Everything you wanted to know about microbes but were afraid to ask.

READ REVIEW

10% HUMAN

HOW YOUR BODY'S MICROBES HOLD THE KEY TO HEALTH AND HAPPINESS

This state-of-the-science survey explores and explains what is known about the microbial community that lives within us and what we have yet to learn.

In a welcome antidote to the simplistic “boost your health with probiotics” books and articles posing as science (but serving mostly commerce), Collen dares to tell the messy truth about what science knows—and doesn’t know—about the microbes that live in us, live with us, and in some ways even become us. An evolutionary biologist with several degrees, the author is clearly an expert in the field. Happily for readers, she’s also an experienced science writer who is equally at ease offering firsthand tales from her rain-forest expeditions and parsing complex laboratory experiments. She balances these nicely, though her overall emphasis is on the science. What makes even a step-by-step explanation of experimental protocol fascinating here, though, is twofold. First, Collen always brings the story back to the human level, telling, for instance, the tale of a courageous mother who tracked down a possible bacterial precursor to autism. Second, she never stops at simply reporting the outcome of a given experiment or data set. For example, instead of jumping to the logical conclusion that higher worldwide fat and sugar consumption have led directly to the obesity crisis, she steps outside the box and asks whether the trouble is what we’re eating or what we’re not eating. If fat and sugar calories have displaced microbe-friendly foods like high-fiber vegetables, she notes, the body’s biome has likely also changed. What impact would that have on our collective weight? Collen never claims that she has uncovered the answers to modern health woes, but she points out the markers that may one day lead to such answers.

Everything you wanted to know about microbes but were afraid to ask.

Pub Date: May 5, 2015

ISBN: 978-0062345981

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 20, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2015

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more