THE WILD LIFE OF OUR BODIES

PREDATORS, PARASITES, AND PARTNERS THAT SHAPE WHO WE ARE TODAY

Dunn (Biology/North Carolina State Univ.; Every Living Thing: Man’s Obsessive Quest to Catalog Life, from Nanobacteria to New Monkeys, 2008) proclaims that many human ills and behaviors reflect the evolutionary past of a species that has put itself above nature and all other species.

Thus our antibiotic habits have unbalanced our immune systems, leading to attacks on our own tissues rather than invading organisms. This “hygiene hypothesis” may account for increases in autoimmune maladies like Crohn’s disease. The solution? Repopulate the gut with worms that the immune system tolerates or that may suppress the system’s hyperactivity. Dunn writes that Crohn’s and other such disorders are rare wherever gut parasites are common. He points to a cottage industry selling worm eggs and even suggests going barefoot in a primitive latrine in hopes that worms will infect. Some swear by the treatment; others are not helped. Dunn cites studies suggesting that the appendix, supposedly vestigial, is the nursery for good bacteria needed to replenish a gut decimated by antibiotics and provides examples of microbes essential in human and other metabolisms (think termites’ ability to eat wood). The author stresses our interdependence with species on a larger scale. Where cows were domesticated, mutations that allow adults to digest milk prospered. Where agriculture flourished, some grew fat and society developed haves and have-nots. Where venomous snakes abound, human and primate color vision was honed. Throughout the book, Dunn exaggerates his tales to increase the shock value, and he ends with a paean to hope and progress in the form of green city buildings—not just with rooftop gardens, but vertical farms of crops to delight any locavore (for more specific information on vertical farms, see Dickson Despommier’s The Vertical Farm, 2010.) Dunn provides some useful information and updated evolutionary history, but the book is marred by excessively provocative and often purple prose.

 

Pub Date: July 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-06-180648-3

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2011

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A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

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NO ONE IS TOO SMALL TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE

A collection of articulate, forceful speeches made from September 2018 to September 2019 by the Swedish climate activist who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Speaking in such venues as the European and British Parliaments, the French National Assembly, the Austrian World Summit, and the U.N. General Assembly, Thunberg has always been refreshingly—and necessarily—blunt in her demands for action from world leaders who refuse to address climate change. With clarity and unbridled passion, she presents her message that climate change is an emergency that must be addressed immediately, and she fills her speeches with punchy sound bites delivered in her characteristic pull-no-punches style: “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.” In speech after speech, to persuade her listeners, she cites uncomfortable, even alarming statistics about global temperature rise and carbon dioxide emissions. Although this inevitably makes the text rather repetitive, the repetition itself has an impact, driving home her point so that no one can fail to understand its importance. Thunberg varies her style for different audiences. Sometimes it is the rousing “our house is on fire” approach; other times she speaks more quietly about herself and her hopes and her dreams. When addressing the U.S. Congress, she knowingly calls to mind the words and deeds of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy. The last speech in the book ends on a note that is both challenging and upbeat: “We are the change and change is coming.” The edition published in Britain earlier this year contained 11 speeches; this updated edition has 16, all worth reading.

A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

Pub Date: Nov. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-14-313356-8

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2019

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As much a work of philosophy as of physics and full of insights for readers willing to work hard.

THE ORDER OF TIME

Undeterred by a subject difficult to pin down, Italian theoretical physicist Rovelli (Reality Is Not What It Seems: The Journey to Quantum Gravity, 2017, etc.) explains his thoughts on time.

Other scientists have written primers on the concept of time for a general audience, but Rovelli, who also wrote the bestseller Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, adds his personal musings, which are astute and rewarding but do not make for an easy read. “We conventionally think of time,” he writes, “as something simple and fundamental that flows uniformly, independently from everything else, uniformly from the past to the future, measured by clocks and watches. In the course of time, the events of the universe succeed each other in an orderly way: pasts, presents, futures. The past is fixed, the future open….And yet all of this has turned out to be false.” Rovelli returns again and again to the ideas of three legendary men. Aristotle wrote that things change continually. What we call “time” is the measurement of that change. If nothing changed, time would not exist. Newton disagreed. While admitting the existence of a time that measures events, he insisted that there is an absolute “true time” that passes relentlessly. If the universe froze, time would roll on. To laymen, this may seem like common sense, but most philosophers are not convinced. Einstein asserted that both are right. Aristotle correctly explained that time flows in relation to something else. Educated laymen know that clocks register different times when they move or experience gravity. Newton’s absolute exists, but as a special case in Einstein’s curved space-time. According to Rovelli, our notion of time dissolves as our knowledge grows; complex features swell and then retreat and perhaps vanish entirely. Furthermore, equations describing many fundamental physical phenomena don’t require time.

As much a work of philosophy as of physics and full of insights for readers willing to work hard.

Pub Date: May 18, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1610-5

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2018

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