Advance copy: Backstories on books by NASW members

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The story of development of vaccines against rubella and other childhood diseases in the 1960s pits a daring young biologist against his world-famous boss, testing that used prisoners, intellectually disabled children, and other disenfranchised subjects, political roadblocks that nearly derailed the research, and other elements of high drama. Meredith Wadman covers it all in The Vaccine Race: Science, Politics and the Human Costs of Defeating Disease.

To research and write Wildfire: On the Front Lines with Station 8, Heather Hansen followed the crew of a fire station near her Boulder CO home for two years. She went through training and testing to become a certified wildland firefighter, and joined the crew for emergency calls and planned burns. She provides here an insider’s view of the challenges of addressing increasingly frequent, severe, and costly conflagrations.

An estimated 60,000 or more chemicals on the market have never been safety tested. Many of the roughly 2,000 new chemicals introduced every year are used daily by the general public. New technologies, such as production of nanomaterials, may contaminate the environment in novel and unexpected ways. We often learn about toxicity of various substances only after they cause problems, Richard Crume reports in Environmental Health in the 21st Century: From Air Pollution to Zoonotic Diseases.

People with low health literacy are more likely to be hospitalized, have chronic illnesses, and not seek treatment than those who better understand and use health information obtained from health care providers and the media. Health literacy is a relatively new and still evolving focus of scientific study, according to NASW member Robert A. Logan and Elliot R. Siegel, editors of Health Literacy: New Directions in Research, Theory and Practice. Topics of likely interest to NASW members addressed in the book include how people receive health information, use of social media as a tool for health promotion, and communication skills of health professionals.

Allegations of sexual harassment or assault by powerful men generate daily news headlines. In Advance Copy, Mark Pendergrast discusses how he jumps into the fray with his newest book, The Most Hated Man in America: Jerry Sandusky and the Rush to Judgment. Pendergrast asks: Did false memories, uncritical reporting, and the lure of potential large financial settlements contribute to Sandusky’s conviction as a serial child molester? “Weigh the evidence,” Pendergrast urges. “Then form your own conclusions.”

The Grand Canyon in Arizona occupies about triple the area of the world’s ten smallest countries. Land used for farmland worldwide would fill an area about 10,000 times that of the Grand Canyon. In Magnitude: The Scale of the Universe, Kimberly Arcand and NASW member Megan Watzke show how scientists reliably distinguish large from small, fast from slow, hot from cold, far from near, and much more. Using everyday experiences and extensive color illustrations, Arcand and Watzke explain how orders of magnitude enable us to make sense of the world around us.

“Once I started looking, I found jellyfish stories everywhere,” Juli Berwald writes in Spineless: The Science of Jellyfish and the Art of Growing a Backbone. “I spent hours reading about their shape, how they swim, what they eat, whether they think, how they reproduce, how they sting, how they glow.” Berwald traveled the globe to observe and swim with jellyfish, and talk with scientists working with them. Her odyssey — an instructive guide to researching and writing a book — provides a first-hand look at the lives of the historically understudied jellyfish, and perspective on the likely future of our oceans.

The physical skill required to walk a tightrope differs little from that required to walk across a room, Carol Svec writes in Balance: A Dizzying Journey Through the Science of Our Most Delicate Sense. The body’s balance systems, Svec reports, integrate signals from the inner ear, eyes, and sensory nerves to enable us to stand up without toppling over, maneuver snaky mountain passes, and relish roller coaster rides. To research her book, Svec talked with scientists, clinicians, and individuals with balance disorders. She also gamely explored a tumbling room, swaying hallway, and menacingly named “Vominator.”

In the 1990s, many families were torn asunder by allegations by a family member of recovered memories of childhood sexual abuse, evoked by what came to be recognized as harmful forms of psychotherapy. The notion of repressed memory, though widely discredited, has resurfaced recently “like a bloated corpse,” Mark Pendergrast writes. In two new books, Memory Warp, for general audiences, and The Repressed Memory Epidemic, a textbook, Pendergrast provides a contemporary perspective, along with recommendations for individuals and families, therapists, legislators, child protective agencies, and lawyers.

“Something is really, really wrong with me,” Julie Rehmeyer realized. Once an avid biker, she staggered when she walked. Everyday chores exhausted her. Some physicians she consulted dismissed or trivialized her complaints. The diagnosis, slow in coming, was chronic fatigue syndrome. The treatment options she was offered proved costly and useless. In Through the Shadowlands, Rehmeyer chronicles her decade-long struggle to cope with a poorly characterized illness, until an unconventional treatment brought the relief that had long eluded her.