultivate them. In the soil, and in us. The first half is about soil microbes, how they interact with and benefit plants. How industrial agriculture decimates them. How that affects our health in turn, because the plants we eat have less micronutrients than they used to. The authors became interested in soil life when starting a new garden on barren property. Biklé started piling organic materials onto the soil, mulching with wood chips and whatever else she could find, and the results were stunning. The more she fed the soil, the healthier the plants got. The second half of the book discusses the microbes that live in our gut. Interest in this was triggered when Biklé herself was diagnosed with cancer and became concerned with how diet affected the climate of microbes inside her digestive system, which in turn can have serious implications on overall health. I'm amazed at the amount of details in this book, at connections between things I never realized influence each other. It's dense with information, but presented in a fashion that's easy enough for a casual reader like myself to understand (although it does merit a second or third read: I'm definitely shelving this one to keep).

The range of subjects discussed include how microbes evolved (I had never heard of the archaea before and they are one of the major groups), the development of vaccines (stories and connections I'd never heard of before here, too, although I recognized a lot from reading of Jonas Salk), how germ theory isn't quite what we imagined (or at least the basics I recall learning in highschool), how the populations of microbes in the soil and in our gut work with each other, agricultural practices from the past and how trends are (hopefully) changing, how what we eat changes the microbiome within us, how to encourage a good balance of them, etc.

There's no way I can explain this book in depth: you just have to read it! I found it very eye-opening, and incredibly encouraging too. It backs up and explains a lot of the things I've been trying to accomplish in my garden in my own small way, and spurs me with desire to change my eating habits for the better.

I'm really glad my father gave me a copy of this book.

Rating: 5/5        309 pages, 2016

1 comment:

Jenny @ Reading the End said...

Five stars, damn! Okay! I can take a recommendation! I am always looking for good science books -- both readable and able to communicate with me at my extremely basic science level. :p Adding to the list!