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Good Reads  Natural History  General Natural History

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

Popular Science
By: Rob Dunn(Author)
323 pages, 23 b/w photos and b/w illustrations
Publisher: Basic Books
Written with flair and humour, Never Home Alone is an absolutely fascinating book that reveals the unseen and mostly harmless world living right under our noses.
Never Home Alone
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  • Never Home Alone ISBN: 9781541647206 Paperback Apr 2020 Not in stock: Usually dispatched within 5 days
  • Never Home Alone ISBN: 9781541645769 Hardback Mar 2019 Not in stock: Usually dispatched within 5 days
Selected version: £22.99
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About this book

Even when the floors are sparkling clean and the house seems silent, our domestic domain is wild beyond imagination. In Never Home Alone, biologist Rob Dunn introduces us to the nearly 200,000 species living with us in our own homes, from the Egyptian meal moths in our cupboards and camel crickets in our basements to the lactobacillus lounging on our kitchen counters. He draws on findings from his own research in the US and several European countries, and research efforts from other scientists around the world. You are not alone. Yet, as we obsess over sterilizing our homes and separating our spaces from nature, we are unwittingly cultivating an entirely new playground for evolution. These changes are reshaping the organisms that live with us – prompting some to become more dangerous, while undermining those species that benefit our bodies or help us keep more threatening organisms at bay. No one who reads this engrossing, revelatory book will look at their homes in the same way again.

Customer Reviews (1)

  • The perfect antidote for your microbial anxieties
    By Leon (NHBS Catalogue Editor) 28 Jan 2019 Written for Hardback

    The term “wildlife” tends to evoke images of apex predators, cuddly creatures, or flagship species – usually vertebrate, usually mammalian – living outdoors in the wilderness of jungles, plains, or oceans. But what about closer to home? What about in your home? Ecologist Rob Dunn has written a delightful book showing that we live amidst a veritable zoo.

    As I mentioned in my review of Planet of Microbes, microbes are literally everywhere. The bacteria and parasites that live on and inside of us have received plenty of attention, especially the ones that cause infection and disease. Dunn himself previously wrote The Wild Life of Our Bodies Today, but see also Tapeworms, Lice, and Prions and People, Parasites, & Plowshares for entertaining introductions.

    But what lives on our bodies also lives around us, feeding on trails of flaking skin, loose hairs and fingerprints. Urban areas, and with it indoor spaces, have become an enormous habitat on our planet. Bar some species that cause us grief (see for example Infested), they are also grossly understudied.

    Dunn has spent the last few decades running a rather unorthodox research programme, studying everything from the dust on doorsills, the gunk inside shower heads, the insects and other arthropods crawling around houses, the parasites dragged in by our pets, and the microbes in our food. The fact that such research would be considered unusual reveals much about the tunnel vision of most biologists – and funding agencies – by overlooking the mundane wonders right under our noses.

    With much flair and a sense of humour Dunn here reveals worlds unseen. For example, a survey of forty houses documented eight thousand (!) species of bacteria. Shower heads and boilers are home to heat-loving microbes that rain down on us every time we shower. Even our water, whether bottled spring water or tap water, contains many microbes and tiny crustaceans we gulp down daily. And the unique flavour of hand-made bread is as much to do with the recipe as the microbes living on the hand of the baker. Most visible of all are the insects crawling around the nooks and crannies of our houses, although Dunn’s research on the unnoticed invasion of camel crickets across the US goes to show we rarely pay attention. And here’s the rub: we need this zoo.

    Ever since the acceptance of germ theory, we have focused on the harmful microbes. And throughout, Dunn emphasizes the good this has brought and the diseases (such as cholera) it has eradicated. Needless to say, though he stresses it anyway, basic hygiene, sanitation, and vaccines are important. But the idea that a little dirt is good for you is more than just a folk tale.

    The problem is that our attitudes have shifted all the way to the other extreme. The notion of microbial biofilms showering down on your naked skin, and up your nose and mouth, will gross out most people. It shouldn’t. The vast majority of our domestic denizens are harmless and often even benevolent. By constantly cleaning and disinfecting our homes and ourselves, by hermetically sealing our houses from the outside world, we have created micro-environments poor in biodiversity. One of the topics Dunn explores throughout are the many studies that point to the subsequent rise in allergies, asthma, and auto-immune diseases that now plague developed societies.

