The Hidden Half of Nature: The Microbial Roots of Life and Health (Hardcover)
A riveting exploration of how microbes are transforming the way we see nature and ourselves—and could revolutionize agriculture and medicine.
Prepare to set aside what you think you know about yourself and microbes. Good health—for people and for plants—depends on Earth’s smallest creatures. The Hidden Half of Nature tells the story of our tangled relationship with microbes and their potential to revolutionize agriculture and medicine, from garden to gut.
When David R. Montgomery and Anne Biklé decide to restore life into their barren yard by creating a garden, dead dirt threatens their dream. As a cure, they feed their soil a steady diet of organic matter. The results impress them. In short order, the much-maligned microbes transform their bleak yard into a flourishing Eden. Beneath their feet, beneficial microbes and plant roots continuously exchange a vast array of essential compounds. The authors soon learn that this miniaturized commerce is central to botanical life’s master strategy for defense and health.
They are abruptly plunged further into investigating microbes when Biklé is diagnosed with cancer. Here, they discover an unsettling truth. An armada of bacteria (our microbiome) sails the seas of our gut, enabling our immune system to sort microbial friends from foes. But when our gut microbiome goes awry, our health can go with it. The authors also discover startling insights into the similarities between plant roots and the human gut. We are not what we eat. We are all—for better or worse—the product of what our microbes eat.
This leads to a radical reconceptualization of our relationship to the natural world: by cultivating beneficial microbes, we can rebuild soil fertility and help turn back the modern plague of chronic diseases. The Hidden Half of Nature reveals how to transform agriculture and medicine—by merging the mind of an ecologist with the care of a gardener and the skill of a doctor.
About the Author
David R. Montgomery is a Professor of Earth and Space Sciences at the University of Washington. He studies the evolution of topography and the influence of geomorphological processes on ecological systems and human societies. He received his B.S. in geology at Stanford University (1984) and his Ph.D. in geomorphology from UC Berkeley (1991). Current research includes field projects in the Philippines, eastern Tibet, and the Pacific Northwest of North America. In 2008 Montgomery received a MacArthur Fellowship. His books, Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations, King of Fish, and The Rocks Don’t Lie have all won the Washington State Book Award in General Nonfiction. Montgomery’s Growing a Revolution: Bringing Our Soil Back to Life, was a finalist for the PEN/E.O. Wilson award for Literary Science Writing. His latest work with W. W. Norton, What Your Food Ate: How to Heal Our Land and Reclaim our Health, published in 2022.
Anne Biklé is a biologist and environmental planner. Her career spans the fields of environmental stewardship, habitat restoration, and public health. The Hidden Half of Nature is her first book.
A must-read for avid gardeners, those interested in bolstering our precarious food supply, or anyone remotely concerned about their health and the soil under their feet.
— Kirkus Reviews
The Hidden Half of Nature offers a wonderfully fresh and exquisitely informed approach that could change how we relate to ourselves, our diets, our gardens and our world.
— Tim McNulty - Seattle Times
[A] transformative read.
— Tom Philpott - Mother Jones
Montgomery and Biklé argue that when we farm and when we eat, we’re feeding a diverse community of microorganisms. This book is sure to become a game-changing guide to the future of good food and healthy landscapes.
— Dan Barber, chef and author of The Third Plate
Amazingly detailed and well-researched. … [The Hidden Half of Nature] lays out the beautiful connection between the microbial garden in our bodies and the microbial garden in the Earth.
— Sally Peterson - Oregon Live
The Hidden Half of Nature draws a straight line from the microbes that live in healthy soil to those that live in healthy guts, skillfully blending the personal and the scientific. This is a must-read for anyone concerned with their own health.
— Amy Stewart, author of The Drunken Botanist
One of the year’s best books on gardens and health.
— Jim McCausland - Sunset Magazine
The Hidden Half of Nature reads like a fast-paced novel but tells the true story of the workings of soils, and even our own bodies.
— Neil Shubin, author of The Universe Within