The Loom

Needed: Quotes

A quick favor from anyone who has read any of my books. If there’s a passage–sentence to paragraph range–that you’re fond of, can you let me know? I’m working on a project that requires a bunch of them. You can leave them in this post’s comment thread or over on a discussion thread I set up on my Facebook writer’s page, or–if you’d prefer not to air such things in public–you can email me. Thanks!


  1. #1 Kyle Copas
    February 3, 2008

    Ah, finally, my electronic commonplace comes in handy for something other than my own writing and research!

    From At the Water’s Edge:

    It’s tempting to think that the transition of tetrapods onto dry land was the most spectacular transformation vertebrates ever performed. You need only see a dolphin throw itself from the sea into the air or a pod of finback whales breach and spout clouds of mist from their blowholes to know that it’s a temptation to be resisted. We have finally begun to figure out how millions of years of adaptations, of synchronized embryonic rejiggering, of partnerships with bacteria and inventions of things like ears and fingers made it possible for a lobe-fin to live permanently on shore, a possibility that tetrapods are still perfecting. But look at whales and dolphins, how they can swim from Japan to Baja, how they catch more fish than all of our trawlers can gather, how they are as at home at sea as any shark, and how dry land to them means nothing more than death. They are big-brained, perpetual acrobats who spend their lives touring the flooded three-quarters of the world, leaving us humans to our dry, ground-leashed lives. They need none of our plumbing—they get all the fresh water they need from the animals they eat and the vapor in the air they breathe. And yet, despite all this, they are also tetrapods: even mammals like ourselves. Who would dare trace the ancestry of such animals back to land?

  2. #2 Monique
    February 3, 2008

    Hey Zimmer!

    I came across your site by reading about tattoos in a brazillian magazine that showed your page with scientific tattoos! It’s really interesting and amazing!!!! Some of them are really funny!!!! Congratulations for putting them all together, it’s quite nice to browse them.
    Well, I wonder if there are any of your books available here in Brazil, cause i just made a search but I can’t seem to find it. Even tho i’m not from science field (Actually, I study International Relations), I like reading about evolution and biology very much!!!!!! I wish I could read some of your books!

    Best Regards,
    Monique Souza
    from Brazil

  3. #3 Vanderson Rangel
    February 4, 2008

    You can find this book: A Beira d’agua Macroevolucao e a transformacao da vida – jorge zahar editor.

    If you want read about evolution (introducing) here in Brazil, try Stephen Jay Gould.

    Happy Carnival

    Vanderson Rangel

  4. #4 outeast
    February 5, 2008

    This prompted me to pick up Prasite Rex again (again). There’s too much to choose from there, but one early paragraph stands out as really encapsulating the spirit of the book. I offer it in edited form here – the list is important, as are the brief descriptions, but it’s the image at the end that startles:

    Then there are Tambura’s guinea worms… filaral worms that cause elephantiasis… tapeworms… leaf-shaped flukes in the liver and blood… single-celled parasited that cause malaria… Stay long enough in Tambura, and people around you turn transparent and become glittering constellations of parasites.

    I like it because it conveys a sense of the ubiquity and influence of parasites (and presages the horrifying descriptions to come later in the book), yet also reveals your sense of wonder and fascination with – even love for – your unpreposessing subjects.

  5. #5 Anna Barr
    February 5, 2008

    Hi, Carl,

    You are one of my favorite writers. Here are just a few of the passages that immediately hopped to mind when I read your request. They are, admittedly, mainly in your first and last chapters, which I guess kind of makes sense . . .

