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Parasite Rex

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Carl Zimmer won the Everett Clark Award for Science Journalism in 1994 and the American Institute of Biological Sciences Media Award in 1997.

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.


Zimmer, a columnist at National History, has written an absolutely fascinating book about parasitesDonce the reader gets past the "grossness" factor. As with his previous book, At the Water's Edge (LJ 2/1/98), evolution is central: Zimmer considers not only how parasites have evolved but how they may have helped the evolution of other species. Though humans are not the only species discussed, some of the most interesting evolutionary theories come from human-parasite relations. Mild cases of sickle cell anemia, for instance, seem to protect against malaria, implying that these sorts of blood diseases have evolved with the aid of parasites. The author discusses more recent research suggesting that some modern diseases, such as allergies or ulcerative colitis, may actually be triggered by our immune systems' not having parasites to fight. This well-written book makes parasitology interesting and accessible to anyone. Not a textbook (a few good ones are recommended in a selected bibliography), it does have a place in science libraries, even for students who don't realize that their field of study is related to parasitology. Recommended for public and academic libraries.DMargaret Henderson, Cold Spring Harbor Academics, NY Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

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. Mark Ridley The New Scientist A nonstop delight...Zimmer is a colorful writer, and takes full advantage of the macabre natural history of parasites. Kevin Padian The New York Times With Parasite Rex, Zimmer proves himself as fine a science essayist as we have. Michael Harris Los Angeles Times A model of liveliness and clarity...a book capable of changing how we see the world.

One of the year's most fascinating works of popular science is also its most disgusting. From tapeworms to isopods to ichneumon wasps, "parasites are complex, highly adapted creatures that are at the heart of the story of life." Zimmer (At the Water's Edge) devotes his second book to the enormous variety of one- and many-celled organisms that live on and inside other animals and plants. The gruesome trypanosomes that cause sleeping sickness had nearly been routed from Sudan when the country's civil war began: now they're back. Costa Rican researcher Daniel Brooks has discovered dozens of parasites, including flies that lay eggs in deer noses: "snot bots." And those are only the creatures from the prologue. Zimmer discusses how the study of parasites began, with 19th-century discoveries about their odd life cycles. (Many take on several forms in several generations, so that a mother worm may resemble her granddaughter, but not her daughter.) He looks at how parasites pass from host to host, and how they defeat immune systems and vice versa. Many parasites alter their hosts' behavior: Toxoplasma makes infected rats fearless, thus more likely to be eaten by cats, who will then pick up the microbe. Quantifiable "laws of virulence" lead parasites to become nasty enough to spread, yet not so nasty as to wipe out all their hosts. And eons of coevolution can affect both partners: howler monkeys may avoid violent fights because screwworms can render the least scratch fatal. Two final chapters address parasites in human medicine and agriculture. Not only are parasites not all bad, Zimmer concludes in this exemplary work of popular science, but we may be parasites, tooDand we have a lot to learn from them about how to manage earth, the host we share. Illus. (Sept.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

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