Although I didn't plan it, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle seemed like the perfect book to be reading close to Earth Day. Barbara Kingsolver, her husband S...moreAlthough I didn't plan it, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle seemed like the perfect book to be reading close to Earth Day. Barbara Kingsolver, her husband Steven Hopp, and their children Camille Kingsolver and Lily Hopp moved from Arizona to live at their farm in Southern Appalachia (Virginia). Their goal was to spend one year as locavores--eating local, organic food by growing it themselves and buying it at farmers' markets. In addition to harvesting their gardens and orchards, they raised chickens and turkeys, and bought lamb and dairy products. There were a few things like coffee, whole wheat flour, olive oil, and some spices that were not available locally, but were bought from fair trade farmers. Eating local foods helps by reducing our use of fossil fuels, and supports the efforts of farmers on small farms. "Each food item in a typical U.S. meal has traveled an average of 1,500 miles. In addition to direct transport, other fuel-thirsty steps include processing (drying, milling, cutting, sorting, baking), packaging, warehousing, and refrigeration."
It was a big plus that both Barbara and Steven are biologists, come from farming families, and had established orchards and gardens which they enlarged. Barbara wrote the bulk of the book detailing her family's experiences. Steven wrote sidebars about global food problems, pesticides, politics, and agricultural subsities from the government. He also emphasized raising animals using humane conditions rather than in CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations). Eighteen-year-old Camille was very interested in nutrition, and featured a recipe section after each chapter. I especially enjoyed reading about them making mozzarella cheese. Younger daughter Lily raised chickens and sold eggs, hoping to buy a horse someday with the funds.
The book was packed with information, sometimes getting a bit preachy, but including witty stories too. Their effort seemed a bit too harmonious considering the amount of back-breaking work involved maintaining the gardens, and canning and freezing the food, while also working other jobs.
Many people may not have the time, money, land, health, or transportation to follow the suggestions in this book in a big way. But we could start by buying local ingredients for a few meals weekly, saving fossil fuels. Farmers' markets are a good source of local foods. We can also read the signs and labels in grocery stores. For example, I live in the Northeast with three apple orchards nearby so it doesn't make sense to buy apples from Washington State, but it's appropriate to buy olive oil from California. The Kingsolver-Hopp family should be commended for their locavore experience, and their thought-provoking book.(less)
Maureen Seaberg has written a very interesting book about synesthesia, a mingling of the senses. Synesthesia occurs more often in artists, poets, musi...moreMaureen Seaberg has written a very interesting book about synesthesia, a mingling of the senses. Synesthesia occurs more often in artists, poets, musicians, other creative people, and persons with Asperger's syndrome and autism. She writes about how she sees her numbers, letters, days of the week, and some music in color. Theories about what causes synesthesia include greater cross-wiring between parts of the brain, and lack of an inhibitor gene. Brain imaging shows two sensory areas lighting up when one sense is stimulated.
The author interviewed many famous synesthetes, including Billy Joel, Itzhak Perlman, and Marian McPartland who see colors in music. Sir Robert Cailliau, a co-inventor of the World Wide Web chose "www" as a tool because his favorite color was green and the letter "w" lit up green for him. She also interviewed many scientists as well as experts on states of consciousness.
The author wondered if some of the magical realism we have in literature has a relationship to synesthesia. She kept my interest throughout the book because she found so many fascinating people to interview, and because she could add her personal experiences to the book. Maureen Seaberg is a journalist, and the book was written at the level of an educated reader, not for scientists.(less)
In 1854, a cholera epidemic hit London. The city had experienced great population growth, but did not have the infrastructure for clean water and sewa...moreIn 1854, a cholera epidemic hit London. The city had experienced great population growth, but did not have the infrastructure for clean water and sewage removal.
At the time, the prevalent thought was that disease was spread by miasma (atmospheric bad air that smelled). So to get rid of the bad miasma, cesspools were drained into the Thames River, the source of the drinking water.
