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The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. By Carl Sagan. (Random House,  452 pp, 1999) GFBR****. General audiences.


Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal, by Eric Schlosser.(Harper-Collins, 400 pp, 2002) GFBR *****. General audiences.. “In this fascinating sociocultural report, Schlosser digs into the deeper meaning of Burger King, Auggie's, The Chicken Shack, Jack-in-the-Box, Little Caesar's and myriad other examples of fast food in America. Frequently using McDonald's as a template, Schlosser, an Atlantic Monthly correspondent, explains how the development of fast-food restaurants has led to the standardization of American culture, widespread obesity, urban sprawl and more. In a perky, reportorial voice, Adamson tells of the history, economics, day-to-day dealings and broad and often negative cultural implications of franchised burger joints and pizza factories, delivering impressive snippets of information (e.g., two-thirds of America's fast-food restaurant employees are teenagers; Willard Scott posed as the first Ronald McDonald until higher-ups decided Scott was too round to represent a healthy restaurant like McDonald's). According to Schlosser, most visits to fast-food restaurants are the culinary equivalent of ‘impulse buys,’ i.e., someone is driving by and pulls over for a Big Mac. But anyone listening to this audiobook on a car trip and realizing that the Chicken McNugget turned ‘a bird that once had to be carved at a table’ into ‘a manufactured, value-added product’ will think twice about stopping for a snack at the highway rest stop.


Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. By Jared Diamond. (Norton, 480 pp, 1997) GFBR*****. HS-Adult. Ground-breaking work. Shows how local availability of plants and animals that could or could not be domesticated strongly influenced the course of human societies all over the world, and why, around 1500, it was Europeans with guns and deadly diseases who invaded and nearly wiped out the inhabitants of the Americas, rather than the other way around.


The Hidden Forest: The Biography of an Ecosystem. By Jon R. Luoma. (Holt, 288 pp, 1999) General audiences. This book is a study of a very old, untouched forest. “The forest--the H. J. Andrews Experimental Forest in Oregon--is in fact eminently visible, consisting of huge, old-growth conifers. But the researchers who have studied it closely since 1948 ‘have discovered a host of species previously unknown to science, and interactions in the forest ecosystem that no one previously imagined,’ Luoma writes, and that is the hidden forest. The studies, here and elsewhere, have dealt with the effects of the great diversity of materials that fall to the ground from the forest canopy; of the forest's insect life; of rotting logs; of flood, fire and clear-cutting; of volcanic eruption. Luoma, a contributing editor to Audubon magazine, thinks the work may lead to ‘a new sort of ecoforestry’ that ‘could allow a nation to protect wild forests and have some lumber too.’ “


The Red Queen : Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature. By Matt Ridley. (Penguin, 1995) General audiences. “A former editor of The Economist asks how sexual selection has molded human nature. The title here alludes to a scene in Lewis Carroll in which Alice and the Red Queen run as fast as possible to remain in the same place. Ridley looks first at current thinking on why sexual reproduction exists at all, when many organisms manage quite well without it. The answer has to do with disease: a species must rebuild its defenses from one generation to the next merely to keep from falling behind in the race against opportunistic viruses. Sex, by allowing a new shuffle of the genetic material with each generation, improves the chance of survival. But the predators also improve with each generation, so the race (vide Lewis Carroll) is never over. Turning to animals, Ridley describes mating patterns with an eye as to whether mates are selected for health and vigor, or for esthetics. He concludes that both play a role: neither sickly fashion-plates nor healthy wallflowers will pass on their genes as often as those who combine both beauty and health. Given the contrast between a brief sexual act and long years of child- rearing, aggressive males will tend to have more children, while nurturing

Science and Math Books You Can Read – page 28 out of 30

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