    And it gets worse. We may disinfect our houses, but we cannot sterilize them. The problem is that after we have killed the 99.9% of bacteria that our bottle of Dettol promised us, the remainder have little competition and will thrive on the dirt and crumbs we inevitably leave behind. So, rather than a biodiverse ecosystem where the different members keep each other in check, we create the perfect conditions for one or a few species of microbes or moulds to run rampant.

    As with the overuse of antibiotics, we risk encouraging resistance in bacterial strains and insects, some of which make us ill. Despite the inventor of penicillin warning mankind at the time, we have gone down the path of chemical warfare anyway. And it is a battle we are losing, to the point that hospitals have become dangerous places harbouring antibiotic-resistant bacteria (see also my review of Superbugs). These findings are some of the most powerful and relevant examples of evolution in action.

    Dunn careens through this story with infectious enthusiasm. Never Home Alone is a lively portrait of science at work, of the many collaborations involved, the hard and sometimes mind-numbingly repetitive work it requires, and the wonders of discovery. A red thread running through this book is how little we still know, how many questions we still have. And Dunn also convinces the reader this is not mere academic curiosity. There are many applications – industrial, pharmaceutical, or otherwise – just waiting to be discovered.

    Without veering into the questionable territory oaf hokey health claims or New Age gobbledygook, what Dunn advocates is common sense. Wash your hands, but also go outside and get them dirty. What is really needed, first and foremost, is a shift in our attitudes. Rather than disgust, we need to foster an appreciation of the tiny lifeforms that share our homes and bodies, and an understanding that our health depends on them. Few are better positioned than Dunn to convincingly make that case, and Never Home Alone is the perfect antidote to your microbial anxieties.
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Rob Dunn is a professor in the Department of Applied Ecology at North Carolina State University and in the Natural History Museum of Denmark at the University of Copenhagen. He is also the author of five books. He lives in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Popular Science
By: Rob Dunn(Author)
323 pages, 23 b/w photos and b/w illustrations
Publisher: Basic Books
Written with flair and humour, Never Home Alone is an absolutely fascinating book that reveals the unseen and mostly harmless world living right under our noses.
Media reviews

– Finalist, 2020 Smart Book of the Year award – Jagiellonian University

"Never Home Alone is a superb guide to your own house – a place that is home to hundreds of thousands of species – a far richer habitat than even the largest backyard. This riveting and surprising book is one of those rare volumes that will make you gasp out loud on almost every page, and phone your friends to report stunning fact after stunning fact. Thank you, Rob Dunn: I love our house even more now I understand it shelters multitudes of fascinating (and mostly benevolent) living creatures."
– Sy Montgomery, author of The Soul of an Octopus

"Never Home Alone is a thumping good book that raises alarm and offers reassurance in roughly equal measure. And it is funny [...] What makes [it] so compelling is a sense of wonder and delight that encompasses all sorts of creatures and all sorts of science."
Los Angeles Review of Books

"[An] intriguing and captivating scientific detective story [...] Dunn eloquently observes that many species we find in our homes have value to us."

"[A] fascinating and illuminating book [...] Dunn and his colleagues have used the concepts and techniques of community ecology to tease apart the functioning of a mostly ignored ecosystem: the human home. Their research enriches our understanding of ecosystem function, and – more grippingly – gives us insight into how our interactions with living things in the domestic habitat affect our health and well-being."

"A good book about niche science, which deserves to be widely read."
Sunday Times (UK)

"A lively compendium of hard science, anecdote, history, and personal memoir [...] Something of a scientific raconteur, Dunn tells his story of the macro and micro biome of our homes in a colloquial [...] stye that makes the heavy science go down easy."
Shelf Awareness

"A robust, scientific defence for both microbial life and for larger creatures too often exterminated simply because they've invaded our space. While data from copious end notes support staid scientific facts from strictly controlled lab tests, an engaging writing style enlivens narratives such as those about microbes in shower heads and beetles on windowsills, transforming Dunn's latest work into a profound understanding of how all living things help in constructing and maintaining our planet's complex web of life."
Winnipeg Free Press

"A Brooklyn couple visiting the West told me, 'We don't do nature'. Today, I'm sending them a copy of Rob Dunn's Never Home Alone, with this note: 'Nature made you, so roll in the dirt, open the windows, get a dog. Change your showerhead, but don't kill your spiders. And read this terrific book at once.'"
– Dan Flores, author of Coyote America

