PositiveThe Washington Post... grisly ... Stashower showcases several such scenes in gripping detail, when innocent folks turned a corner and suddenly saw something they could never unsee ... It sounds strange to say in a book with so many gruesome bits, but in some ways the killings are a MacGuffin — the mere catalyst for the unraveling and downfall of the protagonist Ness ... I walked away from American Demon somewhat frustrated. That’s no knock on Stashower, who provides shrewd analysis and paints each scene with vivid, macabre details. You’ll sweat reading it. But don’t expect the tidy ending of a mystery novel. As in a classic noir detective story, we watch Ness fall apart, but there’s no redemption here. Sad to say, Ness peaked in his 20s, and Prohibition’s star G-man never recovered from the intoxicating effects of fame. He wasn’t untouchable after all.
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal... eye-opening ... Beyond plumbing their personal past, the author also engages in what might be called gonzo science writing. They dive into one excruciating situation after another (a polar bear plunge, a chili pepper-eating contest), and things go hilariously awry ... The author is especially good at describing escalating pain: just when you think a passage has reached a crescendo, Mx. Cowart ups the ante with some new turn of phrase. More than once, I found myself sucking in my breath and feeling my feet tingle as some new horror unfolded on the page. I especially enjoyed the chapter on extreme running ... Overall, the chapter is a beautiful reflection on the capacity for human endurance, and for pushing yourself beyond what you thought possible. It’s also wickedly funny ... Yet this running chapter does highlight a problem with the author’s objective to find masochists everywhere they looked ... That said, this book makes a far better case for the importance of pain in dance or athletics than I expected ... There’s more than a bit of an exhibitionist streak ... But the author largely sidesteps that danger and has produced a thoughtful, funny, and at times lyrical look at pain and its deeper human meaning.
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal... eye-opening ... filled with the outrageous and entertaining stories about Warburg’s self-conceit ... The biochemical complexities get a bit gnarly—there’s a dizzying amount of detail, making it hard to follow the main thread on occasion ... I walked away from Ravenous thinking of Otto Warburg as a sort of Sigmund Freud of cancer research. Freud got One Big Thing right—that the unconscious drives much of human behavior. But he was wrong on nearly every detail. Similarly, Warburg explicitly rejected good evidence for the insulin-cancer link during his lifetime, among other blunders, making it tricky to uphold him as a pioneer of modern cancer research.
PositiveThe Washington PostWhether it’s arcane biochemistry or the ins and outs of patents, Isaacson lays everything out with his usual lucid prose; it’s brisk and compelling and even funny throughout. You’ll walk away with a deeper understanding of both the science itself and how science gets done—including plenty of mischief ... The book’s only real flaw can be seen in the title...Isaacson focused on one main character here, Doudna. It’s an understandable choice. Readers need a human face to attach to the science, and Doudna, who, along with Charpentier, recently won the Nobel Prize for CRISPR, is the most glamorous character in the field. Isaacson isn’t afraid to show her sharp edges, either: She’s deeply competitive and fiercely jealous about credit for her work, so much so that her relationship with Charpentier cooled significantly. Still, much like the Nobel Prize does, focusing on Doudna skews our perceptions. Science nowadays is highly collaborative ... I wish Isaacson had created more of a mosaic, one similar to his history of the early computer industry—The Innovators, properly plural.
PositiveThe New York Times Book Review... delightfully macabre ... while White may be forgotten now, his ghost still haunts medicine — a prospect that would have delighted this pious, puckish Frankenstein.
RaveThe Wall Street JournalYou’ll never look at a charcuterie plate the same way after his breakdown of how the discarded skin proteins, foot bacteria and sweat inside your socks essentially recapitulate the transformation of milk and brine into prized aromatic cheeses. Still, fans of Mr. McGee’s culinary writing won’t be disappointed—there are several hundred pages devoted to scrumptious foods, both raw and cooked ... It’s important to note that Mr. McGee isn’t blustering here ... Like an analytical chemist, he catalogs the exact molecules that each food or substance emits, and how they combine like musical notes to produce a scent chord. He offers some general rules for correlating molecular structure with aromatic sensation—that sulfur is generally pungent, and large molecules are more pleasant than small ones. It’s fascinating stuff. I especially enjoyed his discussion explaining how many compounds we think of as floral and fruity actually evolved first in animals ... his enthusiasm is contagious.
