Zimmer, Carl 1966–

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Zimmer, Carl 1966–

PERSONAL: Born July 13, 1966; son of Richard (a lawyer) and Marfy (a farmer; maiden name, Good-speed) Zimmer. Education: Yale University, B.A., 1987.

ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Free Press Publicity Department, Simon & Schuster, Inc., 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020. E-mail[email protected].

CAREER: Discover magazine, senior editor, 1994–99; freelance writer, 1999–. Media guest on radio programs.

MEMBER: National Association of Science Writers.

AWARDS, HONORS: Everett Clark Award, for science journalism; media award, American Institute of Biological Sciences, 1997; Pan-American Health Organization award, 1999, for excellence in international health reporting; Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea was named one of the best science books of the year by both Discover and New Scientist; Guggenheim fellowship, 2002; science journalism award, Science, 2004.


At the Water's Edge: Macroevolution and the Transformation of Life, Free Press (New York, NY), 1998.

Parasite Rex: Inside the Bizarre World of Nature's Most Dangerous Creatures, Free Press (New York, NY), 2000.

Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea (companion book to PBS television series), HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2001.

Soul Made Flesh: The Discovery of the Brain and How It Changed the World, Free Press (New York, NY), 2004.

Smithsonian Intimate Guide to Human Origins, HarperCollins (New York, NY) 2005.

(Editor, with Judy Diamond and others) Virus and the Whale: Exploring Evolution in Creatures Small and Large, NSTA Press (Arlington, VA), 2006.

Contributor to periodicals, including National Geographic, Science, Newsweek, Audubon, Natural History, Wired, and the New York Times (magazine). Contributing editor, Discover.

WORK IN PROGRESS: A book about E. coli and the meaning of life.

SIDELIGHTS: Science writer Carl Zimmer's first book, At the Water's Edge: Macroevolution and the Transformation of Life, is an in-depth study of the Darwinian concept of macroevolution, a theoretical explanation of how entire species change or evolve in an attempt to adapt to their environments. More specifically, Zimmer examines how primitive organisms first left the world's seas to adapt to life on land, and then, millions of years later, how certain land mammals adapted again to go back to the seas. In what Zimmer calls "two of the most beautiful opportunities for studying macroevolution," he explains how, 350 to 400 million years ago, those early fishes crawled out of the seas and evolved into tetrapods, and then forty to fifty million years ago, some terrestrial mammals decided to go back to the water and eventually evolved into the world's whales and other marine mammals. In the beginning of his book, Zimmer writes an introductory survey concerning the rise of evolutionary thinking, beginning with Darwin and his work. He explains how and why Darwin's theories were so greatly opposed in the beginning, largely because many people were appalled by the idea that man was descended from apes.

In At the Water's Edge Zimmer ponders what the reaction would have been had Darwin explained to people that they really were descendants of fish. "Yet the transition from apelike ancestors to humans was a late, minor change in our kaleidoscopic descent. At least an ape can walk and breathe air. At least it has hair and thumbs," Zimmer writes in the book. "For real alienation, go back to a fish. Who can see a kindred spirit in those flat button eyes? The flattened or elongated body, nothing more than a mouth driven forward by muscle?" According to Zimmer, Darwin was well aware of this and once wrote to a friend: "Our ancestor was an animal which breathed water, had a swim bladder, a great swimming tail, an imperfect skull, and undoubtedly was an hermaphrodite! Here is a pleasant genealogy for mankind."

In the first half of the book, Zimmer concentrates on how the fishes left the water and were able to travel despite the strains of gravity. They first evolved into tetrapods, and then into all land animals, including mammals. The rest of the book focuses on the rise of whales, porpoises, and other marine mammals, all of which evolved from well-adapted land mammals. Despite the fact that these animals did not have the aid of gills or fins, they still transformed themselves to live an aquatic life. Zimmer considers this adaptation an incredible evolutionary feat. To back up his claims, Zimmer utilizes a wide array of evidence. First, he interviewed many preeminent scientists as they worked in the field and in their laboratories. In his search he traveled all over the world, including such places as Greenland, Brussels, Pakistan, and Australia, and in his writing he takes the reader along for the ride. He combines evidence from several different fields of study, including paleontology, genealogy, biology, and anatomy. The reader also gets a good look at how scientists work and theorize.

The critical response to At the Water's Edge was generally positive. Jean E. Crampon, reviewing the book for the Library Journal, called it an "excellent discussion of macroevolution" that is "very readable." A contributor to Publishers Weekly was also impressed with the book. "More than just an informative book about macroevolution itself, this is an entertaining history of ideas written with literary flair and technical rigor," the contributor wrote. Calling it a "tale of high-stakes scientific sleuthing," Booklist critic Bryce Christensen thought At the Water's Edge is filled with "marvelously lucid writing." Quarterly Review of Biology reviewer John A. Ruben remarked that Zimmer's "easygoing, almost folksy, book represents one of the best popular resources available to help remedy the notion that evolutionary theory suffers from a dearth of easily taught, easily understood facts about macroevolution."

