Books by Seth Shulman

BIOGRAPHY & MEMOIR
Released: Sept. 6, 2002

"An effective tribute to an innovator unjustly overshadowed by his litigious peers."
Shulman moves on from polemical exposé (Owning the Future: Staking Claims on the Knowledge Frontier, 1999) to polemical biography, profiling a nearly forgotten aviation pioneer whose story proves that even when men were men, there were still lawyers. Read full book review >
NON-FICTION
Released: Feb. 19, 1999

An effective polemic against those seeking any monopoly on knowledge in the information age. The free flow of know-how is for Shulman (The Threat at Home: Confronting the Toxic Society of the US Military, 1992) a necessary prerequisite both for the survival of the democratic polis and for our continued economic progress. Today, however, he argues, such a free exchange is threatened by an emerging pattern of claims of private ownership of knowledge. Whereas in the past, patents were granted only for the practical application of theories and ideas, today it is these very ideas and theories——actionable knowledge," which is only potentially useful—that are increasingly privately owned. For instance, programmers "own" basic knowledge of software codes; doctors "own" innovative medical procedures; and drug-companies "own" wild plants and insects (and exercise exclusive control over the medicines produced from these). Even our genetic makeup is being sold, as researchers lay claim to genes they discover or decode within the human genome. Freely shared knowledge, concludes Shulman, is thus an endangered species. This is tragic and dangerous, he judges, in both social and political terms. Knowledge thrives and expands as it is shared and propagated. To divide basic ideas up into what Shulman terms "fiefdoms of knowledge assets" is to threaten the very expansion of knowledge itself. Further, democracy demands a well-informed public; all must be able to draw on a spring of accessible knowledge. Economically, too, we may be harmed as society grows divided between "a wealthy cadre of technological titleholders" and a struggling, less entitled majority. Moreover, such polarization may occur on a worldwide scale as the West comes to "own" and control knowledge desperately needed by the developing world. While alarmist and prone to overblown hyperbole (e.g., he warns that we are entering a new "Dark Age"), Shulman points to real dangers as knowledge seems, more and more ominously, to equal power. Read full book review >
HISTORY
Released: May 15, 1992

Boston science-journalist Shulman hammers away at the US military establishment's abysmal handling of deadly waste—an extensively researched exposÇ certain to enlighten and frighten all who have the Armed Forces or the Department of Energy as neighbors. By studying specific circumstances and sites across the country, Shulman brings home the vast, multifaceted extent of the crisis: Within the Rocky Mountain Arsenal outside of Denver, for example, he saw, in 1988, ``Basin F''—a glowing, unlined lake of toxic sludge; the next year, in central California, a barn was found filled from floor to ceiling with abandoned, leaking drums of toxic and explosive materials that were traced back to the military; today, on the Hanford Reservation in central Washington State, lies a ``burial garden'' of leaking underground tanks filled with high-level radioactive waste in which explosive gases are building. Such horror stories seem endless, with 25,000 toxic military sites now suspected nationwide, not including land no longer under Pentagon jurisdiction. The halting, redundant, hugely expensive, and largely ineffective steps in recent years by Army, Navy, and Air Force officials to begin a cleanup, and their long- standing resistance to warning those citizens most at risk, receive full consideration here, with the ultimate message being that, while evidence of improvement exists, current efforts, coming after decades of indiscriminate dumping, won't stop the spreading plumes of toxic contaminants from reaching aquifers and local wells. An activist's handbook complete with legal appendices and lists of waste sites, but much, much more: This is a clear and concise condemnation of practices and attitudes in the last bastion of unregulated environmental destruction in America. Read full book review >