Dr John Snow, who thought cholera was transmitted by water, painstakenly researched which water pump was used by the cholera victims. Rev Henry Whitehead aided him in finding the source of the cholera epidemic. Eventually, an extensive modern sewer system was built in London.
The author also discussed public health concerns in developing countries with large cities. He wrote about the advantages of cities in terms of health care availability, culture, and lower energy use due to public transportation. However, a concentrated population is at a disadvantage if someone wants to wipe out many people with chemical or biological weapons, or a nuclear bomb. Epidemics or mutated viruses can also spread faster in areas of high population density.
The book kept my interest except in the middle where it seemed to get bogged down a bit with detail. The descriptions of cholera which kills with acute diarrhea did not bother me due to a background in healthcare, but might bother some people. The author brought together a wealth of information from many fields--history, science, information management, and medicine, especially public health.(less)
Americans eat and drink on the run more than ever, and sales of bottled water are second only to soda. According to the author, an entire generation i...moreAmericans eat and drink on the run more than ever, and sales of bottled water are second only to soda. According to the author, an entire generation is growing up with the idea that drinking water comes in small plastic bottles. There is a large markup in price for bottled waters. A huge amount of energy is used to make the water bottles, fill them, truck them to the consumer, and haul away the empty bottles.
Elizabeth Royte investigated the dispute between Nestle, who owns the Poland Spring brand of bottled water, and the townspeople in Fryeburg, Maine, near the Saco River. Without adequate laws on the books about the ownership of water, a corporation can potentially pump huge amounts from an aquifer, adversely affecting its neighbors and the aquatic life in the streams that are fed by the springs.
The book tells about the different types of bottled water, some from natural springs and others from filtered tap water. The author visited water treatment plants around the country, and wrote about the challenges of purifying the water especially in places with high levels of agricultural fertilizer and pesticides. Traces of pharmaceuticals, especially hormones, in tap water are becoming more of a concern but are not normally tested for now.
Even if the tap water is pure leaving the treatment plants, lead in old pipes can be a problem. Cracked old pipes can let in contamination from the ground. Chloride can mix with other chemicals to form unhealthey compounds.
The author did years of research, traveling around the country to see how various communities solve the problem of providing clean, drinkable water as well as visiting the water bottlers. She did a good job of explaining the environmental, health, and fiscal challenges facing the providers of water. There is a lot of food for thought in this book for the water consumer.(less)
Jeanne Baret pretended to be a young man to work as an assistant to botanist Philibert Commerson on a voyage around the world in 1765. Dressed in men'...moreJeanne Baret pretended to be a young man to work as an assistant to botanist Philibert Commerson on a voyage around the world in 1765. Dressed in men's clothes, she spent over two years as the only woman on a French ship. The French government was especially interested in plants that were spices or had medicinal value. During the sea voyage, Baret did much of the collecting of the specimens since Commerson was suffering from a leg injury.
Jeanne Baret was a French peasant herb woman when she met Commerson a few years prior, and taught him about medicinal plants. He shared his knowledge of classifications of plants with her, and soon they were living and working together in Paris.
I especially enjoyed the descriptions of nature as the ship went through the Straits of Magellan, and during their stop at Tahiti. Baret and Commerson left the ship in Mauritius, and researched the island's plants until Commerson's death. Baret later married and returned by ship to France.
