Off the deep end.

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IN THE NAME OF SCIENCE

A HISTORY OF SECRET PROGRAMS, MEDICAL RESEARCH, AND HUMAN EXPERIMENTATION

High-minded, full of righteous indignation and now-it-can-be-told breathiness, this tract trades in half-baked conspiracy theories.

To be sure, there are odious accounts of Nazi and Japanese wartime medical atrocities and the earlier histories of eugenics and sterilization laws. Other well-publicized medical scandals concern the suicide of a physician who unwittingly drank LSD-laced Cointreau, mentally retarded children subjected to hepatitis experiments at Willowbrook, and more recently the death of a young volunteer in a clinical trial for gene therapy. Not so well known, but credible, are descriptions of government programs to develop interrogation and brainwashing techniques, not to mention various biological, chemical, and radiological WMD. Does anyone really believe that the US is less vigilant in such research than its enemies—or allies, for that matter? But Gulf War syndrome caused by bioweapons perfected by Iraq from mycoplasma bacteria shipped to Iraq by an American biotech company? West Nile virus a trick of Cuban ornithologists, who infected birds migrating to the US, where they would be bitten by mosquitoes and transmit the disease? HIV infection connected to polio or smallpox or hepatitis B vaccines? Or a mycoplasma? Indeed, read Goliszek (Biology/North Carolina A&T State Univ.) and you get a dim view of all vaccines, which seem to routinely cause cancer or brain damage. And a dimmer view of clinical trialists, the FDA, biotech, and drug companies, the latter especially at fault for wanting to regulate the health-supplement industry and for suppressing the “fact” that lack of vitamin C causes heart disease. Having made such charges, the author invariably hedges his bets by saying the jury is still out, while offering scant references for what he has said, which is sometimes just plain wrong. He laments that Phase I clinical trials leave patients believing they will get the experimental drug, for example, but Phase I trials are limited to healthy volunteers, not patients.

Off the deep end.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-312-30356-4

Page Count: 384

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2003

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Not only the definitive life, but a tour de force by a master.

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EDISON

One of history’s most prolific inventors receives his due from one of the world’s greatest biographers.

Pulitzer and National Book Award winner Morris (This Living Hand and Other Essays, 2012, etc.), who died this year, agrees that Thomas Edison (1847-1931) almost certainly said, “genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration,” and few readers of this outstanding biography will doubt that he was the quintessential workaholic. Raised in a middle-class Michigan family, Edison displayed an obsessive entrepreneurial spirit from childhood. As an adolescent, he ran a thriving business selling food and newspapers on a local railroad. Learning Morse code, he spent the Civil War as a telegrapher, impressing colleagues with his speed and superiors with his ability to improve the equipment. In 1870, he opened his own shop to produce inventions to order. By 1876, he had money to build a large laboratory in New Jersey, possibly the world’s first industrial research facility. Never a loner, Edison hired talented people to assist him. The dazzling results included the first commercially successful light bulb for which, Morris reminds readers, he invented the entire system: dynamo, wires, transformers, connections, and switches. Critics proclaim that Edison’s innovations (motion pictures, fluoroscope, rechargeable batteries, mimeograph, etc.) were merely improvements on others’ work, but this is mostly a matter of sour grapes. Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone was a clunky, short-range device until it added Edison’s carbon microphone. And his phonograph flabbergasted everyone. Humans had been making images long before Daguerre, but no one had ever reproduced sound. Morris rivetingly describes the personalities, business details, and practical uses of Edison’s inventions as well as the massive technical details of years of research and trial and error for both his triumphs and his failures. For no obvious reason, the author writes in reverse chronological order, beginning in 1920, with each of the seven following chapters backtracking a decade. It may not satisfy all readers, but it works.

Not only the definitive life, but a tour de force by a master.

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9311-0

Page Count: 800

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

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LAB GIRL

Award-winning scientist Jahren (Geology and Geophysics/Univ. of Hawaii) delivers a personal memoir and a paean to the natural world.

The author’s father was a physics and earth science teacher who encouraged her play in the laboratory, and her mother was a student of English literature who nurtured her love of reading. Both of these early influences engrossingly combine in this adroit story of a dedication to science. Jahren’s journey from struggling student to struggling scientist has the narrative tension of a novel and characters she imbues with real depth. The heroes in this tale are the plants that the author studies, and throughout, she employs her facility with words to engage her readers. We learn much along the way—e.g., how the willow tree clones itself, the courage of a seed’s first root, the symbiotic relationship between trees and fungi, and the airborne signals used by trees in their ongoing war against insects. Trees are of key interest to Jahren, and at times she waxes poetic: “Each beginning is the end of a waiting. We are each given exactly one chance to be. Each of us is both impossible and inevitable. Every replete tree was first a seed that waited.” The author draws many parallels between her subjects and herself. This is her story, after all, and we are engaged beyond expectation as she relates her struggle in building and running laboratory after laboratory at the universities that have employed her. Present throughout is her lab partner, a disaffected genius named Bill, whom she recruited when she was a graduate student at Berkeley and with whom she’s worked ever since. The author’s tenacity, hope, and gratitude are all evident as she and Bill chase the sweetness of discovery in the face of the harsh economic realities of the research scientist.

Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

Pub Date: April 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-87493-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2016

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