The best books on parasites

3 authors have picked their favorite books about parasites and why they recommend each book.

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Infected

By Scott Sigler,

Book cover of Infected

Possibly one of the best plague books I’ve read, Infected introduces us to an extraterrestrial-created epidemic that soon spreads worldwide. Amazing points of view including scientists with the CDC trying real-time to figure it all out as bodies dissolve in front of them and a pro footballer who is determined to survive even if it means he loses some flesh in the process. Gruesome descriptions, tense action. Thank goodness it’s a trilogy because you’ll want more after the first book.


Who am I?

I am a quiet horror and apocalyptic fiction author with a love for all Horror, but I started with zombies. I have eight published books (three of which are zombie apocalypse novels) and short stories in a handful of zombie anthologies. My favorite movies (Dawn of the Dead remake, 28 Days Later, Shaun of the Dead, Rammbock: Berlin Undead) populate the zombie subgenre. I’ve participated in several zombie walks, written a zombie song and made a music video for it, and done zombie wound special effects makeup. Several of my plague short stories have won awards, including one about Norwegian sea zombies and another about a child-stealing plague.


I wrote...

Mistakes I Made During the Zombie Apocalypse

By Michelle Kilmer,

Book cover of Mistakes I Made During the Zombie Apocalypse

What is my book about?

Ian Ward can’t tell you what it’s like to survive a zombie apocalypse because he is dying in one. From a closet in a second-floor bedroom of an abandoned house, he recounts his tale of “survival” in a backwards journey through the poor choices that put him there.

In an undead world, death is only one mistake away. Mistakes I Made During the Zombie Apocalypse is the anti-survival guide that just might keep you alive.

The Chicken Health Handbook

By Gail Damerow,

Book cover of The Chicken Health Handbook: A Complete Guide to Maximizing Flock Health and Dealing with Disease

My god, a book about keeping chickens and chicken heath that's actually based on science and experience! (Sorry, there are sooooo many terrible blogs and books and posts out there by people who care just cutting and pasting from other crappy blogs and books.) This is the very best source for everything health-wise on chickens. Check here for the real scoop on adding vinegar to chicken water (why and at what dose), what's up with garlic (neutralize the order of chicken poop, and I promise it won’t flavor your eggs), diatomaceous earth, and thousands of other chicken topics and ailments. As a new chicken keeper, I felt a lot safer keeping my backyard chickens healthy, and diagnosing their issues, with this book on my shelf.


Who am I?

I’m an American environmental historian with specialties in food and horticulture. I mostly write on alcohol, wine, garden history, and orchids, but I’ve also kept a small flock of backyard chickens since early 2020. In my preparation for my brood, I read every single chicken history and chicken-keeping book available. Here’s the best of the best.


I contributed to...

The Routledge History of American Foodways

By Michael D. Wise (editor), Jennifer Jensen Wallach (editor),

Book cover of The Routledge History of American Foodways

What is my book about?

The Routledge History of American Foodways provides an important overview of the main themes in the history of American food from the pre-colonial era to the present day. The book incorporates the latest food studies research and explores major advances that have taken place in the past few decades.

The volume has four parts. The first part explores significant developments in US food history in five time periods. The second part examines the key ingredients in the American diet throughout time. The third part focuses on how these ingredients have been transformed into foods identified with the American diet, and how Americans have produced and presented these foods over the last four centuries. The final section explores how food practices are a means of embodying ideas about identity, showing how food choices, preferences, and stereotypes have been used to create and maintain ideas of difference.

Parasite Rex

By Carl Zimmer,

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

This is my favorite book on parasites, which I have recommended hundreds of times in international school and university classrooms worldwide. Zimmer is a science writer with a gift for making a horrific subject fascinating and memorable. Zimmer introduced me to a hidden, parallel universe where parasites control their hosts, manipulate their evolution, hide behind their host’s own bodily chemicals, and on occasion turn them into the living dead.


Who am I?

We're all in this together: public health for all people, no matter their status or wealth, is one of humanity's great achievements. Favoring reason over faith, science over anecdote, and the group over the individual, has led to lowered infant mortality, improved health, and longer human lifespans. During pandemics, however, evidence and reason are often discarded, as people panic and try to save themselves. The odd human behavior we have seen during the Covid-19 pandemic has multiple precedents in the past. Quack cures, snake-oil sales, conspiracy theories, suspicion of authority, the emergence of cults with eccentric, bizarre, and inexplicable beliefs: again and again, this has been the human response to the unknown.


