Thursday, December 19, 2013

Joint Musings: Parasite Rex

Parasite Rex by Carl Zimmer
Carl Zimmer's Parasite Rex has been on my TBR list for a while.  It first came to my attention when Ana reviewed it some years ago.  And now that  I am a podcast junkie, I've heard Zimmer on lots of science-y podcasts, and he is always very engaging and so passionate about the topics he discusses.

But reading about parasites can be a daunting task, and I never pulled the book off my shelf.  Until just recently, when Lu and I decided to read it together.  I'm so glad we did because this is the sort of book that really wows you with its facts and history, and you need someone with whom to share your "OMG" moments.

Lu and I had a really fun discussion about the book.  You can find the first half of our chat over at her blog.  And the second half is right here!  Don't be scared off by the cover.  The book has some slow parts, but overall, it is fascinating!

[continued from Lu's blog]

Leslie: It seems a little scary, to be honest! I think something has to be done, but a lot of these ecological problems are because of new species being introduced into the environment and wreaking havoc. So to introduce another organism to fight it seems like it could also have dire consequences on the ecosystem.  It’s very exciting when it works and it’s cutting edge science that’s truly amazing, but I did come away from the book being worried about what would happen if it went wrong.

I was also fascinated by the way parasites can manipulate other creatures. Right after I finished Parasite Rex, I read a news article about an isopod that takes over as a fish’s tongue. It first eats the tongue and then performs the function of the tongue until it can raise its young. Then, when the young are released, the parasite and the host fish both die. I mean, what?! How is this possible?

Aarti:  I read that article, too!  I don’t know how they can do it, either.  It is SO SCARY.  I obviously am now terrified that who knows WHAT is consuming my innards at any and all moments now.  The book has really affected me!  I’ll just be reading or listening to the radio or something and somehow, something will relate back to parasites!  For example, I am reading A Tale for the Time Being, by Ruth Ozeki, and in it, one of the characters describes being bullied at school as though she is the slow water buffalo in a pack and the hyenas are stalking her out as their prey.  And I was like, “Ooh, maybe that animal has a parasite that ultimately wants to end up in a hyena, not a water buffalo!”

Leslie: Even though the science occasionally went over my head, I really think that this is the kind of nonfiction that gets you excited for a topic you never really knew you had an interest in. I had a couple of people remark when I was reading it that it seemed too scary, like all they’d be able to think about were parasites when they were done reading. I mostly just found it fascinating, though, and I think it’s written in such a way that it’s accessible for everyone, without being too terrifying!

Aarti:  I agree.  And while I don’t think the book is so scary that it will make you think about parasites all the time, it will probably be one of those books that will be recalled to mind at random times because it touched on so many different and interesting aspects of how life evolves on this planet!


  1. Ugh parasites, now I am scared

  2. I really want to read this, too. I am glad you say it is fascinating as well. :)

  3. I'm so glad we got to read this together. I definitely had a lot more fun reading this with you than I think I would have alone. Thank you! Hoping for many more read alongs!

  4. Anonymous12/23/2013

    OH no. NO NO NO NO no no no. I will not read this. This is exactly the stuff that gives me nightmares.


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