Hope Jahren's love of science comes through loud and clear in her memoir. She grew up in a rural Minnesota home where there was not much family interaHope Jahren's love of science comes through loud and clear in her memoir. She grew up in a rural Minnesota home where there was not much family interaction. The highlight of her day as a child was spending the afternoon in her father's science lab at the local community college. Jahren is presently a professor geobiology at the University of Hawaii. Her memoir chronicles her personal history and the challenges of running her own laboratory. It also contains short chapters giving fascinating information about plants.
Her lab manager, Bill, has been working with Jahren for twenty years, going with her as she changed jobs. He's eccentric, loyal, hard-working, brilliant, and Jahren's best friend. His quirky sense of humor always comes through, even in the worst of times. It's not easy being a woman running a laboratory in departments that seem to be men's clubs. Even though she works long hours in the lab, Jahren feels that procuring grant money is the hardest part of the job.
Jahren has a passion for understanding how plants and the soil work together. Some of her work has been in paleobiology, researching the layers of soil in the Arctic. Other projects involved researching live plants. The chapters on plants are written at a level where most readers will pick up lots of interesting information, but not so technical that it's difficult to understand.
Jahren also has a love of literature, and her memoir is not written like a dry science text. She writes beautifully about how she looks at nature with awe. Her emotions come through as she tells us about her challenges with her bipolar condition, finding love with her husband Clint, and the joy of motherhood. She's not afraid to poke fun at herself and Bill, and shared humorous events from some unconventional field trips. I found her memoir to be entertaining as well as informative. 4.5 stars....more
In 2012, voters in Colorado and the author's home state of Washington voted to legalize marijuana. One of the main reasons Barcott voted for the initiIn 2012, voters in Colorado and the author's home state of Washington voted to legalize marijuana. One of the main reasons Barcott voted for the initiative was racial profiling-- a huge number of black men were being jailed for long prison terms for possession of small amounts of marijuana. Even though similar numbers of black and white men use marijuana, law enforcement officers were arresting many more black offenders. Not only is this a heartbreaking loss of years of a person's life, but it is also a huge expense to imprison people that pose no risk to society.
Medical marijuana for patients with cancer, AIDS, seizures, PTSD, and other maladies is also important. Unfortunately, the government allows very little research on marijuana. There is only one strain of federal authorized marijuana that can be used for research purposes, a low dose variety grown at the University of Mississippi. The government should be promoting medical research of both high THC strains (the psychoactive ingredient which gives a high) and the high CBD strains (which reduce inflammation and anxiety) so people and their doctors can make educated choices. It should also be evaluated since it is now classified as a Schedule 1 drug (along with addictive, dangerous drugs like heroin and morphine). I am not a pot smoker, but the subject interests me after working in healthcare for many years.
Barcott discussed how the teenage brain is still refining the neural pathways. There is a higher incidence of schizophrenia in young people who smoke dope, although genetic predispositon plays a large role. Marijuana use seems to be safer after age 25, but people with diagnosed schizophrenia should not use it at all.
Barcott also interviewed pot growers, sellers, and marketing people. Setting up a legal marijuana shop required quite a bit of startup money, as well as luck in a lottery. Even people that voted for legalization often did not want a shop in their neighborhood, and some towns changed zoning regulations. Safety is also a concern, especially in edibles, since it may take an hour for the THC to reach the bloodstream, and an inexperienced person may have ingested a large dose. With smoking or vaporized use, a person gets feedback right away so they are less likely to have a bad trip.
Another concern is that United States federal law still outlaws marijuana use, even though state law legalizes it in several states and permits medical marijuana use in some additional states. Federal law overrides the state law. We now have a liberal President who is choosing not to enforce federal law in those states to see if this experiment in legalization works. But we don't know what the next election will bring.
This was an interesting, well-researched book. It did bounce around a bit from subject to subject--legal, medical, historical, and entrepreneurial. But that is the reality of marijuana legalization where things are being tried for the first time, and fine-tuning of the process will come later....more
When Elisabeth Tova Bailey returns from a vacation with a debilitating disease, she is confined to bedrest. A friend found a woodland snail and a buncWhen Elisabeth Tova Bailey returns from a vacation with a debilitating disease, she is confined to bedrest. A friend found a woodland snail and a bunch of field violets in the Maine woods to cheer her up. The snail was soon transferred from a flowerpot to a terrarium full of woodland plants, with a shell holding water and mushrooms for food. Bailey found watching the snail to be fascinating and relaxing:
"Watching it glide along was a welcome distraction and provided a sort of meditation; my often frantic and frustrated thoughts would gradually settle down to match its calm, smooth pace. With its mysterious, fluid movement, the snail was the quintessential tai chi master."
Bailey has written a little gem of a book packed full of information gleamed from her research about snails. The book also contains delightful little quotes from poets and naturalists at the start of each chapter. My favorite was from Kobayashi Issa:
"Climb Mount Fuji O snail But slowly, slowly"
The snail and its offspring were released into the woods after a year. Bailey's illness had several possible diagnoses: autoimmune dysautonomia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and mitochondrial disease. Twenty years later, she is still not well, but has had some improvement. A little snail helped her get through a year when it was impossible to maintain blood pressure in an upright position. She wrote:
"Watching another creature go about its life....somehow gave me, the watcher, purpose too. If life mattered to the snail and the snail mattered to me, it meant something in my life mattered, so I kept on."
Bailey also has a website where you can see a video of her snail, and actually listen to the sound of a wild snail eating. Each snail actually has around 2500 tiny teeth! Her website is: www.elisabethtovabailey.net ...more
Ecologist Tom Wessels is a master sleuth who investigates the changes in the forests of New England. Fires, logging, pasturing, beavers, insects, fungEcologist Tom Wessels is a master sleuth who investigates the changes in the forests of New England. Fires, logging, pasturing, beavers, insects, fungus, weather, topography and substrate all leave a stamp on the forest picture. Etchings by Brian D. Cohen illustrate the forest scenes discussed. Most chapters also have "a look back" section where interesting facts about glaciers, Native Americans, colonial history, historic hurricanes, and more are featured. The last chapter tells of Wessels' concerns about the effects of global warming, and atmospheric deposition of acids, heavy metals, ozones, and pesticides. This fascinating book will help me look at the forest with new eyes. Highly recommended!...more
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 sSam 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....more