This is your brain on parasites How tiny creatures manipulate our behavior and shape society

Kathleen McAuliffe

Book - 2016

"Based on a wildly popular Atlantic article: an astonishing investigation into the world of microbes, and the myriad ways they control how other creatures -- including humans -- act, feel, and think As we are now discovering, parasites -- microbes that cannot thrive and reproduce without another organism as a host -- are shockingly sophisticated and extraordinarily powerful. In fact, a plethora of parasites affect our behavior in ways we have barely begun to understand. In this mind-bending... book, McAuliffe reveals the eons-old war between parasites and other creatures that is playing out in our very own bodies. And more surprising still, she uncovers the decisive role that parasites may have played in the rise and demise of entire civilizations. Our obsession with cleanliness and our experience of disgust are both evolutionary tools for avoiding infection, but they evolved differently for different populations. Political, social, and religious differences among societies may be caused, in part, by the different parasites that prey on us. In the tradition of Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel and Neil Shubin's Your Inner Fish, This Is Your Brain on Parasites is both a journey into cutting-edge science and a revelatory examination of what it means to be human."--

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2nd Floor 612.8/McAuliffe Checked In
Boston : Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2016.
Item Description
"An Eamon Dolan book."
Physical Description
268 pages, [16] pages of plates ; 24 cm
Includes bibliographical references and index.
Main Author
Kathleen McAuliffe (author)
  • Before parasites were cool
  • Hitching a ride
  • Zombified
  • Hypnotized
  • Dangerous liaisons
  • Gut feelings
  • My microbes made me fat
  • Healing instinct
  • The forgotten emotion
  • Parasites and prejudice
  • Parasites and piety
  • The geography of thought.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Science journalist McAuliffe takes an "unabashedly parasite-centric view of the world" to suggest that perhaps microorganisms are actually the ones in control of human lives, with parasitic manipulation guiding human behavior and thoughts. Noting that correlation does not equal causation, McAuliffe reports on provocative studies that link contagious vectors-such as the feline-associated, behavior-changing Toxoplasma gondii, which was the subject of her virally popular article in the Atlantic-to mental illness and libido fluctuations, and others that link organisms thought of as symbionts, such as human gut bacteria, to obesity and personality. McAuliffe also presents some well-established yet still astonishing facts about neuroparasitology. The hairworm, for example, makes crickets behave erratically and head for water, leaving them easy prey, while the Ophiocordyceps fungus turns carpenter ants into "zombie ants." But by the book's end, she careens wildly toward biological determinism regarding a "behavioral immune system" that causes humans to shun the abnormal and unknown. She addresses studies linking visceral experiences of physical disgust with xenophobia and moral conservatism, and others that have connected living in an area prone to disease with developing a collectivist culture. McAuliffe presents her collected research-often from small, nearly anecdotal studies-less as fact than in a spirit of exploration. Agent: Zoë Pagnamenta, Zoë Pagnamenta Agency. (June) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

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