Another rousing, pull-no-punches piece from a physician set on educating the public about the fallibility of scientists.




Tales of scientific errors whose unintended consequences have been disastrous.

Offit (Vaccinology and Pediatrics/Univ. of Pennsylvania School of Medicine; Bad Faith: When Religious Belief Undermines Modern Medicine, 2015, etc.), a doctor with a mission, once again does not hold back. In each chapter, he tells a different story of science gone wrong, beginning with the war on pain, stretching from opium through heroin to the addictive opioids now in the headlines. Then the author takes on scientists’ mistaken belief that margarine, with its partially hydrogenated vegetable oils containing trans fats, was a heart-healthy alternative to butter. It was quite the opposite, writes Offit, and the process for converting unsaturated fats to trans fats “has probably caused more disease and death than any other man-made chemical reaction in history.” The author then tells of Fritz Haber, the pesticide and fertilizer chemist behind the gas warfare of World War I and supervisor of production of Zyklon B, the gas used to kill millions of Jews. Haber won a Nobel Prize, as did Egas Moniz, the inventor of lobotomies. Offit’s acidic comment: “At this point, it seems reasonable to wonder whether Nobel Prizes awarded in the first half of the 20th century came in Cracker Jack boxes.” The author also takes up the eugenics movement, with its malicious notion of a master race, the erroneous banning of DDT following Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring—in Offit’s words, she was not a scientist but a polemicist—and the fallacious notion of the highly respected and double Nobelist Linus Pauling that megadoses of vitamin C could cure diseases. Each chapter concludes with a crisp take-home lesson, such as “beware the zeitgeist” and “beware the quick fix.” Finally, Offit applies these lessons to a number of contemporary concerns, including e-cigarettes and cancer-screening programs, providing advice on how to think clearly about these issues and how to avoid the mistakes of the past.

Another rousing, pull-no-punches piece from a physician set on educating the public about the fallibility of scientists.

Pub Date: April 4, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-4262-1798-2

Page Count: 288

Publisher: National Geographic

Review Posted Online: Jan. 24, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2017

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.


An engaging, casual history of librarians and libraries and a famous one that burned down.

In her latest, New Yorker staff writer Orlean (Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, 2011, etc.) seeks to “tell about a place I love that doesn’t belong to me but feels like it is mine.” It’s the story of the Los Angeles Public Library, poet Charles Bukowski’s “wondrous place,” and what happened to it on April 29, 1986: It burned down. The fire raged “for more than seven hours and reached temperatures of 2000 degrees…more than one million books were burned or damaged.” Though nobody was killed, 22 people were injured, and it took more than 3 million gallons of water to put it out. One of the firefighters on the scene said, “We thought we were looking at the bowels of hell….It was surreal.” Besides telling the story of the historic library and its destruction, the author recounts the intense arson investigation and provides an in-depth biography of the troubled young man who was arrested for starting it, actor Harry Peak. Orlean reminds us that library fires have been around since the Library of Alexandria; during World War II, “the Nazis alone destroyed an estimated hundred million books.” She continues, “destroying a culture’s books is sentencing it to something worse than death: It is sentencing it to seem as if it never happened.” The author also examines the library’s important role in the city since 1872 and the construction of the historic Goodhue Building in 1926. Orlean visited the current library and talked to many of the librarians, learning about their jobs and responsibilities, how libraries were a “solace in the Depression,” and the ongoing problems librarians face dealing with the homeless. The author speculates about Peak’s guilt but remains “confounded.” Maybe it was just an accident after all.

Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4018-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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