In a series of vivid portraits of determined–even obsessed–scientists, Every Living Thing: Man’s Obsessive Quest to Catalog Life, from Nanobacteria to New Monkeys Rob Dunn shows that we are not even close to knowing all life on earth. We are not close to naming it, studying it, not even close to knowing the basic kinds of organisms.

How much is left to know? If history is a lesson, there is more left to know than we have yet discovered. And yet, biologists and lay people alike have repeatedly through history claimed victory over life. A thousand years ago we thought we knew almost everything; a hundred years ago too. But even today we are unable to see what is beyond our immediate radar. Discoveries we can’t yet imagine still await. Dunn traces the history of human discovery from the establishment of classification in the 18th century to today’s attempts to first find, and then describe life in space. The narrative telescopes from a scientist’s attempt to find one single thing (a rare ant-emulating beetle species) to a scientist’s attempt to find everything (all the insects living in a section of the Smoky Mountains).

Every Living Thing is the engaging story of humanity’s unending quest to discover every living thing in our natural world–from the unimaginably small in the most inhospitable of places on earth to the unimaginably far away in ancient seabeds on Mars.

Every Living Thing includes a preface by E.O. Wilson who, like the discoverers to precede him, thinks we may soon find all the species on Earth. On the other hand, as Dunn shows, Linnaeus thought something similar three hundred years ago. We always seem to believe the boundaries of life are just around the corner. So far we have always been wrong.