Sunday, July 29, 2007

Parasite Rex

In my on-going quest to learn more and more about the many paths that modern science has taken us down, I've tried to read important or otherwise interesting works regardless of how long ago they were published. Much of my interest has been in areas of evolution (as the title of this blog would indicate). Within the past few years I've read books from Charles Darwin's Origin of Species (1859) to Richard Dawkins Selfish Gene (1976) and E.O. Wilson's On Human Nature (1978) right up to Dawkins The Ancestor's Tale (2004). I've tried to approach, without prejudice, books that were written prior to the most current material on a subject. This has worked really well for me, and I've read gem after priceless gem.

Parasite Rex: Inside the Bizarre World of Nature's Most Dangerous Creatures (2000) by New York Times science writer Carl Zimmer is just such a gem. It reminded me, yet again, that I should never limit my reading to books hot off the presses. Every chapter is full of fascinating examples of the parasites of our planet, the various life-cycles that each of them go through, the evolutionary relationships between them and similar parasites and the how they changed in the evolving world of their hosts. By books end, you will be impressed not only with their diversity, but with how dependent ecosystems are on their survival as well as receiving a new awareness of our own parasitism of our planet. And it brings up the fascinating question: do parasites actually drive natural selection?

Additional great reading I have come across from Zimmer include An Intimate Guide to Human Origins (2005), Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea (2001) and he writes some excellent short science articles at his popular blog "The Loom".


John P said...

I haven't read any of the others, but "the Ancestor's Tale" was definitely worth slogging through. It took me awhile, but I did finish it. Loved every bit of regression down the evolutionary road.

I have "The Selfish Gene" on the TBR pile. I'll check out "Parasite Rex".


John said...

Yes, The Ancestor's Tale ranks right up near the top for me. Check out my latest entry "Revolt By Reading". A lot of good ones there, though it seems like I have more time than you do for such endeavors!