11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
From revulsion to respect,
This review is from: Parasite Rex: Inside the Bizarre World of Nature's Most Dangerous Creatures (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). Some parasites are deadly of course but many cause no more harm than they have to, because wiping out their hosts would not help their survival. Zimmer compares parasites that use their hosts in this considerate way to humans using this planet in a considerate, non-destructive way. He says there's no shame in being a parasite. If we treated our host (the planet) with the care and consideration that some parasites treat their hosts, our planet's ecosystems would not be in the mess they are today. You have to hand it to the author, that's a new and intriguing way of looking at parasites.
I found his ideas very persuasive and I recommend this book. If you like Parasite Rex, you'll also enjoy Mark Ridley's "The Red Queen" and Arno Karlen's "The Biography of a Germ", both of which I highly recommend.
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