An astute, evenhanded history of a business often portrayed, with good reason, as a villain.

SEED MONEY

MONSANTO'S PAST AND OUR FOOD FUTURE

Digging deep into the murky world of the agrochemical giant.

By 2005, Monsanto had become the world’s largest seller of seeds. Elmore, a professor of environmental and business history and author of Citizen Coke (2016), has done his homework to deliver an insightful chronicle of Monsanto since its 1901 founding. Struggling with vicious competition, it faced bankruptcy for years before turning the corner with its major products, saccharine and caffeine, and a big customer: Coca-Cola. In a forecast of what was to come, Monsanto fought off government efforts to brand both as toxic adulterants. Diversifying into chemicals in the 1920s, Monsanto hit the jackpot after 1935 with its monopoly on polychlorinated biphenyls, essential in electrical insulation, paints, and plastics. PCBs turned out to be fiercely toxic, led to a torrent of litigation, and were ultimately banned. Turning from industry to agriculture after World War II, Monsanto produced powerful herbicides that were spread over huge areas of Vietnam as defoliants, devastating that nation’s forests and sickening innumerable Vietnamese and Americans exposed to it. Monsanto’s bestseller today, Roundup Ready, are seeds genetically engineered to tolerate herbicides. Resistant seeds now produce more than 90% of the cotton, corn, and soybeans in the U.S. and are spreading across the world. They seemed miraculous when introduced during the 1990s, but they cost more and don’t increase yields. Herbicide-resistant weeds are spreading, and Monsanto continues to fiercely defend its patents. Elmore admits that the Earth could not support 8 billion humans without high-tech agriculture and chemicals. The future will require more, but we’ve underestimated their dangers and surrendered too much control to institutions whose priority is making a profit and who spread disease and destruction to achieve it. Elmore’s gimlet eye reveals that, although an energetic and creative enterprise, Monsanto did not break the mold. For more alarming information about Roundup, pair this book with Stephanie Seneff’s Toxic Legacy (2021).

An astute, evenhanded history of a business often portrayed, with good reason, as a villain.

Pub Date: Oct. 12, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-324-00204-8

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Aug. 25, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2021

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Disingenuous when not willfully oblivious.

SO HELP ME GOD

The former vice president reflects warmly on the president whose followers were encouraged to hang him.

Pence’s calm during the Trump years has been a source of bemusement, especially during the administration’s calamitous demise. In this bulky, oddly uncurious political memoir, Pence suggests the source of his composure is simple: frequent prayer and bottomless patience for politicking. After a relatively speedy recap of his personal and political history in Indiana—born-again Christian, conservative radio host, congressman, governor—he remembers greeting the prospect of serving under Trump with enthusiasm. He “was giving voice to the desperation and frustration caused by decades of government mismanagement,” he writes. Recounting how the Trump-Pence ticket won the White House in 2016, he recalls Trump as a fundamentally hardworking president, albeit one who often shot from the hip. Yet Pence finds Trump’s impulsivity an asset, setting contentious foreign leaders and Democrats off-balance. Soon they settled into good cop–bad cop roles; he was “the gentler voice,” while “it was Trump’s job to bring the thunder.” Throughout, Pence rationalizes and forgives all sorts of thundering. Sniping at John McCain? McCain never really took the time to understand him! Revolving-door staffers? He’s running government like a business! That phone call with Ukraine’s president? Overblown! Downplaying the threat Covid-19 presented in early 2020? Evidence, somehow, of “the leadership that President Trump showed in the early, harrowing days of the pandemic.” But for a second-in-command to such a disruptive figure, Pence dwells little on Trump’s motivations, which makes the story’s climax—Trump’s 2020 election denials and the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection—impossible for him to reconcile. How could such a selfless patriot fall under the sway of bad lawyers and conspiracy theorists? God only knows. Chalk it up to Pence's forgiving nature. In the lengthy acknowledgments he thanks seemingly everybody he’s known personally or politically; but one name’s missing.

Disingenuous when not willfully oblivious.

Pub Date: Nov. 15, 2022

ISBN: 9781982190330

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2022

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A fierce, penetrating, and empowering call for change.

BEYOND THE GENDER BINARY

From the Pocket Change Collective series

Artist and activist Vaid-Menon demonstrates how the normativity of the gender binary represses creativity and inflicts physical and emotional violence.

The author, whose parents emigrated from India, writes about how enforcement of the gender binary begins before birth and affects people in all stages of life, with people of color being especially vulnerable due to Western conceptions of gender as binary. Gender assignments create a narrative for how a person should behave, what they are allowed to like or wear, and how they express themself. Punishment of nonconformity leads to an inseparable link between gender and shame. Vaid-Menon challenges familiar arguments against gender nonconformity, breaking them down into four categories—dismissal, inconvenience, biology, and the slippery slope (fear of the consequences of acceptance). Headers in bold font create an accessible navigation experience from one analysis to the next. The prose maintains a conversational tone that feels as intimate and vulnerable as talking with a best friend. At the same time, the author's turns of phrase in moments of deep insight ring with precision and poetry. In one reflection, they write, “the most lethal part of the human body is not the fist; it is the eye. What people see and how people see it has everything to do with power.” While this short essay speaks honestly of pain and injustice, it concludes with encouragement and an invitation into a future that celebrates transformation.

A fierce, penetrating, and empowering call for change. (writing prompt) (Nonfiction. 14-adult)

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-09465-5

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Penguin Workshop

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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