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may prefer to remain blissfully ignorant of their particulate surroundings. “


The Secret Life of Germs: Observations and Lessons from a Microbe Hunter. By Philip M. Tierno Jr. (Pocket Books, 290 pp, 2001) GFBR****. General Audiences. “Germs are the seeds of life as well as disease, explains Tierno, the New York University Medical Center doctor who helped solve the mystery of toxic shock syndrome. A germ hunter in the truest sense, Tierno spells out how to survive a world so rife with germs that ‘alien observers might conclude that they are the dominant life form on our planet.’ His field samplings from high-trafficked New York City locations such as pay phones, taxicabs, public restrooms and even the engagement ring counter at Tiffany's will startle readers, but the author is not an alarmist: his aim is disease prevention, and his method is education. The book opens with a quick history of germ evolution and of human understanding of germs, from biblical injunctions on cleanliness to the modern science of microbiology. It outlines the various ways illness-causing bacteria are transmitted and gives precise instructions for minimizing infection with a bulleted list of ‘protective response strategies’ at the end of each chapter. On subjects of controversy, Tierno tends to fall on the conservative side. He rejects the recent notion that overcleaning is responsible for deficient immune systems and increased childhood asthma (arguing that even the most vigilant housekeeping wouldn't protect kids from all germs), and his warnings against unpasteurized products will be questioned by some. The last third of the book touches on the unexpected role of germs in illnesses such as ulcers and heart disease; antibiotic-resistant bacteria strains; germ warfare; and bacteria-fighting methods of the future. This germ primer brings the bug into focus while setting even the most jittery hypochondriac's mind at ease.”


Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder. By Richard Dawkins. Houghton Mifflin, 1998) GFBR **** General audiences. “Dawkins takes to heart his title of Charles Simonyi Professor of Public Understanding of Science at Oxford in this thoughtful exegesis on the nature of science and why its detractors are all wrong. More with pity than anger, he takes Keats to task for faulting ``cold philosophy'' for unweaving the rainbow in the long poem Lamia. On the contrary, Dawkins observes, Newton's use of a prism to split white light into the spectrum not only led to our understanding of how rainbows form in raindrops, but enabled astronomers to read the make-up of stars. Dawkins devotes a few chapters to debunking astrology, magic, and clairvoyance, arguing that, as rational adults, we need to be critical about ideas. This notion serves him handily in chapters on coincidence: He explains the exacting calculations of probabilities to show that coincidences arent so unusual. Yet people have a penchant for finding patterns where there are none, which leads Dawkins also to address superstitions, the class of errors known as false positives and false negatives, and a wealth of cultural practices from rain dances to human sacrifice. He takes to task what he calls bad poetic science, in which he includes the theories of his rival Stephen Jay Gould in relation to what Gould sees as the three perennial questions in paleontology: Does time have a directional arrow? Do internal or external forces drive evolution? And does evolution occur gradually or in jumps? The spleens so heavy here that one can anticipate a debate, if not a duel. Final chapters provide him with a platform for reweaving the rainbow, enlarging on his earlier themes and metaphors in relation to memes, genes, and evolution. The speculative writing here is less rooted in complex gene analysis than in philosophy of the Dennett school. A sharp mind is much in evidence, delighting in exposing fraud, providing instruction, baiting a colleague, and indulging in his own high-wire acts of evolutionary dreaming.”


Science and Math Books You Can Read – page 11 out of 30

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