July 2, 2008
Posted: 10:04 AM ET
Okay, class, here are a few more summer-reading books you might want to check out.
We all have a nose, and know how to use it. The study of how we go about that, however, is not too sophisticated. What the Nose Knows, by Avery Gilbert is a great book on an overlooked topic. Want to know how smell works? Where it played a big role in pop culture or history? How industries and marketers have co-opted and synthesized smells for their own purposes? How 'bout the chemical structure of those less pleasant smells we all encounter, or emit? Well, you should get a whiff of this book, then. Gilbert combines a scientist's sense of wonder, a scent-making professional's sensibility, and a slightly Beavis + Butt-Head -like fascination with aroma.
Charlatan, by Pope Brock: Dr. John R. Brinkley was seen as a savior of marriages and an author of modern medical marvels. For a fee, he helped countless men roar during the 1920's - by installing a booster set of goat testicles in them. Many thought it restored virility, despite a total lack of evidence. Many didn't survive the operation. Brock writes with a flair, describing the mood of heartland America back then, and recounting the work of Brinkley's nemesis, master fraudbuster Morris Fishbein. It's a great parable for how gullible we can be, told with a sense of irony that's probably essential when your subject matter is swindling people through the use of goat testicles.
The Dumbest Generation Mark Bauerlein is an Emory University English professor and former researcher at the National Endowment for the Arts. He makes the case that video games, text messaging, cellphones, and all the trappings of 21st Century communication have turned our children into shallow morons with tiny attention spans. But Bauerlein falls well short of making a complete sale on this. He deftly uses stats and studies to track the inability of young folks to identify, for example, the three branches of government. He also does a good job of tracking how analytical skills have fallen by the wayside, since we have so many electronic devices to do our thinking for us. What's missing are the benefits - both real and potential - of the wealth of information we have here in the Information Age: How it's used, and how it could be leveraged better. Bauerlein points out the popularity of games that seem to have no moral compass whatsoever, like Grand Theft Auto, without acknowledging that many other games help with everything from motor skills to organizational skills.
Peter Dykstra Executive Producer, CNN Science, Tech & Weather
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