Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Bathroom Safari

The harrowing tales of adventures with parasites of varying shapes and sizes makes disgusting but compelling reading. It's a paean on frightening parasites that may give psychogenic itch. What else can reading about leeches, tapeworms and flukes lead unto? Eugene Kaplan, distinguished professor of ecology and conservation (emeritus) at Hofstra University, stays comical as he narrates the bizarre tales of contracting every possible parasitic infection during his travels across continents.

What's Eating You is about thirty distinct parasites that have fed on the author. Kaplan describes how he 'gave birth' to a parasite the size and thickness of a pencil while working in Israel, and how drinking contaminated water caused a three-foot-long worm to burst from his arm. It is parasitology writing at its best: informative, beautifully illustrated and hugely entertaining guide through the many forms and relationships that parasites and hosts embody.

Kaplan has written a seriously scientific publication that is pacy but embodies a style of its own. Else, the section captions could not have been awfully smelly. 'A Peek into the Anus - of My Child' and 'The Defecating Scandinavian' could make one feel yuck but the author marvels at the biological ingenuity of the parasites as these infect humans. There is a fish tapeworm that can grow up to forty feet long, and specifically targets elderly Jewish women.

Without doubt, Kaplan is a master raconteur who makes a grisly subject engrossing as well as entertaining. If it were not Kaplan one would not have developed a fascination for blood-sucking leeches. One of the many reasons why the Americans lost the war in Vietnam had to do with leeches feasting on US soldiers. The book demonstrates how wonderfully compelling teacher Kaplan is, wandering 'through field and feces' to get infected for finding subjects to study....Link

What's Eating you? People and Parasitesby Eugene H. Kaplan 
Princeton University Press, Princeton & Oxford, 302 pages, US$26.95

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