I wrote...

Outbreak! Plagues That Changed History

By Bryn Barnard,

Book cover of Outbreak! Plagues That Changed History

What is my book about?

Did the Black Death destroy the feudal system? Did cholera pave the way for modern Manhattan? Did yellow fever help end the slave trade? Remarkably, the answer to all of these questions is yes. Time and again, diseases have impacted the course of human history in surprisingly powerful ways. From influenza to smallpox, from tuberculosis to yellow fever, Bryn Barnard describes the symptoms and paths of the world’s worst diseases–and how the epidemics they spawned have changed history forever.

Highlighted with vivid and meticulously researched illustrations, Outbreak is a fascinating look at the hidden world of microbes–and how this world shapes human destiny every day.

Parasite

By Mira Grant,

Book cover of Parasite

Yes, I know this is a trilogy, but you can’t read one and not the others. In Parasite, scientists have created a, you guessed it, parasite that can cure most diseases. As a result, the majority of the world gets one implanted. This all goes terribly wrong when said parasites gain sentience and take over their host. This is more ‘during-apocalypse’ than ‘post-apocalypse,’ but it is a brilliant trilogy. My wife kept telling me to read it, and I’m so glad I listened to her.


Who am I?

Survivors was actually inspired by a video game, The Last of Us, but after discovering my love of post-apocalyptic stories via games I quickly moved on to books. There’s something freeing about these kinds of stories, to people who feel society can often be suffocating, it’s nice to imagine it burning down and something new and better rising from the ashes. My Survivors duology is the first of many books I hope. I’m a biomedical scientist in microbiology, and while these types of stories always require a certain suspension of disbelief, I’ve used some of my knowledge to create the world of Survivors. I hope you enjoy it! 


I wrote...

Survivors

By Amy Marsden,

Book cover of Survivors

What is my book about?

Survivors throws you in at the deep end as we follow a group of strangers struggling to survive in a world gone mad. A horrifying disease is made all the worse by the government’s lies, and people are wholly unprepared for the chaos that ensues when the virus breaks free of the quarantine zones. With points of view from the immune university student, the hardened solider, and the ex-teacher with a deadly secret, Survivors will keep you on the edge of your seat as the group of strangers fight for safety and their lives in a world bent on taking away both.

Read for found family, terrifying infected, and characters you can’t help but root for.

Momo

By Michael Ende,

Book cover of Momo

As the subtitle of the original German says, this is the story of the time-thieves and how a child called Momo brought stolen time back to the people. A group of men in gray, paranormal parasites that steal people’s time, arrives in her hometown and all the inhabitants are made to save time in special banks by increasing efficiency and cutting down on leisurely human contact, fun activities, and artistic endeavors, considered “time-wasting.” Life becomes sterile, but Momo comes to the rescue, bringing time back to where it belongs: in the hands and minds of the people.


Who am I?

Livia Kohn, Ph.D., is Professor Emerita of Religion and East Asian Studies at Boston University. The author, or editor, of close to sixty books (including the annual Journal of Daoist Studies), she spent ten years in Kyoto doing research. She now serves as the executive editor of Three Pines Press, runs international conferences and workshops, and guides study tours to Japan.


I wrote...

Taming Time: Daoist Ways of Working with Multiple Temporalities

By Livia Kohn,

Book cover of Taming Time: Daoist Ways of Working with Multiple Temporalities

What is my book about?

Time, literally, is of the essence. It is a key feature in all cultures, determining human thought, expectations, actions, and developments. The great master of time studies, J. T. Fraser, describes it in terms of six major temporalities that move at different speeds in unique environments. Matching the evolution of the universe, they include (1) the atemporal or timeless state of primordial chaos; (2) the prototemporal realm of quantum simultaneity; (3) the eotemporal long-term rhythms of the stars; (4) the biotemporal dimensions of living creatures; (5) the noötemporal phenomena of brain and mind; and (6) the sociotemporal world of clocks and calendars, history and society, analysis and philosophy.

A Song for Lya

By George R.R. Martin,

Book cover of A Song for Lya

Years before Game of Thrones became a household name, Martin was best known for this hauntingly beautiful and deeply disturbing novella. Two telepaths, Robb and Lya, are sent to an alien planet to investigate a disturbing religious movement. The planet is home to a race called the Shkeen, and to a gelatinous parasite called the Greeshka. In middle age the Shkeen allow the Greeshka to infect them, and ten years later they visit a cave where they allow a massive specimen to consume them. Some humans living on the planet have even joined the native religion, and have allowed themselves to be infected and devoured. The administrators are desperate to know why.

