Advance Copy: Backstories on books by NASW members

Dennis Meredith, Mythicals

In Dennis Meredith’s latest scifi thriller, Mythicals, fantasy beings from other universes live among humans, disguised in high-tech flesh suits. When the fairies, angels, elves, and other Mythicals discover the native species, i.e., humans, are ruining their planet’s ecology, they mobilize to halt the destruction. A human freelance technology journalist learns their plans, and then....

Jeff Hecht, Lasers, Death Rays, Quest for Ultimate Weapon

From Zeus’ thunderbolts to sci-fi fiction, films, and comics, death rays rouse public interest. The Pentagon has explored the potential of the laser, invented in the late 1950s, to shoot down ballistic missiles and achieve other military aims. That involved many alluring but ultimately false starts, Jeff Hecht reports in Lasers, Death Rays, and the Long, Strange Quest for the Ultimate Weapon.

Cover: Forensic Science

Patricia Barnes-Svarney and Thomas E. Svarney, Forensic Science Answer Book

What comprises evidence at a crime scene? What do forensic entomologists do? Forensic scientists face a profusion of daunting tasks, some as rare as determining the effects of a poison dart filled with ricin or tea containing active radionucleotide polonium-210. In The Handy Forensic Science Answer Book, Patricia Barnes-Svarney and Thomas Svarney reveal the field’s mysteries.

Carma Spence, Public Speaking Super Powers

“It usually takes me more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech,” Mark Twain asserted. In Public Speaking Super Powers, Carma Spence tells how to structure a speech for coherence and flexibility, develop the right stories for your message, and overcome fears of speaking in public. With practice, Spence maintains, everyone can become a better public speaker.

In 1940, as German U-boats blocked ships attempting Atlantic crossings, a 15-alarm blaze at Baltimore’s Crown Cork and Seal factory consumed nine acres of baled cork, a sealant crucial to the defense industry. Was the fire caused by Nazi sabotage? In Cork Wars: Intrigue and Industry in World War II, David Taylor describes this event and its impact on the lives of three men and their families.

Perhaps 20-40 percent of worldwide tourists partake in wildlife-watching. When done right, that experience enriches travelers’ lives without interfering with those of animals. In Pandas to Penguins: Ethical Encounters with Animals at Risk, Melissa Gaskill profiles twenty-five species and one endangered ecosystem that draw tourists. She highlights local ecofriendly travel outfitters in each area.

A 1970 Monty Python sketch in which a group of Vikings chant “spam, spam…” to overwhelm conversation around them sparked use of “spam” for unsolicited email. JPEG stands for the “joint photographic experts group” that devised the now standard way to compress images. In The Computer Book, Simson Garfinkel and Rachel Grunspan provide backstories for 250 seminal events in the history of computing.

In 1680, an English pirate captured a Spanish ship near Panama, neglecting a trove of unrefined silver but seizing an atlas of Pacific Ocean sailing charts and maps. On receiving it, King Charles II of England made him a captain in the Royal Navy. Betsy Mason and Greg Miller recount this and dozens of other fascinating tales in All Over the Map, illuminating worlds both real and imagined.

In the late 1800s, US consumers unwittingly bought diluted and artificially whitened milk, and canned peas and beans greened with copper sulfate. Adulterated butter, meat, and other foods sometimes proved fatal. In The Poison Squad: One Chemist’s Single-Minded Crusade for Food Safety at the Turn of the Twentieth Century, Deborah Blum chronicles the birth of federal consumer protection.