Friday, April 30, 2010

Friday! Newish Science Books

By now you've probably figured out that I'm an eclectic reader. You might never have guessed that I'm always looking for cutting-edge science books. Unfortunately, relatively few end up in libraries and bookstores. But yesterday I snatched up some intriguing titles at Crandall Library. How many times can I say thank you, Crandall?

The human brain fascinates me. And this one, The Other Brain: From Dementia to Schizophrenia--How New Discoveries about the Brain Are Revolutionizing Medicine and Science by R. Douglas Fields, Ph.D. (2009), has excited my neurons, that's for sure. Did you know that 85% of brain cells are glia (meaning "glue")? The rest are neurons. For many years, scientists thought glia was mere packing material. Actually, I think it's more likely that scientists knew they didn't have a clue what glia cells did. But today it's recognized that malfunctioning glia play a role in all kinds of brain diseases and disorders. Glia are very important to the encoding of memory, for instance. I'm eager to know more. The older I get, the more precious my memory has become, as faulty as it is, and I want to know everything about it.

I have reservations about The Fatal Strain: On the Trail of Avian Flu and the Coming Pandemic by Alan Sipress (Viking, 2009). Alas, Sipress is neither a scientist nor a science journalist. He's the economics editor at The Washington Post and recently, a foreign correspondent in Southeast Asia. Ordinarily, such author credentials would make me put the book back on the library shelf. But I flipped through it, read a passage here and there, scanned the copious, detailed footnotes, and thought I'd at least see what he put together.

But you know, no book will ever beat the best book thus far written on global epidemiology, The Coming Plague by Laurie Garrett. Took me forever to read it, but it was solid, exciting science. It's my favorite science book of all time. Yes, it was published way back in 1995, but what she wrote then still holds true today. If you like solid science writing, this is it! Scroll all the way down on the Charlie Rose interview link for the best interviews with Garrett.

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