Nonfiction on the Meaning of the Universe and the Foods We Eat | Xpress Reviews

Week ending May 12, 2017

Cham, Jorge (text & illus.) & Daniel Whiteson (text). We Have No Idea: A Guide to the Unknown Universe. Riverhead. May 2017. 368p. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780735211513. $28; ebk. ISBN 9780735211537. SCI
The title of this basic science overview comes from the idea that our knowledge of the particles that make up the stars, planets, and galaxies represent only five percent of what comprises the universe; when it comes to the remaining 95 percent, as one of the book’s graphics puts it, “We have no idea.” Cham, creator of the newspaper and webcomic strip Piled Higher and Deeper and the website PHD TV, which features animation and videos that explain complex scientific topics, and his frequent PHD TV collaborator Whiteson (experimental particle physics, Univ. of California, Irvine) cover dark matter, dark energy, mass, gravity, space, time, dimensions, the big bang, the possibility of a theory of everything, and extraterrestrial life. This lighthearted offering, peppered with funny illustrations, effectively illuminates difficult concepts and will appeal to fans of Cham’s work and newcomers alike. However, some readers may not appreciate the tongue-in-cheek attitude and silly footnotes.
Verdict Highly recommended for science shelves and young adult collections.—Teresa R. Faust, Coll. of Central Florida, Ocala

Dufault, Renee Joy. Unsafe at Any Meal: What the FDA Does Not Want You To Know About the Foods You Eat. Square One. Mar. 2017. 192p. illus. notes. index. ISBN 9780757004360. pap. $16.95; ebk. ISBN 9780757054365. HEALTH
Previously working for the National Institutes of Health, Environmental Protection Agency, and Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Dufault offers an illuminating perspective on food safety in America, presenting the information in an easy-to-understand manner and providing definitions where necessary for laypeople. Chapters cover a variety of topics ranging from genetics and adult-onset diseases and pesticides and heavy metals to Western diets and the FDA’s food labeling practices. Despite an informed effort, Dufault’s tone borders on alarmist, from the buzzy title to an excerpt touting the dangers of fluoride. Additionally, Chapter 6’s “Spotlight on Autism and ADHD” is especially concerning. While the author cites credible studies throughout, the conclusions drawn aren’t fully sound, nor do they draw on comprehensive consensus statements or systematic reviews. For example, her claim that “most scientists now agree the root causes of autism and ADHD are related to gene-environment interactions” is something that the medical community does not have a generally recognized understanding of at this time.
Verdict Rather than resorting to health-scare tactics, this topic could have been presented in a less ominous way to help arm consumers with a foundation in health education and literacy by offering applicable resources through which readers can apply critical thinking to the health concerns listed in the text.—Carolann Curry, Mercer Univ. Lib., Macon, GA

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