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Reviews of what you should be reading next.

Category: Science (page 1 of 3)

The Remarkable Life of the Skin by Monty Lyman

Providing a cover for our delicate and intricate bodies, the skin is our largest and fastest-growing organ. We see it, touch it, and live in it every day. It is a habitat for a mesmerizingly complex world of micro-organisms and physical functions that are vital to our health and our survival. It is also a waste removal plant, a warning system for underlying disease and a dynamic immune barrier to infection. One of the first things people see about us, skin is crucial to our sense of identity, providing us with social significance and psychological meaning. And yet our skin and the fascinating way it functions is largely unknown to us.

In prose as lucid as his research underlying it is rigorous, blending in memorable stories from the past and from his own medical experience, Monty Lyman has written a revelatory book exploring our outer surface that will surprise and enlighten in equal measure. Through the lenses of science, sociology, and history—on topics as diverse as the mechanics and magic of touch (how much goes on in the simple act of taking keys out of a pocket and unlocking a door is astounding), the close connection between the skin and the gut, what happens instantly when one gets a paper cut, and how a midnight snack can lead to sunburn—Lyman leads us on a journey across our most underrated and unexplored organ and reveals how our skin is far stranger, more wondrous, and more complex than we have ever imagined.

Thanks to NetGalley for this review copy!

Our skin is our largest organ – a fact that is often overlooked. Author Monty Lyman strives to put our skin front and center in this book. Each chapter covers a different aspect of what a marvelous organ our external covering is, from scientific to religious. The author discusses tattoos, skin conditions such as psoriasis, and discrimination based on skin color.

I found the medical portions to be the most interesting; I learned more about lice than I ever planned to. Despite the jargon, this section of the book is easily comprehended, aided by drawings that illustrate the author’s point.

We also learn about how sunburn affects us, why itches are so maddening, and exactly how many microscopic parasites live on us, no matter how clean we are. Each chapter builds upon the previous ones, creating a thorough picture of our skin and why it is so amazingly unique.

Lyman uses anecdotes and history to supplement his writing. He also is unafraid to discuss uncomfortable topics such as racism and lepers, which I found refreshing. I learned a lot about the misinformation surrounding lepers, plus I enjoyed the philosophical leaning during the chapter on racism based on skin color. He even takes a detour into religion, noting that some beliefs require covering most of the skin, while others worship “skyclad” (naked). Despite our differences, our outer covering makes us the same, and you will understand that better once you finish THE REMARKABLE LIFE OF THE SKIN.

I have a new respect for my skin now that I have finished this book – I bet you will too! You can pick up your copy here.

 

Swim, Bike, Bonk by Will McGough

Just as George Plimpton had his proverbial cup of coffee in the NFL as the un-recruited and certainly unwanted fourth-string quarterback for the Detroit Lions, so, too, did Will McGough immerse himself in a sport he had no business trying. Like Plimpton, whose football folly turned into the bestselling Paper Lion, travel and outdoor writer McGough writes of his participation in, around, and over the course of the one of the world’s premier triathlons, the annual Ironman 70.3 in Tempe, Arizona.

McGough chronicles the Ironman’s history, his unorthodox training, the pageantry of the race weekend, and his attempt to finish the epic event. The narrative follows not just his race but also explores the cult and habits of the triathlete community, beginning with the first Ironman competition in Hawaii in 1978. This is a light-hearted, self-deprecating, and at times hilarious look at one man’s attempt to conquer the ultimate endurance sport, with a conclusion that will surprise and delight both dedicated triathletes as well as strangers to the sport.

Thanks to NetGalley for this review copy!

I’m going to say right off the bat that this book is not for the faint of heart. The author talks frankly about peeing and pooping himself during training/racing, as well as how his sex life is suffering during his 3 months of intense training. If you don’t mind the gory details, read on.

The premise behind SWIM, BIKE, BONK is simple – the author signs up for a triathlon. However, it’s not just any old triathlon: he chooses an Ironman race where you swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles, then run a marathon (26.2 miles) immediately afterwards. In the beginning, he is very laissez-faire about his training, thinking that since he is young and in shape he won’t have any trouble. Everyone else around him speaks differently though. Eventually, he realizes that it won’t be that easy as his training miles mount up and he experiences the joy of a numb butt (and other parts) during a long bike ride.

