Summer and Science

Reading recommendations from the library newsletter

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By Helen Kossler

Reading Between the Lines

It's too bad that science gets a bum rap.  It's too hard, too technical, takes too much math, and is boring to boot. Why would anyone want to think about it in the summer when the sun is shining and the grass is growing and the pool is open. 

Wouldn't it be nice to know why the sun is hotter in the summer, why grass is green (at least, it's green if you water it) and why water cools us so wonderfully during these torrid summer heat waves?

The library newsletter recently recommended several science books for summer reading and I discovered that I have recently read two titles on the list and enjoyed both of them very much.

The first is Stiff, the Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach. It's 300 pages about dead bodies. And it's actually very funny and engaging.  The author takes us to several unusual places to find out what dead bodies do for the living.  Such as being part of the Body Farm which helps forensic scientists determine the rates of decomposition of the human body under various environmental conditions.  The information is useful in determining when a person died and how they died both to rule in and to rule out murder or foul play. Not to mention how important it is to crime writers.

Cadavers also help with automobile safety.  They are used to field test safety innovations in cars, for example. I thought crash test dummies were used for that but they apparently have limitations which is where the real thing comes in handy.

Most people know that cadavers are used in medical school training. Your doctor spent hours taking apart a human body so that he/she could do a more thorough job healing you. The author makes the point that we owe a great deal to dead bodies. The book is not nauseating but it is thought-provoking.  She asks the reader to think about what we want to happen to our own bodies at death. I was thinking cremation with the ashes being buried in my garde, but it turns out that ashes don't have many nutrients, so I may be moving to composting in my will. Either that or willing my body to science to be used as needed. That won't leave my family with a place to mourn me when I'm dead, but it will save considerably on funeral expenses.

The other book I've read is A Short History of Nearly Everything, by Bill Bryson.  He has come out with another science themed book, At Home, a Short History of Private Life which I have not yet looked at but if it's as well-written and wryly humorous as History, it will be well worth the time spent.  I've opened History up at random pages and found every foray into the book fascinating. If you've ever wondered about Einstein and Darwin, here they are. Ditto for information about the creation of the cosmos—and you should be curious about that since scientists have just proven the existence of the Higgs bosun (or they've come close enough for most of us to give them a passing grade).

Put away the quaint notion that science is boring and look around you. Or, at least put some science on your reading list for the beach. The library will be happy to help you find a book to meet your interests. Or go to oppl.org for a list of available books.

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