A useful book that effectively “conveys the challenges posed by infectious disease and relates a story of unparalleled...

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BETWEEN HOPE AND FEAR

A HISTORY OF VACCINES AND HUMAN IMMUNITY

A comprehensive history of the science of vaccination.

Next to clean water, vaccines are the greatest lifesaver in modern society, so readers of this admirable account will thrill to stories of the conquest of historical plagues (smallpox, diphtheria, polio) and research into preventing today’s deadly infections (AIDS, tuberculosis, dengue, Ebola). Biting off more than many writers could chew, Kinch (Pharmacology/Washington Univ.; A Prescription for Change: The Looming Crisis in Drug Development, 2016) adds a fine history of the evolution of life, emphasizing the development and operation of the immune system. And there’s more. At regular intervals, the author returns to a subject of intense interest to a small group that will likely not buy his book: opponents of vaccination. Although much in the news, they have existed since the beginning, and their reasons have only one thread in common: All are wrong. “The volume and advocacy of false facts by an obnoxious and loud minority has overwhelmed the fact-based attempts by credible sources to expound the extraordinary health benefits of vaccination,” writes Kinch. “Unfortunately, the scientific community has largely demurred from confronting these loud disagreements.” Partly through their efforts, American smallpox deaths rose during the 19th century after the introduction of vaccination. It was the law that turned the tide. Beginning in 1905, court decisions affirmed that compulsory vaccination, like water chlorination, is a legitimate government public health function. Courts—not the facts—remain the American anti-vaccine movement’s most effective opponent. Like evidence that the Earth is not flat or that Elvis is dead, careful studies showing that vaccines save lives rarely convince true believers and bore many who have not taken up the cause, but readers who persist will be rewarded with a riveting chronicle of one of the greatest accomplishments in the history of medical science.

A useful book that effectively “conveys the challenges posed by infectious disease and relates a story of unparalleled successes in vaccines that have raised both the quality and quantity of life for all people.”

Pub Date: July 3, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-68177-751-1

Page Count: 360

Publisher: Pegasus

Review Posted Online: April 30, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2018

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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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Ackerman writes with a light but assured touch, her prose rich in fact but economical in delivering it. Fans of birds in all...

THE GENIUS OF BIRDS

Science writer Ackerman (Ah-Choo!: The Uncommon Life of Your Common Cold, 2010, etc.) looks at the new science surrounding avian intelligence.

The takeaway: calling someone a birdbrain is a compliment. And in any event, as Ackerman observes early on, “intelligence is a slippery concept, even in our own species, tricky to define and tricky to measure.” Is a bird that uses a rock to break open a clamshell the mental equivalent of a tool-using primate? Perhaps that’s the wrong question, for birds are so unlike humans that “it’s difficult for us to fully appreciate their mental capabilities,” given that they’re really just small, feathered dinosaurs who inhabit a wholly different world from our once-arboreal and now terrestrial one. Crows and other corvids have gotten all the good publicity related to bird intelligence in recent years, but Ackerman, who does allow that some birds are brighter than others, points favorably to the much-despised pigeon as an animal that “can remember hundreds of different objects for long periods of time, discriminate between different painting styles, and figure out where it’s going, even when displaced from familiar territory by hundreds of miles.” Not bad for a critter best known for bespattering statues in public parks. Ackerman travels far afield to places such as Barbados and New Caledonia to study such matters as memory, communication, and decision-making, the last largely based on visual cues—though, as she notes, birds also draw ably on other senses, including smell, which in turn opens up insight onto “a weird evolutionary paradox that scientists have puzzled over for more than a decade”—a matter of the geometry of, yes, the bird brain.

Ackerman writes with a light but assured touch, her prose rich in fact but economical in delivering it. Fans of birds in all their diversity will want to read this one.

Pub Date: April 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-59420-521-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2016

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