book reviews

Some book ideas

Some people use the holiday season to take time to read a good book. Others like to give books over this season. Here’s some suggestions for some reading titles. Other suggestions are welcome:


Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides: This fictional autobiography by an intersex (what we used to call “hermaphrodite”) person of Greek origin has a lot: Greek history, including the wars between Greece and Turkey, middle-American industrial cities in the post war period, the urban riots of the ‘60s, plus some science. Like all good fiction, it also has real, live, convincing characters.

Barbara Kingsolver: Some of her books I really didn’t like, but “The Lacuna” is a great fictional autobiography of a gay man who works as the personal secretary of Leon Trotsky. Then there are a few others, like “The Beantrees”, another fictional autobiography about a rebellious young woman growing up in Kentucky. Many of Kingsolver’s books have really great dialog.

Mysteries by P.D. James — If you’re looking for mysteries, P.D. James is a good writer. A British writer, her mysteries differ from most American mystery writers in the same way that lots of European films differ from Hollywood’s: Her books have real, genuine characters and the little, odd, almost irrelevant descriptions of details of a scene that really bring things to life.

Non Fiction

“Our Stolen Future” by Theo Colborn — In this period when the crisis of capitalism is expressed, among other ways, by the environmental crisis, Colborn’s book is ever-more important. She explains how different pollutants act as “endocrine disrupters”, affecting our hormone system. Along the way, she explains in laypeople’s terms how this affects the development of the embryo as well as affecting mature beings. In this day when the role of genes is so emphasized, Colborn’s explanation of the role of hormones is a good counterbalance. Her book will make you look at human behavior in a new light. Reviewed here.

“The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander. Growing up in urban America, it’s easy not to see the forest for the trees, so to speak. What Colborn does for understanding the interaction between the environment and human health and behavior, Alexander does for explaining a lot of what is happening in our African-American communities. Her position, that mass incarceration of black people is “the new Jim Crow” – that it is used as a replacement of official segregation what that system was no longer workable – is excellently documented. It puts the police homicides (Michael Brown, Eric Garner, etc.) in their context.

“The Cholesterol Myths” by Uffe Ravnskov. Do you have “high cholesterol” or know somebody who does? Is your doctor badgering you to take a statin drug? You’d better read this book. Ravnskov, a medical doctor, carefully picks apart the entire theory that “high” cholesterol causes heart disease.

“Disconnect” by Devra Davis. This is a book that reviews the mountain of evidence that radio frequency radiation as emitted by cell phones is dangerous. Some consider Davis to be overly cautious in her claims – that cell phones are even more dangerous than she says. But especially if you talk on a cell phone a lot, or if you’re a woman who keeps her cell phone in her bra when you run, for instance, or — most important – if you have a child or teen ager who wants a cell phone… you should read about the dangers. Reviewed here.

“Merchants of Doubt” by Oreskes & Conway. The authors trace the role of corporate shills who masquerade as scientists, starting with those scientists who provided cover for the tobacco industry. Several of these actually started out as nuclear physicists. Their politics revolved around nuclear bombs and anti-communism and included an opposition to government intervention into any sphere of the economy. Their “science” followed their politics. Several of these “scientists” also pop up in the campaign to oppose the idea that acid rain was harmful and then in the ranks of the global warming deniers. Key to their method is the fact that science usually doesn’t deal in certainties of every phenomenon. From this general fact, these “merchants of doubt” continually claimed that “the science is uncertain; there is legitimate doubt” and the corporate media took things up in that light.

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