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Parasite Rex: Inside the Bizarre World of Nature's Most Dangerous Creatures Paperback – Illustrated, November 9, 2001
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Kevin Padian The New York Times With Parasite Rex, Zimmer proves himself as fine a science essayist as we have.
Mark Ridley The New Scientist A nonstop delight...Zimmer is a colorful writer, and takes full advantage of the macabre natural history of parasites.
Susan Adams Forbes Zimmer is such an accomplished, vivid writer that he is able to weave these revolting beasts into an engrossing story that you will read to the last page.
About the Author
- Item Weight : 11.1 ounces
- Paperback : 320 pages
- ISBN-13 : 978-0743200110
- Product dimensions : 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.44 inches
- Publisher : Atria Books; Illustrated edition (November 9, 2001)
- Language: : English
- ASIN : 074320011X
- Best Sellers Rank: #84,314 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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The author takes the lives of parasitic organisms and makes it into high drama,and sometimes high comedy, as in the case of a bug, that, in order to thwart predators who scent its droppings, has turned its derriere into a high-powered rocket launcher that fires its feces far away in order to throw parasites off its trail.
I've spent enough time in academia (in the soft sciences/humanities) to have my eyes glaze over whenever I hear the word "interdisciplinary," but this book really does deserve the word. Zimmer brings everything to bear in his discussion, from parasites in pop culture/ media (the films of David Cronenberg and Ridley Scott). to ecological philosophy (a variation on the Gaia Hypothesis), arguing credibly that the ecosystem may perceive Homo Sapiens Sapiens as a parasite swimming in its own bloodstream, and that the multiple banes of our existences, like malaria, cancer, and AIDS, are nature's way of trying to rid itself of a persistent parasite repeatedly attacking its host.
I remember a marine biologist once telling me that she wasn't interested in science fiction, because nature always outdid the imagination. This book is proof of that theory. Hats off to Zimmer. Highest Recommendation.
The zombie crabs,snails and ants, the genesis theories of sex and language, and the way parasites are hidden modifiers of the old "survival of the fittest" paradigm were eye-openers, as was the discussion of how sickle cell anemia is a byproduct of natural selection for the single sickle cell gene, brought on by the prevalence of malaria. As a professional science writer who is expert in bringing out the meaning and implications of research so that the layman can understand, Zimmer paints the incredible picture for us, of the multi-billion year old interplay between competing parasite/host DNA chains and natural selection. Along the way, the various hookworms and blood flukes have learned biochemical tricks that science still hasn't figured out, but will turn into blood thinners and anti-rejection treatments.
And I learned that there is a parasitic fungus on insects, Cordyceps, that is the source of an important antibiotic called cyclosporin, which took me right back to my moldy epiphany long ago.
Perhaps the biggest flaw in the book is the lack of diagrams and its minimal number of photos. One of the coolest things about parasites is how gross they are and I wanted to see more of them. Also the same parasites seemed to keep coming up as examples of everything. Perhaps there are only so many types of parasites so it just doesn't matter whether one discusses blood flukes of humans or some other animal. But the book makes bold statements about how much more diverse parasites are than so called "free living" organisms, so it seemed a bit weird to continually be presnted with the "usual suspects" as examples of each of the parasitic principles.
The writing is clear and well organized, but goes on too long and is repetitive in places. This would probably have been a better book if were 30 pages shorter. But that's a quibble.
On the whole, a very good book that should interest anyone interested in natural systems and evolution, and parasites in particular.
Top reviews from other countries
The author resists the temptation to go for the "yuck factor" and writes about the subject matter in a thoughtful and considered manner. He introduces the reader to some of the parasitologists currently working in this particular discipline and shows how their work is revealing not only the complexity of the life cycles of many parasites but also how they may be vital for the well being of many ecosystems, how they have helped drive the evolution of their hosts and even how they may be, in some circumstances, beneficial to the immune systems of their hosts.
Overall, this is an excellent insight into this much overlooked area of biology that is really well written and very accessible. I studied parasitology briefly at university and had forgotten what a truly fascinating subject it is - thanks to Carl Zimmer for the reminder!