Zimmer's follow-up work, Parasite Rex: Inside the Bizarre World of Nature's Most Dangerous Creatures, deals with "the enormous variety of one-and many-celled organisms that live on and inside other animals and plants," according to a Publishers Weekly reviewer. Zimmer analyzes the various parasites and how they affect their hosts, for ill and sometimes for good. He makes the case that parasites can protect against allergies and certain diseases of the digestive tract and suggests that they can alter their hosts' emotional and sexual behavior. Many parasites, however, are cringe-inducing. Zimmer "introduces readers to some of nature's most sinister characters: nematodes that cause blindness, worms that swell up a scrotum until it fills a wheelbarrow, 60-foot-long tapeworms and deadly creatures so tiny they hitchhike on the back of a fly," reported Jill Wolfson in the online magazine Salon.com. The book led the Publishers Weekly reviewer to state that "one of the year's most fascinating works of popular science is also its most disgusting." Forbes contributor Susan Adams commented about the parasites: "Loathsome they may be, but these creatures deserve a little respect…. In fact, parasites are powerful, complex, highly evolved organisms." Adams called Zimmer's book "spellbinding," while Library Journal critic Margaret Henderson observed that it "makes parasitology interesting and accessible to everyone." Booklist contributor Gilbert Taylor concluded that Parasite Rex is "a well-organized and well-presented survey of parasites' life cycles and the debilitations they cause."

Zimmer's Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea provides "a sweeping overview of most of the topics critical to understanding evolution, presenting his material from both a historical and a topical perspective," according to a Publishers Weekly contributor. This book was followed by Soul Made Flesh: The Discovery of the Brain and How It Changed the World. Here, Zimmer studies how scientists and philosophers accepted the idea that the brain, not the heart, is the center of the body, overturning the theories of Aristotle and Galen. He focuses on the work of seventeenth-century scientist Thomas Willis, whose understanding of the human brain was accomplished through extensive autopsies of human bodies and experimentation using dead and live animals. Willis attended Oxford, where he was influenced by men like Christopher Wren, Robert Hooke, and Robert Boyle. Zimmer's profiles and accounting of developments are set within a historical context that includes the English civil war, the beheading of Charles I, Oliver Cromwell's rise to power, the Restoration, the Irish Rebellion, the plague of 1664 to 1665, the London fire of 1666, and a number of religious conflicts. A Kirkus Reviews contributor concluded that "the many parallels that can be drawn between politics, religion, science, and human behavior then and now add unexpected dividends to this engaging narrative." In a Booklist review, Bryce Christensen wrote that Zimmer is "a gifted science writer" and that Soul Made Flesh is "a remarkable fusion of scientific history and cultural analysis."



Zimmer, Carl, At the Water's Edge: Macroevolution and the Transformation of Life, Free Press (New York, NY), 1998.


Booklist, March 1, 1998, Bryce Christensen, review of At the Water's Edge: Macroevolution and the Transformation of Life, p. 1078; August, 2000, Gilbert Taylor, review of Parasite Rex: Inside the Bizarre World of Nature's Most Dangerous Creatures, p. 2090; December 1, 2000, Hazel Rochman, review of Parasite Rex, p. 734; December 1, 2003, Bryce Christensen, review of Soul Made Flesh: The Discovery of the Brain and How It Changed the World, p. 642.

Forbes, September 18, 2000, Susan Adams, review of Parasite Rex.

Kirkus Reviews, November 1, 2003, review of Soul Made Flesh, p. 1308.

Library Journal, February 1, 1998, Jean E. Crampon, review of At the Water's Edge, p. 108; June 1, 2000, Margaret Henderson, review of Parasite Rex, p. 190.

New Statesman, June 14, 2004, Patricia Fara, review of Soul Made Flesh, p. 53.

New York Times Book Review, May 3, 1998, Philip Gingerich, review of At the Water's Edge, p. 22.

Publishers Weekly, February 9, 1998, review of At the Water's Edge, pp. 83-84; July 10, 2000, review of Parasite Rex, p. 52; August 6, 2001, review of Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea, p. 71; November 24, 2003, review of Soul Made Flesh, p. 52.

Quarterly Review of Biology, June, 1999, John A. Ruben, review of At the Water's Edge, p. 222; September, 2004, Christopher Lawrence, review of Soul Made Flesh, p. 290.

Science News, May 15, 2004, review of Soul Made Flesh, p. 319.

Sciences, September, 2000, Laurence A. Marschall, review of Parasite Rex, p. 44.


Carl Zimmer Home Page, http://www.carlzimmer.com (February 1, 2006).

Salon.com, http://www.salon.com/ (February 1, 2006), Jill Wolfson, "You're a Good Host."