A timely, necessary, stellar book—a game-changer.

THE DISORDERED COSMOS

A JOURNEY INTO DARK MATTER, SPACETIME, AND DREAMS DEFERRED

“Black Lives are Star Stuff and Black Lives Matter—all of them.” A renowned physicist describes the beauty and wonder of the universe while interrogating the discriminatory sociocultural systems that support scientific practice.

In this powerful and compelling book, Prescod-Weinstein lays it out patently: Racist and sexist policies and behaviors are rampant across all scientific disciplines. As a result, minorities are poorly represented, in particular in physics, astronomy, and related fields. Yet the cosmos offers a siren song to all humans, and changing the centuries-old framework dictating how science is constructed, perceived, and taught is imperative not only to make room for diverse scientists, but also to enrich the pursuit of knowledge itself. Prescod-Weinstein, who is the first Black woman to hold a tenure-track faculty position in theoretical cosmology, rightly points out that “creating room for Black children to freely love particle physics and cosmology means radically changing society and the role of physicists within it.” In a pleasing combination of passionate and cogent prose, the author demonstrates the entanglement of scientific pursuit and colonial histories and explains how her own exploration of math and physics cannot be separated from the history of racism and oppression. After all, she writes, “physics and math classrooms are not only scenes of cosmology…but also scenes of society, complete with all of the problems that follow society wherever it goes. There is no escape.” From the hunt for dark matter (her area of expertise) to the often fraught relationship among Indigenous peoples, their lands, and high-tech experiments, Prescod-Weinstein’s deep dives into complex subjects are accessible and exhilarating. But it's her crystal-clear vision of the transformation equality could effect in the world that makes this book a must-read. Her belief in what the future could hold—of “what freedom looks like”—should serve as an inspiration for all readers.

A timely, necessary, stellar book—a game-changer.

Pub Date: March 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5417-2470-9

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Bold Type Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2021

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An oft-ignored but fully convincing argument that “we cannot prevent the next pandemic without creating a healthy world.”

THE CONTAGION NEXT TIME

The Covid-19 pandemic is not a one-off catastrophe. An epidemiologist presents a cogent argument for a fundamental refocusing of resources on “the foundational forces that shape health.”

In this passionate and instructive book, Galea, dean of the Boston University School of Public Health, writes that Covid emerged because we have long neglected basic preventative measures. “We invest vast amounts of money in healthcare,” he writes, “but comparatively little in health.” Readers looking to learn how governments (mainly the U.S.) mishandled the pandemic have a flood of books to choose from, but Galea has bigger issues to raise. Better medical care will not stop the next epidemic, he warns. We must structure a world “that is resilient to contagions.” He begins by describing the current state of world health, where progress has been spectacular. Global life expectancy has more than doubled since 1900. Malnutrition, poverty, and child mortality have dropped. However, as the author stresses repeatedly, medical progress contributed far less to the current situation than better food, clean water, hygiene, education, and prosperity. That’s the good news. More problematic is that money is a powerful determinant of health; those who have it live longer. Galea begins the bad news by pointing out the misleading statistic that Covid-19 kills less than 1% of those infected; that applies to young people in good health. For those over 60, it kills 6%, for diabetics, over 7%, and those with heart disease, over 10%. It also kills more Blacks than Whites, more poor than middle-class people, and more people without health insurance. The author is clearly not just interested in Covid. He attacks racism, sexism, and poverty in equal measure, making a plea for compassion toward stigmatized conditions such as obesity and addiction. He consistently urges the U.S. government, which has spared no expense and effort to defeat the pandemic, to do the same for social injustice.

An oft-ignored but fully convincing argument that “we cannot prevent the next pandemic without creating a healthy world.”

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-19-757642-7

Page Count: 280

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: Aug. 28, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2021

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A lucid (in the sky with diamonds) look at the hows, whys, and occasional demerits of altering one’s mind.

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THIS IS YOUR MIND ON PLANTS

Building on his lysergically drenched book How to Change Your Mind (2018), Pollan looks at three plant-based drugs and the mental effects they can produce.

The disastrous war on drugs began under Nixon to control two classes of perceived enemies: anti-war protestors and Black citizens. That cynical effort, writes the author, drives home the point that “societies condone the mind-changing drugs that help uphold society’s rule and ban the ones that are seen to undermine it.” One such drug is opium, for which Pollan daringly offers a recipe for home gardeners to make a tea laced with the stuff, producing “a radical and by no means unpleasant sense of passivity.” You can’t overthrow a government when so chilled out, and the real crisis is the manufacture of synthetic opioids, which the author roundly condemns. Pollan delivers a compelling backstory: This section dates to 1997, but he had to leave portions out of the original publication to keep the Drug Enforcement Administration from his door. Caffeine is legal, but it has stronger effects than opium, as the author learned when he tried to quit: “I came to see how integral caffeine is to the daily work of knitting ourselves back together after the fraying of consciousness during sleep.” Still, back in the day, the introduction of caffeine to the marketplace tempered the massive amounts of alcohol people were drinking even though a cup of coffee at noon will keep banging on your brain at midnight. As for the cactus species that “is busy transforming sunlight into mescaline right in my front yard”? Anyone can grow it, it seems, but not everyone will enjoy effects that, in one Pollan experiment, “felt like a kind of madness.” To his credit, the author also wrestles with issues of cultural appropriation, since in some places it’s now easier for a suburbanite to grow San Pedro cacti than for a Native American to use it ceremonially.

A lucid (in the sky with diamonds) look at the hows, whys, and occasional demerits of altering one’s mind.

Pub Date: July 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-29690-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: April 14, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2021

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