A much-needed book with solid evidence—deserves all the publicity it can get.

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DEADLY CHOICES

HOW THE ANTI-VACCINE MOVEMENT THREATENS US ALL

Offit (Vaccinology and Pediatrics/Univ. of Pennsylvania; Autism’s False Prophets: Bad Science, Risky Medicine, and the Search for a Cure, 2008, etc.) takes aim at the anti-vaccine movement in America and scores a bull’s-eye.

If only people would listen. Unfortunately, it’s often a case of irrational behavior fueled by hostility toward doctors, researchers, drug companies and government. The issue comes down to coincidence vs. causality. A baby is vaccinated and thereafter develops seizures, brain damage, autism or other disorders. So powerful is the need to find a cause that vaccines become the target and no amount of clinical or epidemiological evidence will change opinions. Abetting belief are the activists and celebrities who champion the cause on the nightly news or on their own inflammatory blogs. What Offit offers in response is a well-documented history dating back to the first vaccine for smallpox. That, too, occasioned widespread attack once vaccination was made compulsory, with protesters even claiming that children would develop little cows at the inoculation site (because the vaccine is based on the cowpox virus. The author traces recent anti-vaccine activism in America to the 1982 documentary DPT: Vaccination Roulette, which inveighed against the pertussis part of the DPT regimen (diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus). In spite of exonerating evidence, negative publicity and lawsuits drove drug companies out of the vaccine business and led to the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act. But the battle was renewed with the association between autism and the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine or its mercury component. Now that vaccine is mercury-free, and countless studies have discounted any association, but the protests mount, with many states allowing parents to opt out of vaccine programs. The danger is that with too many kids unvaccinated, herd immunity is lost and epidemics become a reality. Offit rightly points out that it would be a mistake to go this route to demonstrate why vaccines are essential; what we need is a restoration of trust. He suggests that this could happen if concerned parents and public health workers who have seen the devastation wrought by childhood disease speak out.

A much-needed book with solid evidence—deserves all the publicity it can get.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-465-02149-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: Dec. 2, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2010

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Not only the definitive life, but a tour de force by a master.

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EDISON

One of history’s most prolific inventors receives his due from one of the world’s greatest biographers.

Pulitzer and National Book Award winner Morris (This Living Hand and Other Essays, 2012, etc.), who died this year, agrees that Thomas Edison (1847-1931) almost certainly said, “genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration,” and few readers of this outstanding biography will doubt that he was the quintessential workaholic. Raised in a middle-class Michigan family, Edison displayed an obsessive entrepreneurial spirit from childhood. As an adolescent, he ran a thriving business selling food and newspapers on a local railroad. Learning Morse code, he spent the Civil War as a telegrapher, impressing colleagues with his speed and superiors with his ability to improve the equipment. In 1870, he opened his own shop to produce inventions to order. By 1876, he had money to build a large laboratory in New Jersey, possibly the world’s first industrial research facility. Never a loner, Edison hired talented people to assist him. The dazzling results included the first commercially successful light bulb for which, Morris reminds readers, he invented the entire system: dynamo, wires, transformers, connections, and switches. Critics proclaim that Edison’s innovations (motion pictures, fluoroscope, rechargeable batteries, mimeograph, etc.) were merely improvements on others’ work, but this is mostly a matter of sour grapes. Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone was a clunky, short-range device until it added Edison’s carbon microphone. And his phonograph flabbergasted everyone. Humans had been making images long before Daguerre, but no one had ever reproduced sound. Morris rivetingly describes the personalities, business details, and practical uses of Edison’s inventions as well as the massive technical details of years of research and trial and error for both his triumphs and his failures. For no obvious reason, the author writes in reverse chronological order, beginning in 1920, with each of the seven following chapters backtracking a decade. It may not satisfy all readers, but it works.

Not only the definitive life, but a tour de force by a master.

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9311-0

Page Count: 800

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

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LAB GIRL

Award-winning scientist Jahren (Geology and Geophysics/Univ. of Hawaii) delivers a personal memoir and a paean to the natural world.

The author’s father was a physics and earth science teacher who encouraged her play in the laboratory, and her mother was a student of English literature who nurtured her love of reading. Both of these early influences engrossingly combine in this adroit story of a dedication to science. Jahren’s journey from struggling student to struggling scientist has the narrative tension of a novel and characters she imbues with real depth. The heroes in this tale are the plants that the author studies, and throughout, she employs her facility with words to engage her readers. We learn much along the way—e.g., how the willow tree clones itself, the courage of a seed’s first root, the symbiotic relationship between trees and fungi, and the airborne signals used by trees in their ongoing war against insects. Trees are of key interest to Jahren, and at times she waxes poetic: “Each beginning is the end of a waiting. We are each given exactly one chance to be. Each of us is both impossible and inevitable. Every replete tree was first a seed that waited.” The author draws many parallels between her subjects and herself. This is her story, after all, and we are engaged beyond expectation as she relates her struggle in building and running laboratory after laboratory at the universities that have employed her. Present throughout is her lab partner, a disaffected genius named Bill, whom she recruited when she was a graduate student at Berkeley and with whom she’s worked ever since. The author’s tenacity, hope, and gratitude are all evident as she and Bill chase the sweetness of discovery in the face of the harsh economic realities of the research scientist.

Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

Pub Date: April 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-87493-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2016

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