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Parasite Rex: Inside the Bizarre World of Nature's Most Dangerous Creatures Paperback – 4 Sep 2003

4.7 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews

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Paperback, 4 Sep 2003
£83.72 £0.01

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Product details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Arrow Books Ltd; New edition edition (4 Sept. 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099457997
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099457992
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,247,463 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


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. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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Format: Paperback
Once considered a "degenerate" form of life, parasites are being seen as important indicators of how evolution has progressed over 4 billion years. Zimmer credits them with being the driving force for biological diversity. He substantiates this claim with a sweeping, evocative survey of what is known today about parasites. That, he regretfully concedes, is little enough. What is known is that many early conceptions about parasites needed to be thrown aside as more information about this highly adaptable and widely variable range of organisms emerges.
While we may recoil at the term "parasite", Zimmer identifies but one villain in this book. Ray Lankester, a devoted Edwardian-era evolutionist, postulated that parasites were a "regressive" form of organism. He thought they shed evolutionary advantages as they simplified their bodies through their life cycles. Lankester thus set the tone for generations - biologists avoided studying parasites as offering no additional information revealing evolution's processes. Zimmer explains that since parasites are predators, it was thought they ought to follow the patterns of other predators - stalking prey like lions, or following scent gradients like sharks.
Instead, as more about them came to light, it was revealed how adaptive parasites are. Some, in fact, have developed the talent of making "prey" come to them. One fluke invades a snail early in its career. In an intermediate, but distinctive form, it then moves to an ant. Residing in the ant's brain, at some point it directs the ant to climb a grass stalk. There it waits for the grass, along with the ant and itself, to be eaten by a cow. The fluke cruises through the cow's stomach before taking up residence in the liver as adults, yet another body form.
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Format: Hardcover
I bought this book on the basis of a favourable review in New Scientist. The book is written in a very accessible style, making it very readable by non-scientists and scientists alike. The story writting ability of Carl Zimmer is a welcome change from some of the supposed popular science authors. Many of the storys are deliciously gruesome, but also educational, as Carl explores the complex relationship of parasite and host from many angles. The role of parasitism in shaping eveolution is considered as are the physiological and behavioural consequences of a parastic relationship. My one criticism is that Carl does not differentiate between parasites (keep their hosts alive) and parasitoids (intentionally kill their hosts), a subtle distinction that I felt would have helped in his explanations. This is a minor issue and certainly does not detract from an excellent book. I would thoroughly recommend this bokk at anyone who is even vaguely interested in parasites and modern diseases.
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Format: Paperback
If you're interested in life in general and natural wonders in particular, you should find this book fascinating, with your senses of revulsion and respect stimulated in more or less equal measure. The author has travelled the world, collecting data for this book, meeting interesting parasitologists and discussing some of the weird and fantastically well-adapted parasites they study. Carl Zimmer seems to be on a mission to give us a fresh, new way of looking at parasites - they've had a bad press and he's out to redress the balance. Parasite Rex should open your eyes to the part parasites play in maintaining a balance in the world's ecosystems; how vital they are to the well-being of life on our planet; how some can be used as a kind of 'canary in a mine' to measure the health of an environment and so on. In addition to that, the parasites covered in this book are just incredibly interesting. There were several occasions when I wondered if I should really believe what the author was telling me - the sort of account you might expect to find in some science fiction tale - so I checked other sources and sure enough, some parasites are so outlandishly bizarre that their story is hard to believe.
Zimmer explains how parasites came to be reviled; he describes a selection of species, their life cycles and the diseases they cause - sometimes using actual cases; he explains how they get into and manipulate their hosts (this is where you'll read some of the most astounding accounts that could out-weird any science fiction story); how their hosts fight back; how parasites have driven evolution by forcing their hosts into an 'arms race'; and how we should, in some ways, try to be more like them (the more benign ones at least).
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In Parasite Rex, Carl Zimmer introduces us to the wonderful world of the parasite. Long overlooked as "degenerate" organisms, the author shows how the life cycles of parasites are finely honed to the lives of their hosts and intermediate organisms, how these organisms avoid the attentions of their hosts immune systems and how they can even manipulate the behaviour of their hosts to their own ends.

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!
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