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Never Home Alone

Never Home Alone: From Microbes to Millipedes, Camel Crickets, and Honeybees, the Natural History of Where We Live

Rob Dunn
Basic Books
2018
278 pp.
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Although you may encounter reminders of life that flourishes outdoors inside your home—the occasional spider in the bath, the mold that sometimes sprouts on food—by and large, the only living beings you will consciously encounter in this space will be the other people in your life and your pets. After reading this book, you will probably see things quite differently.

Our homes are teeming with life. A microbial analysis of household dust samples from just 40 homes in North Carolina yielded nearly 8000 different microbial taxa, for example. Household microbial communities vary by habitat: As Rob Dunn writes, “…samples from pillowcases and toilet seats are different from each other, but perhaps not as different as you might hope.”

Larger creatures are often hiding in plain sight as well. Dunn describes surveys of the arthropod communities in homes around the world. His own house was home to at least 100 arthropod species—mainly flies and spiders—and worldwide, the numbers of species stretch into the thousands.

Dunn considers how human history (and prehistory) may have shaped the microbial communities that have evolved to share our lives. He delves into research that enumerates the health benefits to humans of closer contact with natural biodiversity and, conversely, the problems that arise through the evolution of pathogens resistant to control measures. Perhaps above all, this book is a vehicle for conveying the story of how science is done—the quirks and collaborations that lead from one discovery to another, and the role of citizen science in advancing knowledge.

About the author

The reviewer is a senior editorial fellow at Science.