Though occasionally didactic, the narrative is undergirded by Herz’s understanding that one size never fits all, and it...

WHY YOU EAT WHAT YOU EAT

THE SCIENCE BEHIND OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH FOOD

Neuroscientist Herz (That’s Disgusting: Unraveling the Mysteries of Repulsion, 2013, etc.) shines her expertise on the complicated relationships between the human senses and food consumption.

Although this is not a diet book, almost every page contains science-based information that could help readers with weight issues gain overall health. Herz understands that eating involves far more than the tongue, the mouth cavity, the teeth, the throat, and the stomach. In mostly lucid scientific detail, she explains how smell, sight, touch, and hearing interact with taste to affect food consumption. The realm of taste is the author’s primary focus, as she distinguishes among the “fab four”—sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. Within each, she draws further distinctions, so that “sweet,” for example, involves sweet love, sweet pain, and sweet happiness. One of Herz’s major strengths is her skill at creating catchy phrasing to convey complicated scientific theories and experiments. She explains why comfort food has justifiably gained that reputation, why some eaters become easily satiated while others say they rarely feel full, and why certain edibles appear scrumptious to the eyes and others look unappetizing. Within each chapter, Herz folds in tips—sometimes based on peer-reviewed research, other times based on her gut feelings—that could qualify as self-help. These include advice on consuming food alone or with others present, how the size and shape of plates can influence calories ingested, playing imagination games before meals to reduce cravings, why the presence or absence of music during meals matters, and how wine consumption with solid food makes sense for some diners but not for others. Regardless of the tips offered or the science discussed, an obvious common denominator is the primacy of the human brain in all food-related matters.

Though occasionally didactic, the narrative is undergirded by Herz’s understanding that one size never fits all, and it contains useful passages for every reader.

Pub Date: Dec. 26, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-393-24331-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Aug. 28, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2017

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A quirky wonder of a book.

WHY FISH DON'T EXIST

A STORY OF LOSS, LOVE, AND THE HIDDEN ORDER OF LIFE

A Peabody Award–winning NPR science reporter chronicles the life of a turn-of-the-century scientist and how her quest led to significant revelations about the meaning of order, chaos, and her own existence.

Miller began doing research on David Starr Jordan (1851-1931) to understand how he had managed to carry on after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake destroyed his work. A taxonomist who is credited with discovering “a full fifth of fish known to man in his day,” Jordan had amassed an unparalleled collection of ichthyological specimens. Gathering up all the fish he could save, Jordan sewed the nameplates that had been on the destroyed jars directly onto the fish. His perseverance intrigued the author, who also discusses the struggles she underwent after her affair with a woman ended a heterosexual relationship. Born into an upstate New York farm family, Jordan attended Cornell and then became an itinerant scholar and field researcher until he landed at Indiana University, where his first ichthyological collection was destroyed by lightning. In between this catastrophe and others involving family members’ deaths, he reconstructed his collection. Later, he was appointed as the founding president of Stanford, where he evolved into a Machiavellian figure who trampled on colleagues and sang the praises of eugenics. Miller concludes that Jordan displayed the characteristics of someone who relied on “positive illusions” to rebound from disaster and that his stand on eugenics came from a belief in “a divine hierarchy from bacteria to humans that point[ed]…toward better.” Considering recent research that negates biological hierarchies, the author then suggests that Jordan’s beloved taxonomic category—fish—does not exist. Part biography, part science report, and part meditation on how the chaos that caused Miller’s existential misery could also bring self-acceptance and a loving wife, this unique book is an ingenious celebration of diversity and the mysterious order that underlies all existence.

A quirky wonder of a book.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6027-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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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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