Parasite Rex : Inside the Bizarre World of Nature's Most Dangerous Creatures

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9780099457992: Parasite Rex : Inside the Bizarre World of Nature's Most Dangerous Creatures
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Almost every animal will at some time or other become the home of a parasite. Not only are parasites the most sucessful life-forms on Earth, they triggered the development of sex, shape, ecosystems, and have driven the engine of evolution. Carl Zimmer describes the frightening and amazing ingenuity these commando invaders use to devour their hosts from the inside and control their behaviour. "Sacculina carcini" makes its home in an unlucky crab and proceeds to eat everything but what the crab needs to put food in its mouth, which "Sacculina" then consumes. Single-celled "Toxoplama gondi" has an even more insidious role, for it can invade the human brain and cause personality changes, making its host less afraid and more prone to danger and a violent end - so that, in the carnage, it will be able to move on to another host. Finally, Zimmer concludes that humankind itself is a new kind of parasite, one that preys on the entire earth. If we are to achieve the sophistication of the parasites on display here in vivid detail, if we are to promote the flourishing of life in all its diversity as they do, we must learn the ways nature lives with itself, the laws of "Parasite Rex".

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Review:

Many books provoke a visceral reaction, but few really make you itch. Science writer Carl Zimmer's Parasite Rex does just that, provoking a deliciously creepy sense of paranoia in the reader as it explores a long-misunderstood realm of science. While entomologists love to announce that there are more species of insects than all other animals combined, few parasitologists choose to trump that by reminding us that "parasites may outnumber free-living species four to one." That figure is based on the multicellular chauvinism of the 19th century, which excludes bacteria and fungi from consideration (athlete's foot, anyone?), but Zimmer looks at the E. coli in our guts as well as the worms, flukes, mites, and other critters that earn a healthy living at our expense--and the expense of our domesticated plants and animals.

The author traveled to Africa to see firsthand the effects of sleeping sickness and river blindness. He learned from physicians and researchers that the parasites that wreak so much havoc are much more than the simple degenerates we've taken them for. Their complex adaptations to their environments--us--are as lovely and awe-inspiring as any eye or wing. The examples of hormonal and other behavioral control of hosts, causing changes in feeding habits and other life essentials, are chilling when personalized. Zimmer knows his subject well, and his writing, while robust and affecting, never descends to the all-too-easy gross-out. You wouldn't expect to find respect for a tapeworm, but Parasite Rex will show you how beautiful Earth's truly dominant life forms are. --Rob Lightner

About the Author:

Inheritor of Stephen Jay Gould's column in Natural History, which he shares with Jared Diamond, Carl Zimmer is the author of Evolution and At The Water's Edge. He lives in New York City.

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ISBN 10:  074320011X ISBN 13:  9780743200110
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Zimmer, Carl
Published by Arrow Books Ltd (2003)
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