A well-known British authority on crop damage and allied agricultural issues saunters efficiently through a subject which we'll all be thinking about in a very few years. From Virgil's Georgics to Silent Spring, this particular aspect of man's supposed mastery over nature has always been chancy at best. Ordish, who treats the ancient and medieval approaches with kindly condescension, warms to the post-Baconian advent of a more empirical spirit and becomes especially eloquent on a major watershed of pest control: Matthieu Tillet's invention of a chemical seed-treatment to prevent the disastrous wheat smut Tilletia caries (1751-54) and the isolation by an AbbdÃ‰ PrÃ‰vost--apparently not the novelist--of the fungus which causes the same disease (1807). The 19th century produced an increasingly refined technology of control over agricultural ""acts of God,"" culminating in the full emergence of a commercial pesticide industry about a century ago. Ordish is surprisingly cavalier about the environmental repercussions of DDT and its equally drastic relatives aldrin and dieldrin. But he does deplore the outpacing of biological controls by chemical ones; although reticent on the issue of entrenched corporate greed, he pleads for the biological approach (development of resistant crop strains, introduction of predators or parasites to attack the offending organisms, sterilization of noxious insects) as ultimately saner in terms of cost-benefit ratios than the continued search for chemical panaceas. A smooth, affable, popular survey marred by moments of ill-judged whimsy; by no means an exposÃ‰ or polemic.