John's Reviews > Parasite Rex: Inside the Bizarre World of Nature's Most Dangerous Creatures

Parasite Rex by Carl Zimmer
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's review
Feb 16, 2009

really liked it
Read in March, 2009

Anyone who believes in a loving and beneficent god will find their faith sorely tried by PARASITE REX; anyone who thinks of parasites as odious, lowlife trash will have to think again. As the title of the book suggests, and the subtitle — Inside the Bizarre World of Nature’s Most Dangerous Creatures — spells out, parasites offer us an alternative, destabilizing vision of reality, where inner truth turns out to have visceral life of its own. “This guy shows up,” one of the interviewees remarks toward the end of the book, “and my vision of a mouse is changed forever. Now I see it as a bag of tapeworms and nematodes. You have this happy mouse and you open him up and he’s full of them.” Our usual view of reality screens all this out, which means we live in a constricted world of fantasy and denial, simply because for the moment we (relatively well-off first-world denizens) have made ourselves the exception to the universal rule that life is a duel between host and parasite, and usually the parasites are winning. The most the host can do is to evolve just enough to keep them at bay... until, of course, they evolve, too. Matt, my wife, came into the living room while I was reading this book, and seeing the expression of my face, asked me what was wrong. “I‘m too terrified to read another word of this book,” I answered, “and I’m too captivated by it to put it down.” The movie ALIEN had the same effect on me, except that happened in outer space and was fiction, while this is happening right inside our own bodies, right now. You know what I wrote above about well-off, first world denizens? I was lying. About a third of us have parasites living in our brains right now, with an agenda all their own. You can read this book to find out what that is, or you can learn what I learned from reading this book, that a well-examined life can sometimes lead to more than we can take.

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