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

4.18  ·  Rating details ·  4,252 Ratings  ·  336 Reviews

For centuries, parasites have lived in nightmares, horror stories, and in the darkest shadows of science. Now award-winning writer Carl Zimmer takes us on a fantastic voyage into the secret parasite universe we actually live in but haven't recognized. He reveals not only that parasites are the most successful life-forms on Earth, but that they triggered the development of

Paperback, With a New Epilogue, 306 pages
Published November 9th 2014 by Atria Books (first published January 1st 2000)
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Dan Schwent
Mar 03, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: nf, 2013
Parasite Rex is about parasites and the history of parasitology. Nature is pretty gross. That's about the only way I can think of o describe this book.

Let me tell you, there are some crazy creatures out there. I'm going to gloss over the hundreds of thousands of species of tapeworms and parasitic wasps and go to the really crazy ones. Like Cymothoa exigua, a crustacean that replaces a fish's tongue, or Sacculina, a barnacle-like parasite that uses a crab like a puppet. And that's just the tip of
Jan 30, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 5-star-books, science
This book is disgusting almost beyond words. For instance there are 5,000 species of tape worm, and the one we associate with human beings can grow inside us, in our intestines, to be 60 feet long. And that is just the beginning of the disgustingness! Ewwwwww!

On the other hand the book is utterly fascinating, and it illustrates with stunning clarity some of the endless conceits and machinations of nature. I am tempted to say "intelligence" of nature, because this level complexity and dove-taili
May 31, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I know. I'm weird. But really, this is something that anyone could pick up and read and understand. Again, if you've ever thought about going vegetarian, this book will make you do it. It's basically a collection of case studies of parasites, how they work, what exactly they do, how they evolved, but it's all put together in an easy to read narrative so that you really don't feel like you're reading a text book (which you aren't - some of the descriptions imply that one celled parasitic organism ...more
Feb 05, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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 o ...more
Esmerelda Weatherwax
May 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
Ive always loved being creeped out, and I gravitate to things/animals that most people find revolting - I've had pet spiders in the past and I currently have two snakes (Julius Squeezer and Aphrobitey).

So, naturally a book dedicated to parasites was something I wanted to pick up.

It was surprisingly narrative, and he told several stories of his life, some of which pulled on your heart strings. The book opens with a story when he was visiting a hospital full of kids suffering from "sleeping sickne
Arun Divakar
Oct 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing
An organism (human or otherwise) that tends to live off another is what we refer to in simple terms as a parasite. It is a name which has been subjected to scathing criticism and/or rib tickling humor according to circumstances when it does pop up. But keeping these light hearted anecdotes aside how much would it affect you if science were to tell you that there is a parasite that can castrate you ? Yet another can convert your gender as it begins colonizing you ? These are topics typically left ...more
May 30, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Parasites amount to the majority in all species but are much less known than freestanding species are. This book, packed with information, helps reduce the ignorance by a large degree. Many revealed mysteries are truly amazing. One might say, "These disgusting creatures are actually so 'smart'!"

Here is an example: a parasitic wasp, Cotesia congregata, lays eggs in the tobacco hornworms. To help her children fight the immune system of the host, which would otherwise mummify them, she delivers th
Apr 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: english, science
You will be stunned, I'm sure! This great piece of work will change your view on, well, virtually everything.

Parasitism is a complex and prevailing life form on Earth. Before reading this book, I used to think of parasites as simple, passive, useless and even harmful creatures. Carl Zimmer pointed out that I was totally wrong about them. To start with, parasites are not simple. In fact, their life cycles are very complicated, circulating through different hosts and changing their appearances and
Jan 03, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I love science; I love diseases; I love weird science. This book was essentially written for me, and has provided me with a way of starting the study of parasites. Yay!

If you don't like science, don't like gross things, and don't like thinking about what might already be living inside your body, this really isn't the book for you. It's just going to make you sad, and there are books that wouldn't make you sad (and which include less viscera).
Aug 20, 2017 rated it it was ok
A lack of organization made this rather hard to read.
Tim Martin
Aug 30, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nature, reviewed, science
_Parasite Rex_ by Carl Zimmer is a fascinating, well written, and very informative look at the strange world of parasites. Though I was worried that the book might carry a high "gross" factor (and in truth some things were a bit disturbing), my concerns soon evaporated as I became intrigued by these incredibly interesting and important organisms.