The main part of the book consists of his training miles and his thoughts about same, interspersed with stories on buying just the right bike for the job, which Gatorade flavor is best, his fears about taking on too much, and how his endeavor is affecting his personal life. At times I skipped through some of the training miles because I wanted to get to the racing part to see what happened. Once the racing part started, he accurately captured the emotions and struggles of those involved. He writes about the bonk as he sees those experiencing it:

“With every step, another drop of life falls from their eyes”.

That is a great way to sum up how the bonk feels to a racer. I’ve only run in half marathons, but I have felt the bonk – and this book brings back memories of how it felt. There are some poignant emotions described at the end of the race, as well as afterwards. To finish a challenge such as this brings a wide range of feelings that can only really be understood by those who have done it. The author does his best to convey those feelings, however, and does a good job.

He also adds some thoughts about race volunteers (there was a failed lawsuit where they sued because they wanted to be paid) and how big the Ironman corporation really is. That part was surprising because I didn’t realize how fully corporate Ironman was. There is a lot of profit generated from these races.

SWIM, BIKE, BONK was a fun little read about one human’s desire to push himself to the limit. I think anyone who is interested in competing in the Ironman will love it, and those who run or bike competitively will also enjoy the author’s self-deprecating humor that shines through in most situations. As I mentioned, it’s not for the squeamish, but you can skip over those parts and still get the gist of the story. You can pick up your own copy here.

The Truth About Animals by Lucy Cooke

Mary Roach meets Bill Bryson in this “surefire summer winner” (Janet Maslin, New York Times), an uproarious tour of the basest instincts and biggest mysteries of the animal world

Humans have gone to the Moon and discovered the Higgs boson, but when it comes to understanding animals, we’ve still got a long way to go. Whether we’re seeing a viral video of romping baby pandas or a picture of penguins “holding hands,” it’s hard for us not to project our own values–innocence, fidelity, temperance, hard work–onto animals. So you’ve probably never considered if moose get drunk, penguins cheat on their mates, or worker ants lay about. They do–and that’s just for starters. In The Truth About Animals, Lucy Cooke takes us on a worldwide journey to meet everyone from a Colombian hippo castrator to a Chinese panda porn peddler, all to lay bare the secret–and often hilarious–habits of the animal kingdom. Charming and at times downright weird, this modern bestiary is perfect for anyone who has ever suspected that virtue might be unnatural.

Thanks to NetGalley for this review copy!

This book reads like it was written by the love child of Charles Darwin and Mary Roach. There is humor, pathos, and animal facts aplenty. The author’s writing style is easy to read and captured my attention immediately. The love Cooke has for these beasties is quite obvious from the start. Hopefully, given the facts, others will learn to appreciate these maligned characters that occupy the animal world.

Each chapter is devoted (lovingly) to a misunderstood animal, where we find myths debunked through modern science. The reader will learn about sloths, bats, and hyenas, to name a few. The author will discuss how the animals were experimented on/studied over hundreds of years (Who knew that Aristotle was a proponent of spontaneous creation?) then get to modern times, where myths are debunked and the many reasons to love these animals are revealed.

Some of the experiments detailed can be a bit gory, such as when, in the 18th century, the Catholic priest Lazzaro Spallanzani practiced blinding bats in order to find out how they managed to find their way around in darkness. (He also coated them in varnish for another experiment, but I digress).  Other tales are edifying and satisfying, such as:

It may sound suspiciously like bogus medieval folk medicine, but from the 1940s through the 1960s the world’s first reliable pregnancy test was a small, bug-eyed frog. When injected with a pregnant woman’s urine, the amphibian didn’t turn blue or display stripes, but it did squirt out eggs 8-12 hours later to confirm a positive result.

Cooke’s book is full of factoids like that one. How can you not love this book? You will learn, you will laugh, and you will be full of obscure information. That sounds like a winner to me.

Yes, you want your own copy and can pick it up here.

