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People, Parasites, & Plowshares: Learning From Our Body's Most Terrifying Invaders

Popular Science
A richly illustrated encounter with feared parasites that can devastate – and possibly – save the human body

By: Dickson D Despommier(Author), William C Campbell(Foreword By)

213 pages, 43 b/w photos and b/w illustrations

Columbia University Press

Paperback | Jul 2016 | #224008 | ISBN-13: 9780231161954
Availability: Usually dispatched within 4 days Details
NHBS Price: £17.99 $24/€20 approx
Hardback | Jul 2013 | #204423 | ISBN-13: 9780231161947
Availability: Usually dispatched within 3 days Details
NHBS Price: £22.99 $30/€26 approx

About this book

Dickson D. Despommier's vivid, visceral account of the biology, behavior, and history of parasites follows the interplay between these fascinating life forms and human society over thousands of years. He focuses on long-term host-parasite associations, which have evolved to avoid or even subvert the human immune system. Some do great damage to their hosts, while others have signed a kind of "peace treaty" in exchange for their long lives within them. They also, Despommier shows as he discusses these organisms with the reader, practice clever survival strategies that doctors hope to mimic as they undertake treatments for Crohns disease, food allergies, type 1 diabetes, organ transplantation, and other as yet unsolved medical challenges.

Despommier concentrates on particularly remarkable and often highly pathogenic organisms, describing their life-cycles and the mechanisms they use to avoid elimination. He details their attack and survival plans and the nature of the illnesses they cause in general terms, enabling readers of all backgrounds to steal a glimpse into the secret work of such effective invaders. He also points to the cultural contexts in which these parasites thrive and reviews the current treatments available to defeat them. Encouraging scientists to continue to study these organisms even if their threat is largely contained, Despommier shows how closer dissection of the substances parasites produce to alter our response to them could help unravel some of our most complex medical conundrums.

"A well-written and fascinating introduction to human parasitology from an intriguing, seldom-used perspective: how we can learn from parasites to achieve medical breakthroughs."
– Rod Adam, University of Arizona

"Dickson D. Despommier's approach is unique, easy going, and insightful. His book will appeal to both scientists and laypeople interested in science and medicine – and will be of particular interest to travelers to exotic places."
– Robert Gwadz, National Institutes of Health

"There's a lot to learn from a tapeworm. Parasites have evolved stunningly successful strategies for thriving in our bodies for millions of years. Drawing on his long career as a parasitologist, Dickson D. Despommier explores the lessons we can gain from our passengers, creating a fascinating tour of the parasitic world."
– Carl Zimmer, author of A Planet of Viruses and Parasite Rex

"[An] illuminating book [...] Despommier is an excellent popularizer, lacing his accounts of our invaders' ingenuity with history and anecdotes that underscore how grateful a modern society should be for clean drinking water and sanitary facilities."
Kirkus Reviews

"Reading this book may make your skin crawl [...] The facts are horrifying and fascinating [...] As Despommier argues, these body snatchers deserve respect."
– Marissa Fessenden, Scientific American

"[People, Parasites, and Plowshares] chronicles the discovery – and destructive treachery – of parasites as well as the promise they offer modern medicine in curing a number of diseases."
Washington Post

"[People, Parasites, and Plowshares] beautifully balances history and pathology."
– Dave Lee, Discover

"A rich, fulsome feast. It is also a gift to tropical medicine."
American Journal of Tropical Medicine

"An informative and entertaining view of parasitic life cycle and resulting human diseases."

"Despommier's writing is precise, clear, and up to date [...] I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in parasitology."
– Scott L. Gardner, BioScience

"A smoothly crafted mix of pathology, public and global health, how these parasites make their livings, and fascinating stories."
– Janice Moore, BioScience


Foreword by William C. Campbell

1. This New House: Trichinalla spiralis
2. Hooked on Parasites: Ancylostoma duodenale and Necator americanus
3. Houdini's Nefarious Cousins: The Trypanosomes, the Schistosomes, and the Lymphatic Filariae
4. A Parasite for All Seasons: Toxoplasma gondii
5. The Unholy Trinity: Ascaris lumbricoides, Trichuris trichiura, and theHookworms
6. The Long and the Short of It: Tapeworms -- Taenia saginata, Taenia solium, Diphyllobothrium latum, Echinococcus granulosus, and Echinococcus multilocularis
7. All's Well That Ends Wells: Dracunculus medinensis
8. Nature Has All the Answers

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Dickson D. Despommier is emeritus professor of public health and microbiology at Columbia University. For thirty-eight years, he taught parasitic diseases to second year medical students at Columbia's medical school. He has won numerous teaching awards, including the prestigious Golden Apple Award For Teaching Excellence from the American Medical Students Association. He is the author of more than seventy peer-reviewed research articles, numerous reviews, and three books. He is currently engaged in promoting the idea of growing food crops in tall buildings inside city limits (vertical farming). His book, The Vertical Farm: Feeding the World in the 21st Century, was highly received.

William C. Campbell is a retired senior research scientist at Merck, Inc., Rahway, New Jersey. He discovered and helped develop the drugs thiabendazole, ivermectin, and related derivatives. Both parent compounds have helped to reduce or eliminate certain parasitic worm infections in cattle and humans. He is a world renowned expert on drug discovery, a former president of the American Society for Parasitologists, and is currently a RISE associate at Drew University.

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