Early in the book we learn just how diverse a group parasites are. Most people when they hear parasites mentioned might picture tapeworms or perhaps som
Tanja Berg
Mar 10, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
Not that long ago parasites were considered evolutionary degenerates. Low-life, lazy creatures unable to fend for themselves in the "real" world, living off a host. That was before. These days, scientists have come to realize that many parasites in fact are incredibly sophistacted and are able to manipulate their hosts' behavior. Scary, scary thought. For example toxoplasma a parasite that has rats as its first host and cats as its second: it makes the rats lose its fear of cat urine and open sp ...more
Aurélien Thomas
Jun 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
They blossom out of insects' bodies, turn their hosts into zombies or, again, travel from one organism to another in a frantic race to survive. Behind the discoveries of some major vaccines they are, paradoxically, also able to fool very complex immune systems, sometimes even hijacking them against their poor victims. Microscopic but absolutely fascinating, they change our look upon life -we own them, for instance, some ground-breaking theories from the selfish gene to the Red Queen. Lethal and ...more
Oct 05, 2009 rated it it was amazing
"The wise learn many things from their enemies." This quote by Aristophanes used in the book summarizes why you should read it. Parasites are so adept at hiding, changing and defending themselves that there are no vaccines that work against them. They are also incredibly ferocious-looking under a microscope with horns and fangs and barbs of all shapes. I found this book fascinating in the way it followed these little guys around. They go through multiple metamorphoses and follow quite a complica ...more
Jan 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing
It's been a while since I have abandoned the star-awarding principle I first devised upon joining the Goodreads. I wanted to give the highest mark to if not a life-changing but at least to an eye-opening or mindset-shifting book. I knew some at the moment and counted on meeting more soon. However that was not a case. Such encounters are few and far between. Thus i revised my policy and started awarding 5 stars to very good books I enjoyed, but which otherwise didn't shake me to the core.

This tim
Jan 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Disgusting! Fascinating! Eye opening!
The first chapter had me entirely grossed out. Did I really want to read a book describing the disgusting things a parasite can do to my body? But then Carl Zimmer took it from the close to home sickness parasites can inflict on a human body to a fascinating journey into the world of parasites - what they are, where they come from, where we find them, how they evolved and adapt to their chosen niche, the fine balance between getting the most out of their host
Peter Tillman
Eh. Interesting but pretty disgusting. Tried once before and put it aside. It's coming due, so probably won't finish it this time, either....
Ginger Bensman
Sep 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: ecology, health, science
Parasite Rex: Inside the Bizarre World of Nature’s Most Dangerous Creatures is truly a paradigm changing book. I had a few settled and simplistic assumptions about parasites when I began reading Zimmer’s book—that parasites on the whole were dangerous and disgusting tagalong creatures (woe be the animal that ends up as the host of a parasite), that, if allowed to survive, parasites invariably suck the life out of their host, and finally, that the world would be a better place if parasites were e ...more
David Szatkowski
Jun 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
Lots of fun to read, if a bit disconcerting at times. You will learn a great deal about parasites in general, but also about the various ways in which they impact human existence (both good and bad) and the ways in which research about them is impacting the future of medicine.
Feb 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
Excellent and well researched. Gets a bit tiresome at the end, but still highly recommended!
Jul 11, 2009 rated it liked it
Awesomely disgusting. Fun read, not particularly difficult. Make some important points.

Parasites might have been the defining factor in the direction evolution took us.

One cool thing was the idea of cyclic generations. Instead of each generation being the same as the previous they would cycle through three or four different "creatures" before returning to the start. Weird.

Another cool idea. Speciation through parasitation. There's your divided environment.


"The problem comes down to the fa
Sep 07, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science
I don't know why, but I find parasites interesting. However, I wasn't exactly looking for a book on this particular subject; rather I merely stumbled upon it. When I go to the book store I typically peruse my favorite sections, one of which is science. On the shelf I came across the title "Parasite Rex"... so I picked it up "King Parasite...huh." Then I made the mistake of reading the back of the book and found out what it was about. I had to buy this book immediately!

