Stunningly comprehensive and intensely absorbing. Should be required reading for anyone who eats.

DINNER AT THE NEW GENE CAFE

HOW GENETIC ENGINEERING IS CHANGING WHAT WE EAT, HOW WE LIVE, AND THE GLOBAL POLITICS OF FOOD

A St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter’s remarkable survey (winner of the 1998 Raymond Clapper Award) of the history, promise, and unknown dangers of genetically modified foods.

According to the vice president of the Grocery Manufacturer’s Association, “In a grocery, as much as 70 percent of the processed foods might contain GMOs”—that is, genetically modified organisms, which are “what you get when you move genes across the traditional species boundaries.” Americans have shown little interest in the question, though the debate over GMOs rages in Europe, offering high drama and profound global consequences: Modified corn may have eliminated the need to use up to a million gallons of insecticide in 1999, but it was also the reason Kraft recalled 2.5 million boxes of taco shells, possibly tainted by modified corn that had been approved only for animal feed. Modified rice could “save a million kids a year,” according to Time magazine, but modified crops toxic to the corn borer could also wipe out the monarch butterfly, a related species. Lambrecht attempts to present as many viewpoints as possible. In extensive quotes, we hear from scientists employed by industry leader Monsanto, from organic farmers, environmental protesters, and independent farmers in favor of modified crops (including former Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman, who oversaw the release of the USDA’s regulations for organic certification). Lambrecht also reports from 13 countries where GMOs have sparked debate, including India, where thousands of desperate farmers commit suicide every year—some by drinking insecticides that do little to protect their crops—and Panama, where rain forest “bioprospectors,” American companies barely tolerated by the locals, hope to strike it rich not just with disease cures, but with genes that could make plants resistant to a host of ills. The author even plants his own plot of genetically engineered soybeans and, throughout the book, chronicles their growth.

Stunningly comprehensive and intensely absorbing. Should be required reading for anyone who eats.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-312-26575-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2001

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A quirky wonder of a book.

WHY FISH DON'T EXIST

A STORY OF LOSS, LOVE, AND THE HIDDEN ORDER OF LIFE

A Peabody Award–winning NPR science reporter chronicles the life of a turn-of-the-century scientist and how her quest led to significant revelations about the meaning of order, chaos, and her own existence.

Miller began doing research on David Starr Jordan (1851-1931) to understand how he had managed to carry on after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake destroyed his work. A taxonomist who is credited with discovering “a full fifth of fish known to man in his day,” Jordan had amassed an unparalleled collection of ichthyological specimens. Gathering up all the fish he could save, Jordan sewed the nameplates that had been on the destroyed jars directly onto the fish. His perseverance intrigued the author, who also discusses the struggles she underwent after her affair with a woman ended a heterosexual relationship. Born into an upstate New York farm family, Jordan attended Cornell and then became an itinerant scholar and field researcher until he landed at Indiana University, where his first ichthyological collection was destroyed by lightning. In between this catastrophe and others involving family members’ deaths, he reconstructed his collection. Later, he was appointed as the founding president of Stanford, where he evolved into a Machiavellian figure who trampled on colleagues and sang the praises of eugenics. Miller concludes that Jordan displayed the characteristics of someone who relied on “positive illusions” to rebound from disaster and that his stand on eugenics came from a belief in “a divine hierarchy from bacteria to humans that point[ed]…toward better.” Considering recent research that negates biological hierarchies, the author then suggests that Jordan’s beloved taxonomic category—fish—does not exist. Part biography, part science report, and part meditation on how the chaos that caused Miller’s existential misery could also bring self-acceptance and a loving wife, this unique book is an ingenious celebration of diversity and the mysterious order that underlies all existence.

A quirky wonder of a book.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6027-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science...

A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING

Bryson (I'm a Stranger Here Myself, 1999, etc.), a man who knows how to track down an explanation and make it confess, asks the hard questions of science—e.g., how did things get to be the way they are?—and, when possible, provides answers.

As he once went about making English intelligible, Bryson now attempts the same with the great moments of science, both the ideas themselves and their genesis, to resounding success. Piqued by his own ignorance on these matters, he’s egged on even more so by the people who’ve figured out—or think they’ve figured out—such things as what is in the center of the Earth. So he goes exploring, in the library and in company with scientists at work today, to get a grip on a range of topics from subatomic particles to cosmology. The aim is to deliver reports on these subjects in terms anyone can understand, and for the most part, it works. The most difficult is the nonintuitive material—time as part of space, say, or proteins inventing themselves spontaneously, without direction—and the quantum leaps unusual minds have made: as J.B.S. Haldane once put it, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose.” Mostly, though, Bryson renders clear the evolution of continental drift, atomic structure, singularity, the extinction of the dinosaur, and a mighty host of other subjects in self-contained chapters that can be taken at a bite, rather than read wholesale. He delivers the human-interest angle on the scientists, and he keeps the reader laughing and willing to forge ahead, even over their heads: the human body, for instance, harboring enough energy “to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point.”

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science into perspective.

Pub Date: May 6, 2003

ISBN: 0-7679-0817-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

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