Robb and Lya have an unusually close relationship, but she suffers from a sense of isolation that telepathy cannot banish. While they watch some Shkeen being devoured by the Greeshka, she can sense how isolated the Shkeen feel…


Who am I?

I have always been fascinated by the workings of the human mind. What instincts and influences make us who we are? This Alien Shore grew out of research I was doing into atypical neurological conditions. It depicts a society that has abandoned the concept of “neurotypical”, embracing every variant of human perspective as valid and valuable. One of my main characters, Kio Masada, is autistic, and that gives him a unique perspective on computer security that others cannot provide. What might such a man accomplish, in a world where his condition is embraced and celebrated? Good science fiction challenges our definition of “Other,” and asks what it really means to be human, all in the context of an exciting story.


I wrote...

This Alien Shore

By C.S. Friedman,

Book cover of This Alien Shore

What is my book about?

When Earth’s superluminal drive altered the genes of the first interstellar colonists, Earth abandoned them. But the colonists survived, and now there is a new civilization among the stars, peopled by mental and physical “Variants”. Earth’s children have become alien to her.

In Terran space, orphan Jamisia Shido is guided by mysterious voices in her head. After a devastating attack on her station, she is forced to flee to the Variant worlds, where she must uncover the secrets locked within her own brain before those who destroyed her home can find her. In Variant space, a computer virus is killing the only pilots capable of guiding ships through deep space. Security expert Kio Masada must track down the source of the virus before all of Variant society collapses. And the key to doing that may lie hidden within the mind of a young Terran fugitive. 

Illness as Metaphor

By Susan Sontag,

Book cover of Illness as Metaphor

I return to this book again and again because I find it so smart about the metaphors that people use to talk about cancer. In particular, Sontag picks apart the war metaphors used to describe cancer and its treatment. When I worked in oncology as a nurse, I never talked about treating cancer as “war.” Cancer results from a genetic mistake that causes cells to grow and grow when they are supposed to die. My body is not a battlefield and thinking about myself that way is profoundly disempowering.


Who am I?

I am an expert on being a cancer patient because I was diagnosed with breast cancer in the fall of 2017. I am also a former oncology and hospice nurse. A cancer diagnosis always feels like a calamity and my work with very sick cancer patients showed me how serious the disease can be. I also thought that our health care system would react to cancer with compassion, but I was wrong. I felt on my own as a patient, and that experience led me to reflect on my nursing work. Healing alternates between me being a nurse and a patient. The alteration shows the failings of our health care system, and how to make it more caring.


I wrote...

Healing: When a Nurse Becomes a Patient

By Theresa Brown,

Book cover of Healing: When a Nurse Becomes a Patient

What is my book about?

When an oncology nurse is diagnosed with cancer, she has to confront the most critical, terrified, and angry patient she’s ever encountered: herself.

New York Times bestselling author Theresa Brown tells a poignant, powerful, and intensely personal story about breast cancer in Healing. She brings us along with her from the mammogram that would change her life through her diagnosis, treatment, and recovery. Despite her training and years of experience as an oncology and hospice nurse, she finds herself continually surprised by the lack of compassion in the medical maze—just as so many of us have. 

A Planet of Viruses

By Carl Zimmer,

Book cover of A Planet of Viruses

Parasitism of other species is probably the most common way of life on earth. It is not uncommon for a species to have tens to hundreds of parasites that exploit it. Viruses have fine-tuned the parasitic lifestyle to the extreme, attacking just about all other forms of life and fueling the evolution of counter-defenses in their hosts. Viruses co-opt the genetic machinery of their hosts for just about everything they need to replicate themselves. Carl Zimmer’s book is not only the best introduction I know to the remarkable diversity of viruses, it also is written with the crystal clear, elegant prose and solid scientific grounding that are the hallmarks of all his writing. 


Who am I?

I am captivated and never cease to be astonished by the seemingly endless variety of ways in which coevolution shapes the millions of species on earth into intricate and ever-changing webs of life. The reasons for my fascination are simple. Most species require other species to survive or reproduce, which means that the evolution of biodiversity is as much about evolution of the links among species as it is about evolution of the species themselves. I find immense joy in following the connections among species within the web of life, trying to understand how coevolution has shaped, and relentlessly reshapes, each link. There are always surprises along the way.


