Riddled with Life: Friendly Worms, Ladybug Sex, and the Parasites that Make Us Who We Are

Marlene Zuk

Harcourt,  April 2007

Did You Know . . . 

  • that sufferers from some intestinal diseases can find relief by eating worms?
  • that households that use antibacterial products end up with just as many colds and cases of the flu as those who don't?
  • that hairlessness in humans may have evolved because it gave parasites fewer places to hide?
  • that early exposure to germs actually helps to protect us against food allergies and asthma?

We treat disease as our enemy, and germs and infections as things we battle. But what if we've been giving them a bum rap? In this witty, engaging book, evolutionary biologist Marlene Zuk makes us rethink our instincts as she argues that disease is our partner, not our foe.

From the earliest days of life on earth, when parasites spurred the creation of complex life forms, disease has evolved alongside us, becoming not only natural but essential to our health. Drawing on the latest research and most unusual studies, Zuk explains the role of disease in answering a fascinating range of questions: Why do men die younger than women? Why are we attracted to our mates? Why does your average male bird not have a penis? Why do we -- as well as insects, birds, pigs, cows, goats, and even plants -- get STDs? Why do vultures have yellow heads and roosters have red wattles? Why do we have sex at all, rather than simply splitting off copies of ourselves like certain geckoes do? And how is our obsession with cleanliness making us sicker?

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

hardcover | ISBN: 9780151012251 | Publication Date: April 2007

"Marlene Zuk has a majestic command of her diverse material and an eloquent storytelling style. If she does not change your mind about cooling fevers, eating sushi, and keeping cats, I'll eat my hat (and the bacteria in it will keep hay fever at bay)."
--Matt Ridley, author of Genome

"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 this book right down to its funny last line."
--Deborah Blum, author of Ghost Hunters

"Parasites have made us who we are: That may sound like science fiction, but Zuk makes a compelling case that it is true."
--Carl Zimmer, author of Parasite Rex

"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 the nature of life."
--Randolph M. Neese, author of Why We Get Sick