    In your _At the Water’s Edge_ intro:

    “As I knelt there, fish beside me, dolphin overhead, an appreciation of my place in evolution hit me.” (p. 2 of my paperback)

    “We three animals live in separate countries divided by a fatal boundary. Yet a dissection would show that we are not complete strangers. . . . ” (p. 4)

    In _Parasite Rex_:

    “According to one estimate, parasites may outnumber free-living species four to one. In other words, the study of life is, for the most part, parasitology. The book in your hand is about this new study of life. . . . ” (p. xxi of my hardback)

    “I chewed that over for a while. Here was a new meaning parasites could have for us–one that could take the place of Lankester’s degenerates, Jewish tapeworms, and the old myths of failed evolution. One that could be biologically faithful without turning life into a horror movie, without having parasites come bursting out of our ribs. It is we are who the parasites, and Earth the host. . . . ” (p. 245)

    On the final page of _Soul Made Flesh_:

    “Our souls are material and yet immaterial: a product of chemistry but also a pulsing network of information–a network that reaches beyond the individual brain to other brains, linked by words, glances, gestures, and other equally immaterial signals, which can leave a physical mark as indelible on a scan as a stroke or a swig of barium, and yet never become merely physical themselves.”

    “Centuries have passed since Thomas Willis and Lady Conway last saw each other, when the doctor sat by the noblewoman’s bed in a darkened room and discussed animal spirits and the nature of pain. But long after death, they are due for a reunion, to work together to make sense of the soul.”

    From _Evolution_:

    “Life is a dance of partners–cold viruses and their sniffly hosts, orchids and the insects that pollinate them, garter snakes and poisonous-skinned newts. But no list of life’s dance partners would be complete without Male and Female.” (p. 229 of my hardback)

    From _Smithsonian Intimate Guide to Human Origins_:

    “The winds of the Sahara Desert sandblast the Earth. They scour rocks, stripping an inch-thick layer away every year. But not everything the winds touch is so easy to dislodge. Fossils of long-dead animals and plants resist, even as the soft sandstone surrounding them vanishes.” (p. 9 of my hardback)

    If I have more time, I will skim through your books and try to think of some more passages that particularly stick in my mind and post them. When is your deadline?


  6. #6 Martin LaBar
    February 6, 2008

    Spontaneous generation was the best explanation for parasites, given the evidence at hand. But, it was also a profound heresy. The Bible taught that life was created by God in the first week of creation, and every creature was a reflection of His design and His beneficence. Everything that lived today must descend from those primordial creatures, in an unbroken chain of parents and children — nothing could later come squirting into existence thanks to some vital, untamed force. If our own blood could spontaneously generate life, what help did it need from God back in the days of Genesis?
    The mysterious nature of parasites created a strange, disturbing catechism of its own. Why did God create parasites? To keep us from being too proud, by reminding us that we were merely dust. How did parasites get into us? They must have been put there by God, since there was no apparent way for them to get in by themselves. Perhaps they were passed down through generations within our bodies to the bodies of our children. Did that mean that Adam, who was created in purest innocence, came into being already loaded with parasites? Maybe the parasites were created in him after his fall. But wouldn’t this be a second creation, an eighth day added on to the first week. . . Well, then, maybe Adam was created with parasites after all, but in Eden parasites were his helpmates. They ate the food he couldn’t fully digest and licked his wounds clean from within. But why should Adam, created not only in innocence but in perfection, need any help at all? Here the catechism seems to have finally fallen apart. Parasite Rex p. 5

  7. #7 Kirsten Menger-Anderson
    February 11, 2008

    A couple of my favorites from SOUL MADE FLESH:

    “Today, when we look at a brain, we see an intricate netowrk of billions of neurons in constant, crackling communication, a chemical labyrinth that sense the world outside and within, produces love and sorrow, keeps our hearts beating and lungs breathing, composes our thoughts, and constructs our consciousness. To most people in 1662, however, this would all have sounded quite absurd. When the contemporary english philosopher Henry More wrote about the brain, he declared that “this lax pith or marrow in man’s head shows no more capacity for thought than a cake of suet or a bowl or curds.”

    “Neuroscience sheds light on how different moralities take shape in different brains, and how those moralities can then crash into each other, causing grief and confusion on all sides. If we step away from the illusions of moral realism, of our mistaken conviction that we perceive right and wrong the same way we perceive red and blue, there might be less grief and confusion in the world. We would do well instead to bear in mind how morality took shape over millions of years, as a profound concenr for others.”

New comments have been disabled.