Stop Being Reasonable by Eleanor Gordon-Smith

What if you’re not who you think you are?
What if you don’t really know the people closest to you?
And what if your most deeply-held beliefs turn out to be…wrong?

In Stop Being Reasonable, philosopher Eleanor Gordon-Smith tells gripping true stories that show the limits of human reason. Susie realises her husband harbours a terrible secret, Dylan leaves the cult he’s been raised in since birth, Alex discovers he can no longer return to his former identity after impersonating someone else on reality TV. All of them radically alter their beliefs about the things that matter most.

What makes them change course? What does this say about our own beliefs? And, in an increasingly divided world, what does it teach us about how we might change the minds of others?
Inspiring, moving and perceptive, Stop Being Reasonable is a mind-changing exploration of the murky place where philosophy and real life meet.
‘I knew how piercingly smart Eleanor Gordon-Smith is, and what a curious and resolute interviewer. But I was unprepared for how entertainingly she writes! I read this with pleasure.’ — Ira Glass

 

Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC!

STOP BEING REASONABLE is a dense little book filled with philosophical musings on varied subjects such as why guys catcall, how someone escaped a cult, and if a girl is telling the truth about being abused by her parents. Each chapter starts with a couple of lines from philosophy that sets the tone for the case study, such as this one from Blaise Pascal: People almost invariably arrive at their beliefs not on the basis of proof but on the basis of what they find attractive.

Those who have a background in philosophy will enjoy this book for the anecdotes that illustrate various ways of thinking. My experience with philosophy is minimal, so I am sure a great deal of the material is going over my head. The stories about the people were mildly interesting, just not wholly captivating for me. Perhaps I expected different handling of the subject. This does not detract from the writing itself, just a caveat to potential readers that this is a heavier read than normal.

The author has a background in debate as well, and her skills are apparent in the way she writes and presents her facts. A common theme to all the stories is: examine closely what you expect to be true, for things are not what they seem to be.

Want your own copy? You can pick it up here.

 

The Body by Bill Bryson

In the bestselling, prize-winning A Short History of Nearly Everything Bill Bryson achieved the seemingly impossible by making the science of our world both understandable and entertaining to millions of people around the globe.

Now he turns his attention inwards to explore the human body, how it functions and its remarkable ability to heal itself. Full of extraordinary facts and astonishing stories The Body: A Guide for Occupants is a brilliant, often very funny attempt to understand the miracle of our physical and neurological make up.

A wonderful successor to A Short History of Nearly Everything, this book will have you marvelling at the form you occupy, and celebrating the genius of your existence, time and time again.

 

Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC!

Did you ever wonder how many times a day you blink? Or who invented the calorie and why we are so obsessed with counting them? These answers and a multitude of others can be found in THE BODY, a wonderfully wry book of facts and stories about, well, the body we occupy. Each chapter is devoted to one of the body’s systems (the gut, the nervous system, as well as sleep and the function of glands, etc) so as to build upon the last chapter’s information. Here’s an interesting factoid from the food chapter: fruits have been genetically manipulated to be sweeter than they were hundreds of years ago. The author purports that apples in Shakespeare’s day were no sweeter than today’s carrots.

I’m trying to decide whether Bryson’s droll wit or the abundance of information about our body is the best part of the book. You will end up learning things without even trying – there isn’t any deep scientific talk so you don’t need a degree in biology to easily read this book.

There isn’t a plot so much as a description of the body part, its function, and then facts and history about it. For example, in the chapter entitled “Gut” we learn how our digestive system works, then we learn about E. coli and other dangerous microbes, there is a bit about food safety, and then it’s 1822 and we are reading about an unfortunate accident that left a hole in a fur trapper’s stomach. This fur trapper eventually became something of a living experiment due to the injury (Google “Beaumont and St Martin” for more details if you wish).

This was an illuminating and droll read – one of the better books I have read this summer. Run, don’t walk to get your copy! You will be thoroughly enlightened and entertained, and even a bit grossed out – in a good way.

You can pick up your copy here.

