Monday, August 11, 2008

Book rec

Seems like ages since I've posted here about a book I didn't review for money, but this one deserves all the readers it can get. Riddled with Life: Friendly Worms, Ladybug Sex, and the Parasites that Make Us Who We Are is the best kind of popular science writing. It's witty, Marlene Zuk's prose is graceful, and it's perfectly accessible without seeming a bit dumbed down.

Zuk's basic message is "Stop worrying and learn to love pathogens." Or at least accept that they are an inescapable fact of our existence. Sometimes they're good, sometimes they're bad, sometimes they're both--kinda like every lover you ever had, right? In fact, you could read this book as a sort of human-microbe relationship manual. Chapter headings include "When Sex Makes You Sick" and "Parasites and Picking the Perfect Partner." There's a danger here of excess drollery, but the science is substantial enough to keep the jokes from getting tiresome. When Zuk lets herself get a little poetic, the book really soars. Here's a great passage from the introduction:

Life is naturally tattered, infested, bitten off, bitten into. The stem with a broken leaf, like an animal with lesions on its internal organs or less-than-glossy feathers, is more normal than its unscarred counterpart. An unblemished animal--or person--is idealized and fictional, like the advertisements showing a solitary traveler at the Eiffel Tower. It doesn't really exist except in our imaginations. Disease is part and parcel of how we are supposed to look, of how we are supposed to live.

Beautiful stuff. The whole book is like that, only funnier, and occasionally creepier--especially when she writes about how pathogens may actually guide our behavior. The book came out last year, but it was just released in paperback this spring. It's well worth the $14 investment. Plus, it may save you a fortune in hand sanitizer.

Riddled with Life at

1 comment:

whodat said...

It sounds very wabi-sabi, grasshoppah, and I'm down wit dat. :-D