Invisible but deadly forces
“A Field Guide to Radiation,” Penguin Books

One big problem with man-made radiation: It isn’t going away any time soon. Even if all nuclear reactors were halted and decommissioned tomorrow, the radioactive material that fueled them would remain deadly for tens of thousands of years. So, it’s best to get used to it. In “A Field Guide to Radiation,” Wayne Biddle provides an overview of man-made radiation, decoding the terminology and helping readers to understand the difference between beryllium and beta particles (the former being relatively benign). Biddle claims that he’s not taking sides in the debate over nuclear technology, just laying out the facts. “A field guide to radiation is not pro- or anti-radiation any more than a field guide to reptiles is anti-snake,” he writes. However, an informed naturalist might advise readers to keep their distance from a venomous reptile and, likewise, “A Field Guide to Radiation” suggests that the best course of action with radiation is to minimize exposure from all sources, as much as you can.

Aaron Leitko

Super natural
Being earnest about avoiding plastics
“Plastic-Free,” Skyhorse Publishing

As soon as you pick up Beth Terry’s new book (subtitled “How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too”), you get how terribly serious she and her publisher are. Most books, it turns out, are just riddled with plastic: polyester thread, synthetic glue, coated paper and so on. So Skyhorse made this chunky little hardback as natural as possible, with a cover that’s just two sturdy pieces of cardboard and an inch-thick exposed spine held together with cotton thread and natural glue. Even so, it’s not 100 percent pure. Deal with it.

Terry, who writes a blog called My Plastic-Free Life, here gives us 342 pages of lectures, advice and examples. Bring your own utensils to fast-food outlets. Use solid shampoo bars, and wash clothes with soap nuts. Make your own cleaning products, cosmetics, sodas. Get a reusable dry-cleaning bag. And don’t even think about bottled water. It’s all really, really, really earnest, and yet . . . it’s also practical and hopeful, with a kind of cheerleading charm. And you’ve gotta love the brown paper dust jacket, reminiscent of how they used to sell Penthouse.

Book cover, “Plastic-Free” by Beth Terry.

Nancy Szokan

Book cover, “A Field Guide to Radiation” by Wayne Biddle.