 

 

A Death in the Rainforest by Don Kulick

One of Time’s 32 Books You Need to Read This Summer

“A profoundly human story about a seemingly exotic and strange place that really isn’t so strange at all.” —Carl Hoffman, author of The Last Wild Men of Borneo

As a young anthropologist, Don Kulick went to the tiny village of Gapun in New Guinea to document the death of the native language, Tayap. He arrived knowing that you can’t study a language without understanding the daily lives of the people who speak it: how they talk to their children, how they argue, how they gossip, how they joke. Over the course of thirty years, he returned again and again to document Tayap before it disappeared entirely, and he found himself inexorably drawn into their world, and implicated in their destiny. Kulick wanted to tell the story of Gapuners—one that went beyond the particulars and uses of their language—that took full stock of their vanishing culture. This book takes us inside the village as he came to know it, revealing what it is like to live in a difficult-to-get-to village of two hundred people, carved out like a cleft in the middle of a tropical rainforest. But A Death in the Rainforest is also an illuminating look at the impact of white society on the farthest reaches of the globe—and the story of why this anthropologist realized finally that he had to give up his study of this language and this village.

An engaging, deeply perceptive, and brilliant interrogation of what it means to study a culture, A Death in the Rainforest takes readers into a world that endures in the face of massive changes, one that is on the verge of disappearing forever

 

Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC!

This is an easy read about the likeable members of a tribe in Papua, New Guinea. First of all, I have to give the author props for having the gumption to head into the darkest of rainforests (the only way to reach the village of Gapun is to traverse rivers and thick forests for hours) multiple times.

At first, the author’s statement that all Papuans not-so-secretly want to be white people was a bit off-putting. As I read further, I understood what he meant – they wanted to be successful, not necessarily turning their back on their race.

I also marveled at the author’s dedication to learning, then transcribing Tayap, the difficult language of Gapun. There are gender-related endings to words, which confused him in the beginning, but then he was able to create a large body of work describing the grammar and vocabulary of the Gapuners. Their language is slowly being replaced by one called Tok Pisin, which is a pidgin version of English. The lamentable reason for this loss of language is that the younger generations don’t wish to learn to speak Tayap – they feel that is for old people and choose to speak Tok Pisin instead. Once the elders of the tribe pass away, so will Tayap, preserved only in the author’s memory and his comprehensive body of work. That seems poignant to me; working so hard to preserve something that is vanishing before your very eyes. The fact that this language was confined to less than 500 humans at the time of writing is mind -boggling. Another poignant thought is that while these villagers were sharing their language with the author, they were also sharing the memories of their lives. As Kulick puts it: “Today, those recordings are all that remains of their stories, songs, and explanations”.

The author relates stories of his time in Gapun, complete with self-deprecating humor and details that will make you cringe (imagine eating grubs or maggots?) or make you smile ( an intrepid youngster dubs himself the “security” guarding the author and subsequently stays by his side zealously).

DEATH OF A LANGUAGE is a wonderfully written book that will make you think about many things -the loss of this language, the circle of life, and the strength of this anthropologist who devoted so much of his life to these villagers. You can pick up your copy here.

Mother Knows Best by Kira Peikoff

A mother’s worst nightmare, a chance at redemption, and a deadly secret that haunts a family across the generations.
There’s only room for one mother in this family.
Claire Abrams’s dreams became a nightmare when she passed on a genetic mutation that killed her little boy. Now she wants a second chance to be a mother and finds it in Robert Nash, a maverick fertility doctor who works under the radar with Jillian Hendricks, a cunning young scientist bent on making her mark—and seducing her boss.

Claire, Robert, and Jillian work together to create the world’s first baby with three genetic parents—an unprecedented feat that could eliminate inherited disease. But when word of their illegal experiment leaks to the wrong person, Robert escapes into hiding with the now-pregnant Claire, leaving Jillian to serve out a prison sentence that destroys her future.

Ten years later, a spunky girl named Abigail begins to understand that all is not right with the reclusive man and woman she knows as her parents. But the family’s problems are only beginning. Jillian, hardened by a decade of jealousy and loss, has returned—and nothing will stop her from reuniting with the man and daughter who should have been hers. Past, present—and future converge in a mesmerizing psychological thriller from acclaimed bestselling author Kira Peikoff.

Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC!

There is science. There is suspense. There is drama. There is also an important element that makes this fiction seem closer to non-fiction.

Claire wants another baby and is willing to go to great lengths to make, I mean to have, one. Against her husband’s wishes, she goes to see fertility specialist Robert Nash. Using a top-secret plausible-in-real-life-sort-of technique, Claire becomes pregnant with Abby, who is considered a “frankenbaby” after Claire’s secret is uncovered. The story jumps back and forth from the POV of Claire, Abby, Nash, and Nash’s assistant Jillian. This technique lets us see each character’s perspective and motivation (be aware, not all of them are altruistic).

The mix of science and family dynamics was done perfectly, and the bad guys are eminently hateable. As I mentioned before, the procedure to create a baby using multiple people’s sperm/eggs seems within reach. This made the book dramatic without focusing on obviously fake science.

As the author shares the character’s flaws and desires, she illustrates the desire to have and protect a child in a poignant and accurate manner. She is adept at creating psychological suspense that appears real, not overly histrionic. Except for the science and the “three-parent creation”, each character’s emotions add to the plot and support the action. Abby behaves exactly the way a kid her age would, exploiting her computer savvy and using the Internet to find answers.

There were a couple of twists in the book, one that seemed obvious and another that was a shocker. I feel there is enough going on to get the reader hooked and wanting to get to the end to see how things turn out. Things get tied up kind of quickly in the end but it was satisfying. If the author continues with her science-backed plots I’ll definitely pick up her next novel.

Want your own copy? You can pick it up here.

Old Bones (Nora Kelly #1) by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

 

The first in the groundbreaking Nora Kelly series from #1 bestselling authors Preston & Child blends the legend of the Donner party with a riveting suspense tale, taking the dynamic duo’s work to new heights.

Nora Kelly, a young but successful curator with a series of important excavations already under her belt, is approached by the handsome historian, Guy Porter, to lead an expedition unlike any other. Guy tells his story–one involving the ill-fated Donner Party, who became permanently lodged in the American consciousness in the winter of 1847, when the first skeletonized survivors of the party stumbled out of the California mountains, replete with tales of courage, resourcefulness, bad luck, murder, barbarism–and, finally, starvation and cannibalism.

Captivated by the Donner Party, Nora agrees and they venture into the Sierra Nevada in search of the camp. Quickly, they learn that the discovery of the missing starvation camp is just the tip of the iceberg–and that the real truth behind those long-dead pioneers is not only far more complex and surprising than they could have imagined…but it is one that puts them both in mortal danger from a very real, present-day threat in which the search for the lost party, and its fabled fortune in gold, are merely means to a horrifying end.

 

Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC!

OLD BONES is the first of the Nora Kelly series. As you may recall, Nora was the intrepid curator/archaeologist in some of the early Pendergast novels. The authors have decided to give Nora her own series, minus the usual Pendergast characters save one. Newly minted FBI agent Corrie Swanson is here also, investigating a murder.

Nora is on site excavating remains found of the famous Donner Party of 1847. What begins as a typical excavation turns into terror when members of their dig turn up dead. Corrie and the FBI are investigating these murders because they took place on Federal land, plus they tie in with another investigation involving grave robbing. Apparently, the robbed graves were descendants of a member of the Donner Party – but why the interest in them all of a sudden?

The premise sounds thrilling, but the telling of the tale is middling. Much of the action takes place on the dig and seems repetitive. Nora and Corrie butt heads during the course of the investigation and Corrie has to deal with the “good old boys” of law enforcement who mock her lack of experience.

The winning points of OLD BONES are the strong female characters – Nora, Corrie, and Nora’s boss Dr Fugit. It seems as though their characters are drawn well with good backstory, while the men are secondary. You won’t hear a complaint from me; I appreciate the authors giving Nora and Corrie their feisty personalities and strong work ethic.

Most of the book reads like a weak version of a Pendergast novel. I did keep expecting him to pop up somewhere to save the day. Final verdict – not the worst thing by far I’ve read, but just sort of dull. The best parts were the history, albeit gory, of the Donner Party and how they managed to survive.

