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

Carl Zimmer
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
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Book Description

14 Jan 2002
For decades parasites were the pariahs of science. Only recently have biologists begun to appreciate that these diverse and complex organisms are the most highly evolved life forms on earth. In this work, Carl Zimmer takes the reader on a tour of the strange and bizzare world that parasites inhabit, and recounts the voyages of these wonders of creation. Parasites can: rewrite DNA; rewire the brain; genetically engineer viruses as weapons; and turn healthy hosts into the living dead. This book follows researchers in parasitology as they attempt to penetrate the mysteries of these omnipotent creatures who control evolution, ecxosystems, and perhaps the future of the human race.

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Parasite Rex: Inside the Bizarre World of Nature's Most Dangerous Creatures + Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters + Wonderful Life: Burgess Shale and the Nature of History
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Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Ltd; New edition edition (14 Jan 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 074320011X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743200110
  • Product Dimensions: 21.3 x 14.8 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 23,425 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.

About the Author

Carl Zimmer is a senior editor at DISCOVER magazine. He is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Everett Clark Award for science journalism in 1994 and the American Institute of Biological Sciences Media Award in 1997.

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hippity hop! Where to stop? 14 Nov 2004
By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME
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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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, wide-ranging insight 16 Oct 2000
By A Customer
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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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars From revulsion to respect 8 Aug 2004
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hopefully, it won't grow on you! 28 May 2010
By Sir Barnabas VINE VOICE
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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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Parasite Rex: Inside the Bizarre World of Nature's Most Dangerous...
Written by some-one who knows his subject of parasitology in an easy style, full of information and giving food for thought - sometimes the parasites are beneficial in preventing... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Bill
5.0 out of 5 stars great for the whole family, well, those who enjoy parasites!
my 12 year old son and i were listening to an episode on this american life when we heard zimmer discuss parasites. my son is a typical (? Read more
Published 21 months ago by amaraya
4.0 out of 5 stars parasites
if this book was not such interesting reading on a thought provoking topic it would make the skin crawl - does make one wonder
Published on 5 Jan 2012 by N. J. Powell
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding
This is one of my favourite popsci books of all time. Zimmer is an excellent writer and doesn't fail with this one. Buy it or borrow it and read it! Love the pix as well :)
Published on 25 May 2010 by Huxley
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating view into a largely unseen world.
What these creatures can make their hosts do is amazing, after reading this book I started to wonder who is in charge! Read more
Published on 7 Feb 2010 by Mr. P. M. Hasell
4.0 out of 5 stars Very good for those taking parasitology modules!
Lots of information about infectious diseases caused by parasites(elephantiasis, blood flukes, etc). Any adult could easily understand the writing. Really enjoy reading it. Read more
Published on 15 Dec 2009 by A. Latif
5.0 out of 5 stars Change your mindset
This is a fantastic book! I bought on the strength of the other reviews, not particularly due to interest in the subject. Read more
Published on 5 Aug 2009 by ianscardiff
5.0 out of 5 stars Enlightening
The things you miss if you're not looking in the right place!

Encellent book - Hightly recommended.
Published on 4 May 2009 by Amazon Customer
3.0 out of 5 stars Welcome to Earth
Some other customer reviewers treat this book as if it was a horror novel by Stephen King, and both the title and the back matter certainly give that impression. Read more
Published on 2 Sep 2008 by Ashtar Command
5.0 out of 5 stars A whole new way of looking at things
This book turns our view of life on our planet on to its head. It shows how parasites outnumber "normal" species and, far from being degenerate forms, are incredibly... Read more
Published on 10 Mar 2002 by ctpalin
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