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November 16, 2021

Two New Books in Science Nonfiction

by Donna Huber

I'm continuing my Nonfiction November reading with a couple more science nonfiction books. If you missed it, I reviewed The Unseen Body, a medical memoir by Jonathan Reisman. I've continued my medical/science reading with Patient Zero and The Other Dark Matter. They are both interesting and informative reads.

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. Free books were provided for an honest review.

The Other Dark Matter by Lina Zeldovich

The Other Dark Matter
November 2021; University of Chicago Press
978-0226615578; audio, ebook, print (264 pages)

Lina Zeldovich and I are part of a science writers group online, and when she asked about reviewers for her book I thought it sounded interesting. I haven't given much thought to the science of fecal matter. When I encounter feces in science it is usually because it is causing diseases by contaminating the water. I think at least part of me thought that is what this book would be about. While it is mentioned, it is not the focus of this book. My eyes have been open to a world of feces research that I never knew existed.

The book is broken up into three sections. The first section focuses on the history of poop. It was quite interesting as most historical texts that I have read do not delve into bathroom habits There were some elaborative bathrooms a very long time ago. 

The next section looks are what is currently happening with sewage management. This section was the most interesting to me. At work, I recently wrote an article about the lack of latrines and the connection to the continuing transmission of schistosomiasis. After talking with the researcher about the problems of latrines and such I was left wondering what could be the solution. Zeldovich interviewed two companies working in Africa on solving the toilet problem. One company is in Kenya which is were the study I wrote about took occurred. It gave me hope that there is a possible solution that will happen sooner rather than later. 

Learning that there are waste management companies in the U.S. producing fertilizer from human waste had me wondering if my homestead group would use it on their gardens. 

The last section covers something that has come up in all the recent medical/science books I've read - fecal matter transplant (FMT). While the other books cover the benefits of such a transplant, particularly in treating antibiotic-resistant C. diff. Zeldovich goes more into how we got to FMT and the actual hows and what fors of FMT. 

The Other Dark Matter does NOT read anything like a textbook. Its readability is more similar to the articles you would read in National Geographic, The Atlantic, Slate, etc. Interspersed with the facts are personal stories and anecdotes that made it an entertaining, as well as a fascinating, read. Several times while reading this book, I thought of the toilet training book Everyone Poops

And it's true - everyone poops. If you have ever wondered (or are wondering now) what happens after you flush and how it can be used to balance the environment in and around you, then I highly recommend this book.

Buy The Other Dark Matter at Amazon

Patient Zero by Lydia Kang and Nate Pedersen

Patient Zero
November 2021; Workman Publishing; 978-1523513291
audio, ebook, print (400 pages)

With the pandemic, I've been curious about the history of other pandemic diseases. There have been some comparisons in the media to the 1918 flu pandemic, particularly in terms of mitigation efforts (social distancing, masks, etc). When vaccines came out I started wondering about polio. When I saw Patient Zero I knew I had to read it.

While it read a bit more like a textbook than I would have liked, it was very interesting. I learned about some diseases I had never heard of before and definitely more about outbreaks of diseases that I know of but not in any detail. Several times while reading this book, I thought that the material would be great for trivia night at the local pub. 

In addition to chapters about specific illnesses like Mad Cow Disease, the plague, and yellow fever, there are sections detailing advances in sciences - like autopsies and germ theory. There are also some sections on how historical moments spread diseases. The section on the Columbian Exchange was interesting. It discusses how diseases that the explorers were basically immune to spread to indigenous who had never been exposed. If you write time-traveling fiction, this might be a topic of interest to you. 

There's a section on vaccines as well as polio that kind of satisfied my curiosity about polio. I think I need some social commentary to fully satisfy it (I'm curious about what I think was ready acceptance of the polio vaccine when the COVID-19 vaccine has had so much controversy). 

Since I work with a lot of parasitologists, I was happy to see mention of some parasitic diseases. I've written a little bit about schistosomiasis for work but I didn't realize that one of the species of parasitic worm that causes that disease could also cause bladder cancer. 

My favorite chapter, and maybe the one I was most looking forward to, was the last chapter (and not because it was the end of the book) which instead of being about the beginnings of smallpox it was about the end of smallpox. By the time I was old enough for a smallpox vaccine, it had already been eradicated from the U.S. so I do not have the telltale scar left by the vaccination.  

This book covers so many topics that it would make a great go-to resource as a quick and informative starting place. I know it gave me an idea for the book I want to write when I retire.  

Buy Patient Zero at Amazon

Donna Huber is an avid reader and natural encourager. She is the founder of Girl Who Reads and the author of how-to marketing book Secrets to a Successful Blog Tour.

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