Parasite Rex: Inside the Bizarre World of Nature's Most Dangerous Creatures, Paperback Book

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

4 out of 5 (12 ratings)


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.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 320 pages, illustrations
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Ltd
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Popular science
  • ISBN: 9780743200110



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Showing 1 - 5 of 12 reviews.

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Zimmer claims that parasites are ubiquitous on Earth, and far more sophisticated than we give them credit. They are far from being unfinished, or inferior, products of evolution. Even though Zimmer’s definition is a broad one, since he lumps bacteria and viruses together with parasites (though he doesn’t discuss these in detail), he proves them to be highly interesting. Even if we look only at the organisms that we are sure are parasites by most definitions like tapeworms or hookworms, we find that they are capable of changing the host’s DNA, reworking or evading the immune system, tricking the males into thinking they are females and spreading the parasite’s eggs, making infected prey more attractive to the predators and, consequently, more easily caught, and even changing human emotions and behaviours. They may even be responsible for the introduction of sexual reproduction in the evolution. The theory that caught my attention was the parasite’s possible responsibility for allergies. Our immune system produces an antibody called IgE among many other types of immune response particles. It turns out that this antibody has been most probably used as a fighter of parasites for thousands of years, and now, in the absence of parasites to destroy, it overreacts and attacks its own host’s body in response to such harmless substances like pollen, or foods, causing allergies and such diseases as Crohn’s or colitis.

Review by

One of the best non-fiction books I've read in years. I could not put it down. At a party recently, I found myself surrounded by PhD level marine biologists who were hanging on my every word as I described some of the parasites listed in the book. My favorite is the one that eats the tongue of a fish and then positions itself in the fish's mouth as a replacement tongue, only taking whatever food it needs and then helping the fish to swallow the rest to keep it alive. Some of the parasites have only been described and understood in the last 5-6 years, and yet this class of organism makes up a significant fraction of the Earth's biosphere. The author takes the reader through their evolution, biology, and ecology in an engaging, easy to read and digest form.Highly recommended.

Review by

Here is another fascinating book by Carl Zimmer, clearly one of my new favorite science writers. The subtitle of this book is Inside the Bizarre World of Nature's Most Dangerous Creatures, and it is appropriate. Just as our knowledge of evolutionary biology is exploding, so, too is our knowledge of parasitology. Once considered a problem of Africa and the low-lying equatorial countries of the world, we now know that parasites are everywhere and they play a large role in the development and evolution of the planet. For example, evolutionary biologists have had a hard time coming up with a good justification for sex. (Other than as a justification for high-speed Internet connections in the home, I mean.) Parasitologists now have evidence that sexual reproduction is a strategy for dealing with parasitic attacks. And where else could you learn about the anal cannon of the leaf-rolling caterpillar, which shoots digestive waste up to two feet away, thereby avoiding the parasitic wasp that is attracted to the smell? If you are a parent, you will find threatening stories in here that will surely keep the children in line!

Review by

After 70 pages or so, I refused to keep on reading. Too cumbersome and an excesively elaborated vocabulary disencouraged me. At first I thought it was similar to The hot Zone in its style (which I really enjoyed) when the author first relates Justine's journey through sleep disease. But it changes and furthe becomes a descriptive book of data that does not engage. Maybe the book inproves after 100 pages, but I couldn't arrive.

Review by

It's been a few years, but I remember enjoying this book. The one thing I especially remember is his comparison of pregnancy to having a parasite, but most expecting mothers don't find that information amusing (even though they do somewhat understand it).

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