Seeing the subtitle of this book, you might think it’s about the overuse of antibiotics which causes diseases immune to every method we have to treat them, especially the practice of giving antibiotics “just in case” and feeding antibiotics to animals (which actually helps them grow faster). In fact, while he does bring those issues up, Blaser is also concerned about an unforeseen effect of antibiotics: they’re killing “good” bacteria, with which we’ve co-evolved and which provide us with advantages (even if they aren’t always unmitigated advantages).
This is the sort of thing that’s really fascinating to me, even if I’m not sure I’m 100% comfortable with some of the things he refers to as “modern plagues” — especially not autism, because hey, I don’t think my friends with autism are “ill”. I think they just think differently, and society has the problem. In any case, Blaser does have some interesting research backing up his ideas, and the first half of the book does a very good job of explaining how we form our own personal microbiomes — and the catastrophic effects (viewed in the long term, as an average, not necessarily for a single person) of our modern health system, which actually destroys, undermines, or even prevents the formation of our microbiomes. Caesarian sections, for example.
I think Blaser’s theories might feel a little overstretched at times, but I don’t mind going along with the basic principle: we have these bacteria in our bodies for a reason, we tolerate them for a reason. We don’t really know the effects of what we’re losing, and the invisible advantages and protections it might offer. This much is definitely true, and also the fact that we’re overusing antibiotics as a kind of “better safe than sorry” — except it is going to make us very sorry, via antibiotic resistance alone.
I found this an enjoyable and pretty well-supported read, with the caveat of course that I’m only on the first year of my BSc and most of my knowledge comes from pop science and online courses.