MixedThe Wall Street JournalA book about breathing woes has an uncomfortable resonance right now—as if we need more stories about people gasping and wheezing. But Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art strives to be bigger than the current pandemic. Rather than focus on respiratory illnesses, James Nestor investigates the chronic, everyday breathing problems that, he argues, have devastated the health of modern humans. And while grounded in science, the book is also something of a spiritual quest, although ultimately a debatable one ... To be sure, Mr. Nestor slaps down the more outlandish claims, such as curing cancer. But then a few pages later we’re inevitably off to purge a schizophrenic woman’s hallucinations by teaching her to breathe through her right, “ ‘logical’ nostril.\' ... And while there’s no reason to doubt Mr. Nestor when he says that breathing exercises improved his life, the real question is why they improved his life so much. One big lacuna in the book is the placebo effect ... Other evidence looks dicey as well ... Breathing properly would no doubt boost the health of many people—as would sitting up straight and exercising regularly and getting better sleep. We do lots of crummy things to our bodies nowadays. There’s a good foundation here, but Mr. Nestor’s, well, breathless account would have benefited from more skepticism.
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal... illuminating ... Despite the title, there’s little astronomy here. Rather, Ms. Geddes focuses on the human relationship with the sun. The result is partly a compilation of scientific studies on circadian rhythm and chronobiology, and partly a practical guide to overcoming scourges of modern life such as poor sleep and jet lag ... the book does contain practical advice as well.
Timothy C. Winegard
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewWinegard marches forward from antiquity to the modern day, showing how mosquitoes have repeatedly upended history ... Winegard isn’t afraid of sweeping explanations, but his enthusiasm sometimes gets the better of him ... Not every last event in history traces back to bugs ... Winegard’s enthusiasm trips up his prose sometimes, too ... Still, The Mosquito is one of those (compound-) eye-opening books that permanently shift your worldview. Every time I read about ancient battles from now on, I’ll always wonder how much credit the generals deserve and how much the mosquitoes do. This isn’t a flattering view of history — reducing our Great Men and Women to secondary roles. But it’s probably more accurate.
PositiveThe New York Times Book Review\"... absorbing ... Hager... dissects how the rise of giant drug companies has changed medicine. His critique is no screed: He acknowledges, rightly, what they do well. As late as the 1930s, doctors had just a dozen drugs in their armory to fight diseases; today, they have thousands. He even admits a grudging admiration for drug marketing, which is extraordinarily effective.\
MixedThe Wall Street JournalExhaustive...Mr. Bunker keeps veering off into minor skirmishes and long-forgotten eccentrics. One can’t fault the impressive research, but one is occasionally impatient to get back to Franklin himself, to see what new trouble the youth would stumble into next...a useful corrective to the self-hagiography of Franklin’s memoirs.
Richard O. Prum
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalAside from challenging the supremacy of adaptation theory, The Evolution of Beauty poses some unsettling philosophical questions ... Unfortunately, while Mr. Prum makes an excellent basic case for aesthetic evolution, the details can get muddy ... All the same, my disagreements are really signs of engagement: The Evolution of Beauty should be widely read, as it will provoke readers, shaking them (as reading Hume did to Kant) from their dogmatic slumbers. The author hews largely to the animals he knows best, birds and people, with only passing mention of how aesthetic evolution might shape other species. But I don’t see how any biologist could read this book and not walk away at least questioning the idea that adaptation must explain every last trait. Survival of the fittest might not be enough to explain nature. We might need survival of the prettiest, too.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalIt’s a discursive book, full of literary references, bizarre scientific studies and personal anecdotes about Mr. Burdick’s twin baby boys, whose never-ending care reduces him at the book’s outset to a groggy fugue state ... One problem with studying psychological time is that it’s such a slippery concept ... Mr. Burdick has a talent for summing up several paragraphs of thought with pithy one-liners ... Confusion nevertheless seems inescapable in studying time, and readers expecting definitive solutions to longstanding mysteries may come away disappointed: Inside our minds, the cosmic debate between rigid and fluid time continues. But those who value rich questions more than easy answers, and can tolerate some uncertainty, will find Why Time Flies rewarding.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalAbove all...The Hunt for Vulcan is simply a charming tale about an all-but-forgotten episode in science history. It might document a planetary snipe hunt, but the delights found along the way are real enough.