For some reason, I thought this book would be funnier. Why would a book about parasites be funny? Maybe because I associate parasites with travel horror stories, and travel horror stories are almost always hilarious. It does manage to be funny at parts, but mostly it’s gross.
I always prefer non fiction books in which the author is presenting his or her own original work, rather than material gleaned from other books I’ve probably already read, so this meets my first criterion. This feels like a memoir of sorts, a collection of interesting stories and lectures from a long career teaching parasitology.
The author states in the epilogue that as a teacher, his goal is to make his students share in his fascination for the subject matter. I love reading about tropical medicine, diseases I don’t have, and lurid details of medical tragedies. This book does not make me want to study parasitology further. It also makes me want to never do any of the following:
Swim in a lake
Use a hand towel
Eat street food in 3rd world countries
Eat raw meat or fish
There were some unforgettable stories in this, like why river blindness is called river blindness, and why schistosomiasis is now top on my list of “diseases I never want to have.”* Most gruesome was the woman who thought she was pregnant, only to find that it wasn’t a baby, it was a disgusting parasitic cyst 20 years in the making. But wait, there’s more! Let’s put it this way, flukes and tapeworms are not the grossest thing in this book. I don’t think of myself as squeamish, but I almost dry-heaved at the discussion of roaches and the icky things living in their guts.
I can tell the author really loves his subject matter, and there were times when the stories almost reached the point where they were hilarious, but something was missing. Maybe it was the narrator, whose dry-deadpan professor voice deadened the punchlines. I could tell in some chapters that the author was trying to milk the story for all it was worth, and sometimes it dragged it out too much. Also, the pure ickiness of the subject matter sometimes made the humor feel inappropriate, like a risque joke told by a dirty old man.
The science was compelling, if a little hard to follow (not a Biology major here), and the stories were generally good, if not quite excellent. There’s a chance that they’ll be much funnier and more interesting when read rather than listened-to.
I recommend this for people who like biology, for people who like travel stories, and for people who do not get disgusted easily.
*The list of “diseases I would like to have” remains empty.