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Updated by Valley Libraries Radio Reference on Jan 04, 2021
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January 21-24, 2020: Science

As librarians, we love to learn new things, but sometimes we can all use a nudge to read something that features more facts than fiction. This week on Valley Libraries Radio Reference, we’re talkin’ science books!

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Jamie's selection

Jamie's selection

The Butchering Art by Lindsey Fitzharris takes us back to the Victorian era, when surgery was more about speed and showmanship than patient safety (or even survival). Doctors frequently went straight from the autopsy room to the surgical theater without even washing their hands, and patients who survived the horrors of surgery without anaesthesia, which hadn’t been invented yet, stood a shockingly high chance of dying of sepsis. Everyone knew infection could kill, but they didn’t know what caused it or how it spread, so they couldn’t stop it. Operations were a dirty, bloody horror show, and they might have stayed that way a lot longer if it hadn’t been for Joseph Lister, a studious Quaker with a radical idea: germ theory. Our modern antiseptic hospitals owe their existence to Lister’s work, and Fitzharris vividly chronicles his struggle to change the medical establishment. It’s not a book for the squeamish, but if you can handle the gory details, it’s a fascinating look at a pivotal moment in medical history.

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Ali's selection

Ali's selection

The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert deftly and thoroughly explains the sixth extinction theory, that there have been five major extinction events in the history of this planet, and modern humans are quickly working our way toward the sixth event. Kolbert goes through the five previous natural extinction events with in depth research and interviews with dozens of experts across a multiplicity of disciplines. At times humorous and light-hearted, this book still really hammers home the devastation of human-caused extinction rates, chronicling the thousands of species we’ve already lost and what we stand to lose in the future. Hint: it’s basically everything. The Sixth Extinction has been likened to Silent Spring, and is as deeply necessary as that earlier perspective of human effects on our environment.

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Sarah's selection

Sarah's selection

Dan Fagin’s Toms River: a Story of Science and Salvation won a Pulitzer Prize in 2014 and is dense, horrifying, and thought-provoking. Author Fagin interweaves the history of dye manufacturing and its subsequent industrial waste problem, the birth of epidemiology, and the unfortunate intersection of these with Toms River, NJ as he charts cancer clusters among town residents. Due to the lackadaisical approach taken by local manufacturers with regards to their industrial waste disposal, Toms River is bombarded by toxic chemicals that endanger its residents -- all so that the companies can save money and put off investing in proper waste treatment. Meticulously researched, Toms River is nevertheless an important book that opens the reader's eyes to the grave environmental atrocities committed in the name of profit and is a devastating portrait of a short-sighted society that sacrifices its own well-being for short-term gain.