I'm always reading, so I h
Nov 10, 2010 rated it really liked it
Fascinating book about the world of parasites! I became interested in parasites when I read Peeps by Scott Westerfeld, which started every chapter with a description of a different parasite. But I had no idea the huge effect they had on our lives today (for instance we may develop things like allergies because humans in american society are largely free of parasites). I learned a lot and I really liked the conversational style of the book. I wish there was an updated edition so that I could feel ...more
Soh Kam Yung
May 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A fantastic book about parasites: how they live, how they invade hosts (including us) how they affect the environment and possibly, how we could use them to help the environment and our health.

The book starts by looking at the history of how parasites were seen by us. Dismissed as 'degenerate' organisms for much of history, is it only now that we are learning how sophisticated and advanced parasites really are.

The book then covers how parasites invade their hosts, showing that by sensing the env
Feb 16, 2010 rated it really liked it
Carl Zimmer's outside-the-box Parasite Rex offers this reliable testament to evolution without design: a species of parasitic fluke enters its animal host by, like most, getting itself eaten and transported, through natural means, to the host's gut. This is precisely where the fluke wants to be. Once there, however, it burrows free and takes a tremendously circuitous passage through the host's bloodstream in order to get right back where it started, and, there, in the intestines, the parasite li ...more
Jan 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
Sometimes the truth is stranger (and creepier) than fiction. Its certainly the case with parasites. Just thinking about having another creature living inside of me makes me feel a bit squidgee, but that's the way that humanity evolved. Those of us with good medical attention and cleanly living accommodations are very lucky. Yet another reason to be thankful that I won the lottery and was born in North America. One interesting theory, which only gets 2 or 3 pages, is that our autoimmune diseases ...more
Don Fox
Dec 21, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This is a great book. It is very well researched, the science is thorough and well explained, and the writing in other respects is first-rate. What's more, the topic is utterly fascinating. There's certainly no danger you'll fall asleep reading, though there is a real danger you'll have nightmares once you do.

Most amazing of all, however, is that this is actually an important book, such that if you are not at least somewhat conversant with its contents then you simply can't properly lay claim to
Jun 11, 2010 rated it really liked it
Parasitology adds a mind-blowing dimension to ecology. For every free-living species, there are potentially 20 parasites that live within that species' biome (a given parasite will likely have multiple hosts over different life stages), and their symbiosis plays a crucial factor in the health of that biome. Although Parasite Rex initially takes a tone of parasite bashing (it's tempting to see them as an enemy), the real gems come in the final two chapters, when Zimmer explores how certain modern ...more
Jan 16, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This book was totally eye-opening and made me newly appreciate parasites, both as drivers of evolution and as champions of bizarre niches. Did you know that the majority of the world's species are parasites? Or that having parasites greatly reduces your chances of having allergies and/or asthma? Or that some parasites can effectively take over their hosts minds, making them zombie organisms that move and make decisions based on the needs and wants of their parasite controllers?

Carl Zimmer is a f
Oct 10, 2009 rated it really liked it
Another informative and entertaining read from Carl Zimmer. I occasionally found the book to be slightly disorganized, seeming at times like it was more stream of consciousness than carefully outlined. But this was rare and minor. A greater quibble I had with it was some statement of fact, that, as a scientist, I felt must surely have some points of equivocation. Zimmer's strength is in making science straightforward and easily understood, but in reality science rarely is actually this way. So i ...more
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Carl Zimmer is a columnist for the New York Times and the author of 13 books about science. His latest book, She Has Her Mother's Laugh, will be published in May 2018. Zimmer is a frequent guest on Radiolab and has written hundreds of articles for magazines such as National Geographic, The Atlantic, and Wired. He is, to his knowledge, the only writer after whom a species of tapeworm has been named ...more
“Some ancient eukaryote swallowed a photosynthesizing bacteria and became a sunlight gathering alga. Millions of years later one of these algae was devoured by a second eukaryote. This new host gutted the alga, casting away its nucleus and its mitochondria, keeping only the chloroplast. That thief of a thief was the ancestor or Plasmodium and Toxoplasma. And this Russian-doll sequence of events explains why you can cure malaria with an antibiotic that kills bacteria: because Plasmodium has a former bacterium inside it doing some vital business.” 7 likes
“Evolution has taught them that pointless harm will ultimately harm themselves.” 6 likes
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