In this well-tempered, smoothly written book, Lynas calls for balance. Suspicion of all scientific discoveries will lead to...

SEEDS OF SCIENCE

WHY WE GOT IT SO WRONG ON GMOS

An environmental science writer takes a deep look at the ramifications of genetically modified organisms over the past four decades.

In the 1990s, Lynas (Nuclear 2.0: Why a Green Future Needs Nuclear Power, 2014, etc.) was not content to just march against GMOs; he would wade into test plots at night, swinging a machete at the Frankenplants. However, he admits that he didn’t really know a strand of DNA from a corn tassel, so he began intensive research on GMOs. Fortunately, by the late 1990s, there was a large body of work on GMOs, plenty of it suggesting a healthy side to their nature. In the 1980s, writes the author, “we were against the whole forward march of scientific research in the area of biotechnology and the idea of technological control over intimate life processes such as reproduction.” As Lynas dug deeper into the literature—from Greenpeace to the National Academy of Sciences, respected peer-reviewed journals to the “low-ranking journal called Environmental Sciences Europe”—he found compelling examples of GMOs doing good, especially regarding the diminished need for cropland and increased production with less insecticide intervention. The author moves back and forth through time, charting changes in attitude as the results came in. For example, in 1974, the NAS voiced “serious concern that these artificial recombinant-DNA could prove biologically hazardous.” Then in 1987, they claimed that the risks associated with GMOs were “the same as those associated with the introduction of unmodified organisms.” Lynas is aghast that biosafety laws have been stymied by anti–GMO advocates in famine-scorched lands. He is also wary of pesticide and herbicide use and the costs associated with GMOs for poor farmers. He understands patents as a spur for research, but he is appalled that nearly half the corn crop—monocultured, government-supported—goes to biofuels.

In this well-tempered, smoothly written book, Lynas calls for balance. Suspicion of all scientific discoveries will lead to further famine and global warming, while unscrutinized experimentation is prone to folly and corporate profit-gouging.

Pub Date: June 26, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4729-4698-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Bloomsbury Sigma

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2018

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“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

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

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

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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