I wrote...

Relentless Evolution

By John N. Thompson,

Book cover of Relentless Evolution

What is my book about?

We often think of evolution as a slow and unobservable process, but we now know that view is wrong. Hundreds of scientific studies have now shown that evolution is relentless and sometimes astonishingly fast. Examples of rapid evolution over the time scale of human lifetimes, and even within decades, have been found in organisms as different as viruses, bacteria, fungi, plants, insects, fish, and birds. At every time scale, some of the relentless evolution is driven by adaptation to changing physical environments, but much of it is due to relationships among species as they coevolve with each other in evolutionary arms races, mutualistic symbioses, and competitive battles. This book explores how and why much of relentless evolution is driven by the coevolving web of life itself. 

Death on Earth

By Jules Howard,

Book cover of Death on Earth: Adventures in Evolution and Mortality

This may seem like an odd recommendation, but Jules’s exploration of the way death keeps the earth going is not only fascinating, but it also widens the perspective away from humans to the animal kingdoma handy reminder that we’re as much a part of said kingdom as any others species. It’s always a useful reminder that, despite what our individualist culture and stories and tell us, death is not always an aberration, something a sneaky lawyer hid in the small print; it’s normal, necessary, and actually very helpful.


Who am I?

I’m Erica Buist, a writer, journalist, lecturer, and playwright based in London. I became interested in death anxiety when I realised mine was out of control after my partner and I found his father dead. Reading up on death anxiety, it struck me that some cultures seem to deal with it by throwing festivals for the dead, which seemed to be the very opposite of our policy of not talking about it unless absolutely necessary. I thought I’d better go and see how they managed that—so I did. Six years, eight countries and about a million espressos later, my book was published.


I wrote...

This Party's Dead: Grief, Joy and Spilled Rum at the World's Death Festivals

By Erica Buist,

Book cover of This Party's Dead: Grief, Joy and Spilled Rum at the World's Death Festivals

What is my book about?

By the time Erica Buist's father-in-law Chris was discovered, upstairs in his bed, his book resting on his chest, he had been dead for over a week. She searched for answers (the artery-clogging cheeses in his fridge?) and tried to reason with herself (does daughter-in-law even feature in the grief hierarchy?) and eventually landed on an inevitable, uncomfortable truth: everybody dies.

With Mexico's Day of the Dead festivities as a starting point, Erica decided to confront death head-on by visiting seven death festivals around the world—one for every day they didn't find Chris. From Mexico to Nepal, Sicily, Thailand, Madagascar, Japan, and finally Indonesia—with a stopover in New Orleans, where the dead outnumber the living ten to one—Erica searched for the answers to questions around death anxiety.

Epidemics

By Joshua Loomis,

Book cover of Epidemics: The Impact of Germs and Their Power over Humanity

This is a sweeping study of disease in human history written by a scientist who describes both the biological and historical trajectory of ten infectious diseases that have afflicted human society, from bubonic plague to HIV/Aids. While science and medicine continue to find ways to control individual diseases, new infections and parasites continue to emerge to sicken, disable and kill. Loomis concludes with a thoughtful discussion about the future of epidemic disease as we continue to alter our global environment.


Who am I?

Carol R. Byerly is a historian specializing in the history of military medicine. She has taught American history and the history of medicine history at the University of Colorado, Boulder, was a contract historian for the U.S. Army Office of the Surgeon General, Office of History, and has also worked for the U.S. Congress and the American Red Cross. Byerly’s publications include Fever of War: The Influenza Epidemic in the U.S. Army during World War I and Good Tuberculosis Men: The Army Medical Department’s Struggle with Tuberculosis. She is currently working on a biography of Army medical officer William C. Gorgas, (1854-1920), whose public health measures, including clearing yellow fever from Panama, enabled the United States to construct the canal across the Isthmus.


I wrote...

Fever of War: The Influenza Epidemic in the U.S. Army During World War I

By Carol R. Byerly,

Book cover of Fever of War: The Influenza Epidemic in the U.S. Army During World War I

What is my book about?

The startling impact of the 1918 influenza epidemic on the American army, its medical officers, and their profession, a story which has long been silenced. The influenza epidemic of 1918 killed more people in one year than the Great War killed in four, sickening at least one-quarter of the world's population. In Fever of War, Carol R. Byerly uncovers medical officers' memoirs and diaries, official reports, scientific articles, and other original sources, to tell a grave tale about the limits of modern medicine and warfare.

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