This Is Your Brain on Parasites: How Tiny Creatures Manipulate Our Behavior and Shape Society

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9780544192225: This Is Your Brain on Parasites: How Tiny Creatures Manipulate Our Behavior and Shape Society
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A riveting investigation of the myriad ways that parasites control how other creatures—including humans—think, feel, and act.
 
These tiny organisms can only live inside another animal, and as McAuliffe reveals, they have many evolutionary motives for manipulating their host’s behavior. Far more often than appreciated, these puppeteers orchestrate the interplay between predator and prey. With astonishing precision, parasites can coax rats to approach cats, spiders to transform the patterns of their webs, and fish to draw the attention of birds that then swoop down to feast on them.
 
We humans are hardly immune to the profound influence of parasites. Organisms we pick up from our own pets are strongly suspected of changing our personality traits and contributing to recklessness, impulsivity—even suicide. Microbes in our gut affect our emotions and the very wiring of our brains. Germs that cause colds and flu may alter our behavior even before symptoms become apparent.
 
Parasites influence our species on the cultural level too. As McAuliffe documents, a subconscious fear of contagion impacts virtually every aspect of our lives, from our sexual attractions and social circles to our morals and political views. Drawing on a huge body of research, she argues that our dread of contamination is an evolved defense against parasites—and a double-edged sword. The horror and revulsion we feel when we come in contact with people who appear diseased or dirty helped pave the way for civilization, but may also be the basis for major divisions in societies that persist to this day.
 
In the tradition of Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel and Neil Shubin’s Your Inner Fish, This Is Your Brain on Parasites is both a journey into cutting-edge science and a revelatory examination of what it means to be human.

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An Amazon Best Book of June 2016: Have you heard the one about the wasp that turns cockroaches into living food trucks for its larvae? How about the schizophrenia-inducing parasite that lives in your cat's litter box, literally altering human brain chemistry to its own inscrutable ends? If not, you have a choice to make: to immediately read or assiduously avoid Kathleen McAuliffe's This Is Your Brain on Parasites: How Tiny Creatures Manipulate Our Behavior and Shape Society. McAuliffe, author of The Atlantic article "How Your Cat Is Making You Crazy," surveys a horrorshow universe of microscopic maladies and the strangely specific ways they use us, including the shapes of our civilizations and beliefs. Highly original, thought-provoking and compellingly cringe-inducing; you should choose to read it. --Jon Foro, The Amazon Book Review

From the Back Cover:

“A fascinating account of an extraordinary suite of biological phenomena only recently come to light and proving that given enough time and enough evolving species to work with, natural selection can accomplish almost anything.”—Edward O. Wilson, Professor Emeritus, Harvard University, author of Consilience.
 
“This book has all the elements of a crime thriller: violence, blood, gore, race, and sex. But here the criminals are parasites. McAuliffe tells a vivid and sometimes horrifying tale of the hijackers that control our brains and our behavior. In company with the best science writers, she shows us that reality can be way more interesting than fiction.”—Valerie Curtis, director of the Environmental Health Group of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and author of Don’t Look, Don’t Touch, Don’t Eat
 
“Be prepared to throw away all your preconceptions about the order of life. Humorous, inspiring, and macabre—this is infectious reading in the tradition of giants like Robert S. Desowitz and Jared Diamond.”—Michael A. Huffman, Primate Research Institute, Kyoto University
 

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