Baret was the first woman to circumnavigate the world, but most people have never heard of her. She has never been given credit for the enormous amount of work she did on the ocean voyage collecting and classifying plants that were new to the Western world. This book is a well-researched book into her life, with many quotes from journals written by the officers on the ship. Unfortunately, very little primary source material mentions Baret, although more is written about Commerson, because women were not supposed to sail on the ship and women were not usually educated in scientific professions in the 18th Century. The book started off a little slow, then picked up as Baret traveled around the world. I would recommend this "first read" book to readers who are interested in history, science, foreign countries, and the achievements of women.(less)
Walter Isaacson has written a well-researched biography of Albert Einstein. He shows Einstein as a curious, imaginative, rebellious young man who visu...moreWalter Isaacson has written a well-researched biography of Albert Einstein. He shows Einstein as a curious, imaginative, rebellious young man who visualized thought experiments to solve problems. Einstein is presented not only as the physicist who came up with the theory of relativity, but also as a political figure. He was involved in Jewish causes, was a pacifist, and believed in free thought and individual freedom. He was a gentle, friendly man with endless curiosity. His biggest flaw seemed to be in pushing his marriages and children to the backseat, in comparison to the endless time he spent on science. In this book, the reader learns about both Einstein the man, and Einstein the scientist. Readers with some science background will appreciate this book more since Isaacson includes quite a bit of complex information about relativity and other areas of physics.(less)
On her way to begin an affair to add a little excitement to her boring life, Dellarobia is stopped by a surprise of millions of monarch butterflies in...moreOn her way to begin an affair to add a little excitement to her boring life, Dellarobia is stopped by a surprise of millions of monarch butterflies in the woods. She feels that the shimmering orange sight is some kind of a sign for her to turn around, so she heads back to her life on a small Appalachian sheep farm. Dellarobia had plans to leave her small town in Tennessee and go to college, but her plans changed when she became pregnant and married at age seventeen. Her husband, Cub, is a good man but his life seems to be run by his parents. Although Dellarobia loves her two children, days filled only with farm chores and child rearing are not enough for this spirited, intelligent woman.
The butterflies usually winter in a location in Mexico, but floods in that region destroyed much of their habitat. A scientist, Dr Ovid Byron, comes to study the monarchs and acts as a vehicle for the author to inform the reader about the monarchs and about climate change. Dellarobia and her young son are excited to be learning about science, and she resolves to make changes in her life.
Barbara Kingsolver's books always have a message in them about politics, social change, or the natural world. In Flight Behavior, she sends a strong message out about the effects of climate change on our Earth. She also show the lack of opportunity and education that exists for people growing up in very impoverished areas. (less)
Sam Kean has written a witty, interesting book about the elements in the Periodic Table. He writes as if he was chatting with the reader in a coffee s...moreSam Kean has written a witty, interesting book about the elements in the Periodic Table. He writes as if he was chatting with the reader in a coffee shop or a tavern, regaling his friends with one anecdote after another. He's imparting his knowledge of science by the use of quirky, fun facts and interesting stories about the scientists involved.
This is not set up like a typical chemistry textbook. The chapters are divided into areas of interest such as astronomy, poisons, money, war, medicine, and periods of history. The author is a physicist so the book had a lot of information about elements made in the lab, radioactive elements, nuclear chemistry, and the atomic bomb. For me, that was the most challenging part of the book.
He writes about Linus Pauling's theory of a triple helix being trumped by James Watson and Francis Crick's double helix model of DNA. The attractive Marie Curie was a source of gossip when she took men into dark closets to show them radioactive specimens. Ghandhi told the people of India to dry their own salt instead of paying a British salt tax, only to have many people develop goiter due to lack of iodine. The trail taken by Lewis and Clark is known because anthropologists found (poisonous) mercury capsules that the explorers were using as laxatives. These types of stories make science seem more approachable.
The title of the book comes from a practical joke. Gallium, which resembles aluminum, is a solid below 84 degrees F, and can be molded into a spoon. When it is dipped into hot tea, the surprised guest finds the spoon disappearing as it melts away. (Youtube has some "disappearing spoon" videos.)
This is a book that can be enjoyed by the lay person as well as a scientist. Some chapters will be much easier to understand if a reader has had an introduction to the Periodic Table, such as in a high school Chemistry course. I would have preferred having the footnotes on the bottom of the pages rather than in the back of the book. Overall, the author should be commended for making science fun.(less)