Tag Archives: science

The World Without Us by Alan Weisman

Holy fuckballs… Every now and then a book comes along and just punches you in the face.world_without

POW! Right in the kisser! 

(Sorry, I had to). 

The World Without Us is one of those books. I’ve seriously explained this book to about twenty different people to try and convince them to read it. Weisman undertakes the almost unthinkable task of answering the question, “What would happen if all humans just suddenly disappeared *POOF* from the planet?”

Well other than Mother Earth, Father Sky, and all the billions of animals heaving a collective sigh of relief…. A lot actually. And it wouldn’t take as long as you might think.

Weisman illustrates about a bajillion fascinating points in TWWU, and I seriously could not put it down. Did you know that if power cut off in NYC, within TWO WEEKS the subway system would be COMPLETELY filled with water–thus weakening the foundation of all the skyscrapers and causing a relatively imminent collapse? SAY WHAAA??

Or, that it is hypothesized that Africa is the only continent with so many “mega” mammals (elephants, rhinos, etc…) left alive because humans originated there and those species had a chance to grow immune to our disgusting disease-ridden bodies?

Or, that if you cut an 18 inch hole in the roof of your home, it would only take ten years for the building to fall apart!?

Prepare to be amazed, educated, and more than a little depressed. One of my favorite books all year.

Just read the damn thing, ok?

(Oh, and stop using body scrub with little plastic exfoliating beads in it).

5 days after tomorrow of 5

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The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddahartha Mukherjee

emperorofallmaladies1Unfortunately many of us have been touched by cancer, directly or indirectly. A couple months ago we got the news that my boyfriend’s mother may have a pretty serious form of immune/bone marrow cancer called multiple myeloma. *Cue frantic research*

The Emperor of All Maladies is described by Mukherjee as a “biography” of cancer. He treats the insidious disease almost as if it’s a sentient and prolific monster. The expansive novel takes us back several thousand years and wipes away the notion that cancer is a modern affliction. Mummies have been found with painful lumps in their shriveled arms. Ancient skeletons were exhumed and discovered to be riddled with tiny holes–caused by a skin cancer taking root.

By no means is it caused solely by our new lifestyle (although I’m sure fast food, cigarettes, and tanning beds aren’t helping…) Mukherjee explains that many of the diseases that would’ve once killed us a few hundred years ago have been wiped out–thus opening the doors for cells to mutate with advanced age and cancer to form.

“Cancer is built into our genomes: the genes that unmoor normal cell division are not foreign to our bodies, but rather mutated, distorted versions of the very genes that perform vital cellular functions. And cancer is imprinted in our society: as we extend our life span as a species, we inevitably unleash malignant growth (mutations in cancer genes accumulate with aging; cancer is thus intrinsically related to age). If we seek immortality, then so, too, in a rather perverse sense, does the cancer cell.”

This is a very interesting and informative read. It can get a little scientifically dense at times, but as someone with very little previous knowledge on the subject, I found it fairly easy to follow. Mukherjee incorporates personal experiences as an oncology doctor, early experiments, the history of many surgical procedures, and the evolution of chemotherapy. It’s kind of daunting to realize that in the 1940’s doctors were charging at the front line of cancer medicine–sure it would be obliterated at any moment–only to remember now it’s 70 years later and there is still no universal cure to be found.

But that’s not to say there haven’t been any major advancements. In the 1950’s, while doctors puffed on cigarettes during lung cancer operations, they were learning that their own smelly habit was causing the black tributaries of tar and malignant cells. Too bad the knowledge hasn’t stopped everyone nowadays…

I highly recommend this book, to anyone more interested in learning about the disease. It was at once terrifying and enlightening. Don’t expect to find a cure in it’s pages, but you will find hope.

4 stars of 5


On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee

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Holy mother of…. This is a huge book. Nine hundred pages of food. A whole immense chapter dedicated to milk alone. Sugar plums dancing in my head. It could be either a dream or a nightmare.

It was pretty damn amazing. I found myself not feeling like reading it, but once I picked it up I couldn’t put it down.

McGee covers pretty much every food’s composition, history, and even name etymology. I, for one, had no idea the word “avacado” was derived from the native word for “testicle.” (The shape I guess??) Makes me snigger every time I make guacamole. The amount of research this book must have taken… incredible. I read the 2004 updated version–the original 1980’s one was ONLY 724 pages.

But while interesting–this is one beast of a book. Don’t be fooled–you will learn a lot if you stick with it–but it will take a LONG time. It’s less of an instruction manuel, and simply a basic food origin and preparation guide. It will tell you WHY you should add salt to pasta water, but not give you a recipe for vodka sauce. It’s very science and history-based.

The chapters were broken down by basic categories: milk, meat, fruits, vegetables, sauces, grains, etc… Some were more fascinating than others. All were about 70 pages long. The milk and meat were infinitely more page-turning than the fruits and sauces. I caught myself dozing a bit on those….

The two end chapters are dedicated to kitchen utensils and the four molecules that make up all food: fats, carbohydrates, proteins, and water. These should have been in the very beginning instead of the very end because they could have helped with the basic understanding of the rest of the chapters. I don’t get the order, but they were short anyway.

I really recommend this book for all cooks, or even just for people into food history. This is a very educational compendium. It’s like if you took everything Wikipedia had to say about food (that was true) and put it all in one place. Amazing. There should be one in every kitchen!

4 persimmon pastes of 5

 


Cooking for Geeks by Jeff Potter

So all my Facebook friends know that I love cooking and I try and make something yummy for my boyfriend every night. When I lived in England I cooked up a storm! (The food there actually is gross. And then there’s this… I knew the burgers tasted too gamey…) Well, my mad skills carried over back in the States and I haven’t looked back.

Cooking for Geeks combines two of my greatest loves–science and cooking. From the time I was a little kid I used to go in the kitchen or bathroom and mix random ingredients together to make “potions.” (I still don’t know why my mom wouldn’t drink Listerine/glitter/concealer potion–sheesh).

cooking_geeks_620I figured that CFG would be a cookbook with interesting little Pop Up Video-style notes in the margins talking about why this ingredient reacted to that and blah blah blah. Not really. It was more of a whole book of scientific methods involved in cooking–like the Maillard reaction involved in browning meat–with recipes interspersed here and there.

They also had mini-interviews with well-known geeks who were into cooking, like Adam Savage from Mythbusters. My inner geek glowed.

Potter clearly loves experimenting with food and encourages people to not be afraid to fail in cooking. You have to make some nasty food before you can figure out how to make something truly delicious. (Like the time I cooked chicken IN red wine and got purple, tough meat. Blegh!) After all, he notes, you can always order a pizza.

He talks a lot about food safety and cooking things to the correct temperature–and how long things last before they get dangerously full of microbes. Yikes. I’m a little paranoid now.

I do think that he went a little too in depth with some of the cooking methods–either that or this manuel is clearly not for beginners. A lot of these techniques I will probably never use (who has time to foam an egg?) but they were interesting to read about all the same. I’m never gonna make instant ice cream with dry ice, but hey–whatever floats your boat.

This is NOT a cookbook, but rather a kitchen guide for the scientifically-minded.

Enjoy, fellow geeks!

4 in-oven pizza stones of 5