Riddled with Life: Friendly Worms, Ladybug Sex, and the Parasites That Make Us Who We Are (Hardcover)

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We think of disease as our enemy, something we try to eradicate; germs and infections are things we battle. But in this witty, engaging book, evolutionary biologist Marlene Zuk reveals that, in fact, disease is our partner, not our foe, and is responsible for everything from how we look to how we have sex.

Since the earliest days of life on earth, disease has evolved alongside us. Drawing on the latest research and studies, Zuk explains the role of disease in answering a fascinating range of questions such as: Why do men die younger than women? Why does the average male bird not have a penis? Why do we—and lots of other animals—get STDs? How is our obsession with cleanliness making us sicker? And how can parasites sometimes make us well?

Using her own work on sexual selection as well as a sampling of stories from the natural world, Zuk makes us reconsider the fearsome parasite.

About the Author

MARLENE ZUK is a professor of biology at the University of California, Riverside, where she studies behavior in a variety of animals. She has written articles for numerous publications including the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times.

Praise For…


"Fascinating and persuasive. Zuk is not an idealogue, just an unusually clear-eyed scholar."—THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW

"Zuk is a truly intelligent writer who is out to make a serious point: Humans often try to legitimize their own behavior by citing similar behavior in the animal kingdom . . . Not only rare but relevant."—THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

"[Zuk] understands that invasive creatures are, like thunderstorms, earthquakes, and gravity, irreducible parts of the human environment.  Living the good life, to Zuk, means reaching a kind of detente with the creatures that live around and in us... Her insight into disease is that, though some invasive microorganisms should be controlled, others can be endured, and still others may actually be helpful."

— Natural History

"Parasites, Marlene Zuk informs us, have made us who we are. That may sound like science fiction, but Zuk, an eminent biologist and expert on parasites, makes a compelling case that it is true. Riddled with Life offers an entertaining but authoritative look at how parasites shape evolution, including our own."

— Carl Zimmer, author of Parasite Rex

"In this fascinating book, Marlene Zuk - who happens to be one of the most talented scientists writing for the general public today - illuminates our long and surprisingly intimate relationship with the pathogens that live around us and inside us. I loved Riddled with Life right down to its funny last line."

— Deborah Blum, author of Ghost Hunters

"RIDDLED WITH LIFE is a book full of astonishing stories. We are only beginning to appreciate the bizarre natural history of parasites and diseases, and their unexpected and subtle effects. Marlene Zuk has a majestic command of her diverse material, and an eloquent story-telling style. If she does not change your mind about cooling fevers, eating sushi and keeping cats, I'll eat my hat (the bacteria in it will keep hay fever at bay)."

— Matt Ridley, author of Genome

"What's eating you? Or to put it more politely, "sharing your space," which happens to be your body? The answers are oddly consoling in evolutionary biologist Marlene Zuk's witty "disease appreciation" course... [B]eguiling."

— O Magazine

"Zuk's book makes disease scintillating, wryly amusing and even sexy. Her enthusiasm and a hundred examples propel the reader to a deeper understanding of Darwinian medicine and the nature of life."

— Randolph M. Nesse, author of Why We Get Sick
Product Details
ISBN: 9780151012251
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication Date: April 2nd, 2007
Pages: 336