Nora is a great character and I am looking forward to seeing her handle her next adventure. Perhaps the authors will hit their stride in the next book. Want your own copy? You can pick it up here.

 

The Pain of Suicide by Dr Jo-Ann Rowland

 

Every suicide is an individual tragedy whose origins challenge our mental capacity. Suicide is a global phenomenon. Each year there are over 800,000 reported suicides worldwide and that is expected to increase to over 1.5 million by 2020. More people attempt suicide than die from suicide. Family-member survivors and communities are left with many unanswered questions, not understanding why the person chose to commit suicide. Persons responding to suicide and suicide attempts are very often not prepared for what they encounter and this exacerbates the problem. This book looks at the struggles of a high-risk people group and presents interventions and postventions proffered in a consultation forum.

Thank you to Authoright for this ARC!

Dr Rowland’s concern for those lost to suicide is evident in this well-researched book. She concentrates on the suicide rate in Guyana, South America, since this little country had the highest number of suicides in 2012 and 2014. Further into the book she examines some insights into the suicidal mind, the effect of religion on those who want to kill themselves, and a discussion of “psychache”, the ongoing mental, emotional, and psychological emotions experienced by suicidal people.

Regarding Guyana, suicide has historically been a part of the Indian experience, with an average yearly number of about 123,000. There are various predisposing factors, such as culture and sociology, which the author explores further in other chapters.

Hopelessness and suicidal ideation are common threads amongst all races, with the thought being that counseling (both for the depressed person and bereavement) would be helpful. The stigma and grief are nearly unbearable, and the act should not be glamorized. Regarding this last statement, the World Health Organization created guidelines for media reporting of suicides such that a phenomenon called “suicide contagion” does not occur. These guidelines include not placing blame, calling the act “completed” rather than “successful”, and highlight alternatives to suicide. These may appear obvious, but there are stories in the book where friends and relatives seemingly ignored or didn’t understand multiple warning signs given off, and someone died as a result of this.

Dr Rowland’s research was conducted through meetings with both relatives of, and survivors of, suicide attempts. Her goal was to determine why the suicide rate in Guyana was so high and to see if she could make a difference in this number. Transcripts of her meetings were also analyzed independently by two Guyanese, who applied both cultural and academic reason to their analysis. Intervention strategies were discussed by a panel of doctors and social workers after the research findings were examined. Some of these intervention strategies included community care groups, parenting/coping skills, school-based programs, and the establishment of drug courts. This last item is quite important, for pesticides and drugs are used as a method for suicide. Many Guyanese are farmers and have ready access to agricultural chemicals.

Reasons discovered for suicide included depression, substance abuse, and family dysfunction. Family conflicts arose out of cultural differences between children and parents, or marriages where the husband did not support his wife adequately. Guyanese families are structured around the patriarchal system, and “culture shock” can occur when mothers need to work to support the family and the children are left alone with no caregivers.

Suicide survivors expressed the pain of being misunderstood and unsupported by parents or family. There is also a stigma so forceful that one parent “self-discharged” her minor child, claiming the embarrassment of the attempt was too much for the family to bear.

The author concludes that lack of coping skills devalues the meaning of life, and drive these hurting individuals to seek “peace” via suicide. The reasons are the same no matter what country one is from, and there is heartache (or psychache) within every culture.

Dr Rowland has set up an organization in Guyana called Ephrathah, built specifically to engage those who are hurting. Counseling and persona development programs are offered to help reach those who are in despair, regardless of ethnicity or community status. I feel this organization will go a long way to help these vulnerable individuals.

I commend Dr Rowland for giving of her time and interest so freely. She is truly a caring soul who is seeking to mitigate suicidal ideation not only in Guyana, but all over the world. Her research can be translated into any culture in any country and needs to serve as a wakeup call to those who may have suicidal friends or relatives. Mental health can be a challenge at any age or stage, and we must all be willing to give that extra attention to someone who is depressed or hurting. That little bit may go a long way in saving a life. Please take the time to read this book and understand more about suicide. You can get your copy here.

