by John McQuaid ‧ RELEASE DATE: Jan. 13, 2015
McQuaid is an enthusiastic writer undisturbed by dead ends, and he provides an entertaining exploration of “the mystery at...
“Pleasure is never very far from aversion; this is a feature of our anatomy and behavior. In the brain, the two closely overlap.” So writes Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist McQuaid (Path of Destruction: The Devastation of New Orleans and the Coming Age of Superstorms, 2006, etc.) in this provocative investigatory foray into the nature of taste.
The author begins with a debunking of the still-practiced basic geography of the tongue that identifies—spuriously—zones for the five basic tastes: sweet, salty, bitter, sour and umami. As he notes, every taste bud has five receptors waiting to be tickled and “detect molecules of one of the basic tastes.” Though eating is as important as reproducing, it has been significantly less studied in the scientific community, from isolating taste receptors to finding the genes in the genome that play critical roles. “Like other senses,” writes the author, “[flavor is] programmed by genes; unlike them, it is also protean, molded by experience and social cues, changing over the course of a lifetime. This plasticity is wild and unpredictable.” McQuaid examines flavor chemistry and perception, and he notes that our fields of taste are oddly individual, both within and without our communities—though availability obviously plays a role in diet. The author is especially interesting when noting certain oddments and curios: the berry that turns the tastes around in our mouth; the sugar trap; the creepy, brave new world of the bland milkshakelike drink that does it all, “Soylent” (created through research into “the human body’s nutritional needs” to create “the perfect food, building it from first principles”); the advent of cooking; and the arrival of alcohol.McQuaid is an enthusiastic writer undisturbed by dead ends, and he provides an entertaining exploration of “the mystery at the heart of flavor,” which “has never truly been cracked.”
Pub Date: Jan. 13, 2015
Page Count: 304
Review Posted Online: Oct. 21, 2014
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2014
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by Ta-Nehisi Coates ‧ RELEASE DATE: July 8, 2015
This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”
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Best Books Of 2015
New York Times Bestseller
National Book Award Winner
Pulitzer Prize Finalist
The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.
Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”
Pub Date: July 8, 2015
Page Count: 176
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau
Review Posted Online: May 5, 2015
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015
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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.
“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.
It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.
Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019
Page Count: 432
Review Posted Online: Aug. 28, 2019
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019
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