Of Slime and Minimum Wage

Of Slime and Minimum Wage, to Say Nothing of How the Brain Lost its Mind.

(With apologies to Jerome K. Jerome.)

Slime.jpgSlime: How Algae Created Us, Plague Us, and Just Might Save Us
Ruth Kassinger
Hardback, $26
On Street: June 11, 2019 / HMH Books

When I lie awake at 3 a.m. worrying about my life, I can’t say that algae has ever “plagued” me. It isn’t on my gratitude list either. But maybe it should be. Algae is not just the gunk in your fish tank or the slimy leaf wrapped around your Japanese rice cracker. It’s actually a multi-billion dollar industry, with algae innovators working toward a sustainable future. According to this author, algae are responsible for Earth’s:

  • abundant oceans
  • beer
  • chocolate milk
  • coral reefs
  • crude oil
  • oxygen-rich atmosphere
  • paint
  • sushi
  • toothpaste and shampoo

On to the future: The men and women innovating with algae are South Korean seaweed farmers; entrepreneurs like Canadian-educated Paul Woods who founded a company to bring algae fuel and plastic to market; and scientists in Florida using algae in an effort to save the coral reefs.

Why it’s Worth Choosing

  • Slime Candy.jpgThe author takes what could be a dull subject and makes it just as fascinating to you as it is to her.
  • For those who love Susan Orlean, Mary Roach, and Michael Pollan.
  • Seriously, who doesn’t love a nice package of slime? (Ironically, note that this product is being marketed as “toxic waste”, when algae at least is kind of the opposite.)

On ClockOn the Clock: What Low Wage Work Did to Me and How it Drives America Insane
Emily Guendelsberger
Hardback, $28

July 16, 2019 /  Little, Brown

Content Warning: This memoir contains scenes of condiment violence. As in, the author working at a San Francisco McDonald’s where vengeful customers pelted her with condiments. She also worked in an Amazon fulfillment center near Louisville, Kentucky, where the vending machines were stocked with…painkillers. In her job at a North Carolina call center, her bathroom breaks were timed to the second. Forced to these desperate measures after the local newspaper folded, this reporter takes a good hard look at the lengths that half the country will go to in order to earn a living. But it’s not all laughs–she also offers surprising solutions to make the America workplace more humane.

Why it’s Worth Choosing

  • The author obviously has a good sense of the absurd, having worked as a staff writer for The Onion–as well as the sense of social  criticism that comes from reporting for the Washington Post and other heavy hitters.
  • Like all good comedy, the tales of low-wage work woes are much more entertaining to read about than to suffer through.
  • Like any decent reporter, the author knows that you never pose a question without at least proposing possible solutions.
  • For fans of Barbara Ehrenreich, Stephanie Land and Matthew Desmond.

How Brain

How the Brain Lost its Mind: Sex, Hysteria and the Riddle of Mental Illness
Allan H. Ropper, MD and Brian David Burrell
Hardback $27
On Street: August 20, 2019 / Avery Books

These two authors look at how syphilis and hysteria shaped our current misunderstanding of brain disease and mental illness.

  • 1882: Dr. Jean-Martin Charcot establishes a neurology clinic in Paris, where he struggles to tell the difference between brain disease and disordered psyches.
    • Eventually Charcot brings hypnotism into his clinic to treat “female hysterics”, abandoning a biologically-based approach to mental illness.
  • Sigmund Freud brings sex and neurosis onto the analyst’s couch, splitting the human psyche into mind/brain.
  • Today, neurology and psychiatry are separate branches of medical science. But should they be?

Dr. Ropper and Mr. Burrell explore the ways and means by which the two specialties may converge.

Why Its Worth Choosing

  • They know what they’re talking about.
    • Dr. Ropper is Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School, a deputy editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, and the main  author of the textbook Principles of Neurology, now in its 11th edition.
    • Mr. Burrell is on the mathematics faculty at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He is an authority on elite brain collections (whatever that means), and has written several books, including Postcards From the Brain Museum.
  • The text, which could have been fairly dry, is larded with juicy anecdotes from the lives of real patients (names changed for privacy, of course).

Note: If you enjoy this book, check out Reaching Down the Rabbit Hole, co-written by the same two authors.

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