Fukushima and the Coming Tokyo Earthquake by Tony Smyth

This book details the story of two earthquakes, one that has already happened and one that is imminent, and their consequences, not only for Japan but also for the rest of the world. It is structured in a way that ‘chunks up’ in sections, from local/national events through to global consequences.
The first section of the book tells the story of how a country that suffered atomic bombing ended up obtaining a third of its electricity from nuclear power, despite having the misfortune to be located in the most seismically active zone in the world. It then depicts the sequence of what happened in March 2011 after the tsunami struck.
Next, the book details recent peer-reviewed studies about radiation and its effect on human health. The following chapter reveals the full costs of nuclear power– an energy source that never comes in on budget and is incredibly expensive. The final part of this section of the book describes the inadequacy of storing spent nuclear fuel once a nuclear power station has been decommissioned.
The latter half of the book adopts a larger frame or viewpoint and looks at the use of nuclear and renewable energy in the context of world climate change and the widespread use of fossil fuels.
The final section of the book depicts a coming Tokyo earthquake and its consequences. A big earthquake in or near Tokyo is overdue. They usually happen every sixty to seventy years, yet the last one was in 1923. The author asserts that Japan will have to repatriate much of its treasury bonds which are held in the United States. The tsunami and meltdowns of 2011 represent the most expensive natural disaster in history. Even though Japan is the third biggest economy in the world, because of an estimated debt from the tsunami and Fukushima meltdowns of at least $500 million and weak indebted economy, it will struggle to pay this amount. The most obvious way to pay for rebuilding will be to sell stocks and treasury bonds held in the United States.
An earthquake striking Tokyo will hit right at the nerve centre of the country. All political and economic power is concentrated there.The headquarters of many global 500 companies, as well as all the powerful bureaucracies so vital to the country, are located in one central section of the capital. Most of Japan’s imports and exports are dispatched through Tokyo Bay. After a big quake, this area is likely to be crippled for some time. Moreover, much of Tokyo’s manufacturing takes place on reclaimed land in the Bay – land which tends to liquefy in a big quake.
This book argues that because of the fragile situation of world economies since 2008 (Lehman Bros etc), and the heavily indebted state of Japan’s finances post-tsunami/Fukushima, the only way that Japan will appeal to finance the enormous amount of post-quake rebuilding is to repatriate its investment in US government bonds and securities. This will have an immediate knock-on effect on the American economy and, soon after, most of the world’s economies.

 

Thanks to NetGalley for this book!

Tony Smyth has done his research. This book is full of facts and figures, with a good deal of opinion thrown in as well. His writing style is not too fussy, so I got into the cadence of words quickly while remaining interested throughout the litany of numbers. First off, I learned a good deal about seismic activity and how the buildings in Japan are created to withstand earthquakes. Some structures have fluid filled “shock absorbers” or sliding walls while others have complex structural cross-bracing which is designed to buckle while absorbing seismic energy.

Despite these measures, nothing could prevent the nuclear meltdown that occurred at the Fukushima power plant because there was no way to protect against the tsunami that devastated the area post-quake. Thousands of lives were lost, towns were washed away, and the land was (and still is) overrun with radioactive isotopes.

The author notes that the total costs of the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdowns of 2011 make those events the world’s most expensive natural disaster. There are a lot of absolutes in this book, yet the author remains fairly neutral about nuclear power. There are plenty of reasons (global warming, cost of disposal, impact on the planet) to seek out alternatives, yet Smyth balances his words well and merely uses them as a warning, not a condemnation. More concerning are the politics of how the reactors came to be, regardless of the fact that many of them are superfluous.

The author speaks from experience; he lives in Japan and is familiar with the socio-economic climate and Japanese culture. Despite the business-heavy title, each facet of the country and the disaster is discussed in plain language that cannot help but affect the reader. Smyth heavily includes the human element, with heart-wrenching stories of parents waiting in vain for their children to get home or children worried about their elderly parents in the flood zone.

My main takeaway from this book was not fear for the future of Japanese business; instead it was fear for the future of mankind and our planet. The section of the book concerning global warming was extremely edifying, and as a result I will personally make an effort to reduce my global footprint.

I feel this is an important book to read on so many levels. Please pick up your copy here.

 

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