Solid (sometimes writhing) proof that the scariest zombie flicks have nothing on Nature.
To demonstrate that there are indeed real zombies—“closer than you think”—Johnson (Journey into the Deep, 2010; iPad app, 2011) introduces a select set of fungi, worms, viruses and wasps that invade the bodies and take over the brains of their victims. Enhanced by large and often deliciously disturbing color photos, her descriptions of each parasite’s life cycle is both specific and astonishing; not only does the fungus O. unilateralis force a carpenter ant to clamp itself to a leaf (before sending a long reproductive stalk out of its head) for instance, it even somehow strengthens the ant’s mouth muscles. The author tracks similarly focused physical and behavioral changes not just in insects, but in other creatures too, including rabies-infected mammals. Lest human readers feel left out of the picture, she mentions the protozoan T. gondii, which causes rats to engage in reckless behavior and also has infected up to a quarter of all the adults and teens in this country. In each chapter, Johnson reports back on conversations with scientists engaged in relevant research, and she closes with a quick look at telling signs in the fossil record.
Science writing at its grossest and best, though as the title (not to mention the blood-spattered pages) warns, not for the squeamish. (author's note, glossary, notes, bibliography, further reading, index) (Nonfiction. 10-13)