"An entertaining tour of the biodiversity found in one of the fastest-growing biomes: indoors [...] This book will be enjoyed by biologists but also general readers with an appreciation for nature."
Library Journal

"Chatty, informative [...] it's hard not to be occasionally charmed by [Dunn's] prose, as when he catalogs the arthropods with whom we share our homes [...] And it's hard not to share, at least a little, his awe at their diversity, even in a single household."
New York Times Book Review

"Crammed full of eensy-weensy tales of wonder from the insect world [...] On virtually every page, readers learn about these marvels and their potential applications so the benefit of humans, all of it written with the bounce and insight of a true believer [...] [a] hugely important book."
Open Letters Review

"Delightfully entertaining and scientifically enlightening [...] [Dunn] makes a compelling case for the value of biodiversity, while also conveying the excitement of scientific investigation, demonstrating that important discoveries can be made very close to home."
Publishers Weekly

"Easy to read and accessible [...] Recommended."

"If you could somehow infuse the curiosity of a 6-year-old with Ph.D.-level intelligence, imagine what wondrous things you could learn. Or why not make it easier on yourself, and just read Never Home Alone. Yes, that delightful, open-minded gee-whiz is exactly what makes this book so enjoyable. Surprisingly, it's doubly so for a germophobe, an arachnophobe, or anyone who can't stand the idea of intruders. Dunn has a way of brushing fears aside so he can tell you about something that's too cool to miss, or a fact that makes you say, 'Wow!' [...] Science-minded readers will love this book. It's filled with things you'll want to know for the health of it. Really, for anyone who's alive, Never Home Alone is a book to share with a few million of your newest best friends."
– Terri Schlichenmeyer, The Bookworm Sez columnist

"If you enjoyed I Contain Multitudes, this book should be next on your reading list. Just like Ed Yong shows readers the fascinating microorganisms all around us, Dunn opens our eyes to the minute creatures that live within the confinement of our own homes [...] a fascinating and entertaining read."
Read More Science

"If you truly want to know yourself and be amazed, get to know your ecology. This charming book shows how important and fun it is to discover the astonishing world of marvelous and unseen creatures around us. You'll never take a shower again in the same way!"
– Daniel E. Lieberman, author of The Story of the Human Body

"If you're an insectophobe looking for a thrill, you'll love Rob Dunn's Never Home Alone, which details the thousands of species of insects and microbes that live in and around your home."

"If you're looking for a guide to the teeming, tiny, tenacious creatures that share our bodies, our homes – and may one day well inherit our planet – you could not do better than this fascinating book by Rob Dunn."
– Deborah Blum, author of The Poisoner's Handbook

"In Never Home Alone, Rob Dunn reveals the unseen wilderness that surrounds us every day. This book will change the way you think about everything from dust to spiders to showerheads – a fascinating and highly recommended read!"
– Thor Hanson, author of Buzz, Feathers, and The Triumph of Seeds

"In his fascinating new book [...] Mr. Dunn brings a scientist's sensibility to our domestic jungle by exploring the paradox of the modern home [...] Mr. Dunn also gracefully explains, without getting bogged down in details, the technology that has allowed scientists during the past decade or so to sequence the DNA of millions of previously unknown microbes, making his book an excellent layperson's guide to cutting-edge research."
Wall Street Journal

"Intriguing [...] Seen through Dunn's curious eyes, a house becomes not just a set of rooms, but a series of habitats to be explored. His writing and research lend a new appreciation of what many of us consider pests."
Science News

"Of course we must chlorinate our water, wash our hands, get vaccinated, and so on, Dunn argues persuasively and entertainingly. But we also need to relax and cultivate biodiversity for the good of all life on Earth."
Kirkus Reviews

"Over a number of years, Rob Dunn, a U.S. biologist and ecologist and his team, surveyed the species to be found in 1,000 houses from around the world. The results, revealed in this remarkable, jaw-dropping, occasionally unappetising book, are astonishing."
Daily Mail (UK)

"Rob Dunn is a brilliant explorer of the strange, mostly uncharted biology of our homes and bodies. This must-read book is full of astonishing stories, skillfully told."
– David George Haskell, author of The Songs of Trees and The Forest Unseen

"Scintillating [...] In a time of clear-eyed assessment of the environment, Dunn is a voice of reason who should be heartily welcomed."
Booklist, starred review

"Utterly fascinating [...] a spirited romp through the vast diversity that inhabits our daily lives and how we've changed our ecosystems, often for the worse."
Washington Post


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