Advance copy: Backstories on books by NASW members

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Sitting too much, and exercising too little, weaken gluteal and postural muscles essential for supporting the spine, and may trigger back pain. Treatment for back pain is a microcosm of everything wrong with the health care system, Cathryn Jakobson Ramin asserts in Crooked: Outwitting the Back Pain Industry and Getting on the Road to Recovery. Ramin aims to give patients “the information they need to make good decisions, to know what works sometimes, what works rarely, and what can cause harm.”

“Company XXX has recommendations for you based on items you purchased.…” Similar emails flood our inboxes daily. In his fifth novel, The Happy Chip, Dennis Meredith explores the impact of runaway data-grabbing. He imagines a ground-breaking nanochip people seeking to improve their lives have implanted in their bodies. The chip not only monitors behaviors, but also can control them surreptitiously. It’s 1984, a few decades on. Meredith’s non-fiction books include Explaining Research, a guidebook for scientists and science writers.

My grandmother sprinkled salt on her grapefruit. As a child, I reached for the sugar. In Flavor: The Science of Our Most Neglected Sense, Bob Holmes explains why my grandmother made a wiser choice: salty tastes inhibit bitter ones. Most people, Holmes says, know little about the complex interplay of taste, smell, touch, sight, and even expectation that creates flavor sensations. We can learn to improve our everyday flavor experiences, however, Holmes asserts. It’s worth the effort, he says: “Paying attention to flavor makes life not just richer but deeper.”

When drugs deemed potentially useful for medical treatment in published research papers advance into pharmaceutical testing regimes, nine out of ten fail. That’s because the underlying science wasn’t rigorous, writes Richard Harris, long-time NPR science correspondent and NASW’s president in 1997-98. In Rigor Mortis: How Sloppy Science Creates Worthless Cures, Crushes Hope, and Wastes Billions, Harris explores recent efforts to air and address the reproducibility crisis.

As a 23-year-old postgraduate student working with Edward Teller in 1951, Richard Garwin came up with the design that led to the hydrogen bomb, Joel Shurkin reports. Outside of a small group in Los Alamos, however, Garwin’s role was completely unknown, Shurkin asserts in True Genius: The Life and Work of Richard Garwin, The Most Influential Scientist You Never Heard of. Garwin’s other inventions include air traffic control systems and the first laser printer. Of the bomb, Shurkin notes, Garwin once said, “If I had a magic wand, I would make it go away.”

“Urban walking is simply the best way to get to know a place and to develop deeper connections to its story,” David Williams insists. In Seattle Walks, he provides 18 maps and 50 color illustrations for walks in his home town that take readers to such sites as a downtown building with dozens of carved faces, an unexpected Civil War cemetery, Seattle’s most infamous lost ship, and one of the city’s earliest houses of ill-repute. Seattle visitors and armchair travelers will enjoy tagging along.

“Is genetic knowledge empowering or fear-inducing, or both? Will it heighten the anxieties of already hyper-anxious helicopter moms and dads, always waiting for the genetic shoe to drop? … Will it stress parents out or make them savvier?” — Bonnie Rochman poses these questions in The Gene Machine, as she explores not only present and potential advantages of genetic screening of fetuses and children, but also its drawbacks.

Ever heard of the Dyna-Soar? The US Air Force gave that name to a planned space-capable hypersonic glider that never got past the mockup stage. After six years and about $660 million in development costs, the project was canceled in 1963. Rob Pyle reports this story and other little-known aspects of space history in Amazing Stories of the Space Age: True Tales of Nazis in Orbit, Soldiers on the Moon, Orphaned Martian Robots, and Other Fascinating Accounts From the Annals of Spaceflight.

For 100 years, most scientists have contended that nuclear reactions can occur only in high-energy physics experiments and in large nuclear reactors. Nuclear reactions, however, also can occur in bench top experiments, Steven B. Krivit reports. In his three-book series, Explorations in Nuclear Research, Krivit describes the emergence of low-energy nuclear reactions (LENR), a new field of science that bridges chemistry and physics, which he distinguishes from, as he says, the erroneous idea of "cold fusion."